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For Michelle Ryan And Ballymacarby, One Win Made 22 Years Of Heartbreak Worth It

For Michelle Ryan And Ballymacarby, One Win Made 22 Years Of Heartbreak Worth It
Rory Cassidy
By Rory Cassidy
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The Ballymacarby senior ladies footballers have lived with a period of feast and famine unlike anything in recent GAA history.

Ballymacarby have won every Waterford senior title since 1981. However, they had not won a Munster title since 2000. 41 years of county success. 22 years of provincial pain.

A period of Cork domination had taken hold in Munster, with Donoughmore, Inch Rovers and more recently Mourneabbey dominating the club game in the province since, leaving the Waterford side in their wakes on many an occasion.

That was until last Sunday in Mallow, a venue in which they had left heartbroken many times before, where they finally got their hands on a Munster title once more.

Michelle Ryan started in the Ballymac halfback line that day in 2000. She would wear the #11 jersey this Sunday for her beloved club, and finished the match bandaged but unbowed as they finally put aside the heartbreak and claimed what had become a holy grail.

"I think it just hasn't fully sunk in yet if I'm brutally honest but there is that feeling of relief and I think that just comes from having been trying to achieve this for so long and being left heartbroken so many times," Ryan says.

"We've made no bones about the fact that this has been a major goal of ours for a long period of time and while there's an awful lot of relief, there's also a huge kind of quiet satisfaction that now all of that work, all of that time and all of that heartbreak has been worth it.



"If you’d said to me in 2000 that we wouldn't achieve a Munster title again until 2022 I wouldn't have believed you at all but that's what happens."

In what was a cagey encounter, Ballymacarby saw off the challenge of Clare champions The Banner to win by three points. Ryan faced an anxious last few minutes on the sidelines after being substituted describing the closing stages as the "worst two or three minutes" of her football career.

The victory was made even sweeter as captain Michelle McGrath (both pictured above), who was the only other player to feature in 2000, lifted the cup named after Michelle's father and Ballymacarby stalwart, Michael Ryan, who has devoted years of service to ladies football.


"He will forever have a legacy of being the person who instilled a great belief in the Ballymacarby club and would have led a lot of players to finals and impressed a hunger and a passion in people for ladies football in the area," Ryan says.

"He has helped create players who have fed back into this club and even when he’s stepped away a few times as manager the people who have come in have made sure that high standard has always been maintained.

"It's something that we've all kind of been born into and even when the past players are watching as supporters they will acknowledge that the standard is still there.


"We're pushing it on even more and I think that maybe comes from his influence, starting off things in the club and how successful they would have been back then."

Their is strong family ties throughout the team, unsurprising given the village has a population of less than 200. Michelle was joined on the pitch by her sisters Louise and Sinead, while their are siblings from the Barron, McGrath, Wall and Hogan families also featuring.

"Myself, Louise and Sinead have been playing together for years but Sinead actually wasn't available to us last year as she had a baby and we were missing her in the Munster campaign.


"It was great that she came back this year and in fairness to her she is making a huge impact in our forward play, in our scoring this year and none more so than she did last Sunday, scoring four points.

"There have been years where we all haven't been there together, so for this to happen in a year where we're all playing together on the same panel and on the same team is special."

Having dominated ladies football in Waterford for decades some would suspect that complacency could creep in but Ryan finds that it doesn't.

"We are just as up for our county final as we are for any other match in the year, we really are.

"We love the occasion and I suppose to us that match is a real noted game where we start to click, we would notice that every year things start to fall into place and none more so than it did this year," she adds.

"It's always a good preparation for us going into Munster and we appreciated that as well because one of the most satisfying things about the win on Sunday is since the county final we didn't have an easy route."

That passage to the Munster glory saw them finally get the better of 2018 and 2019 All-Ireland champions Mourneabbey in the opening round, a win that for many felt like winning the provincial championship. Ryan admits it was difficult to come back down to earth after that scalp.

"You think back to Mayo in men's football, overcoming Dublin in the semi-final, people thinking they had their All-Ireland finally and then they come up short against Tyrone. We just didn't want that to be our story."

Ryan stays with Ballymacarby in pursuit of Munster title

Having retired from inter-county football in early 2020, the TG4 pundit and Irish and French teacher in Blackwater Community School, Lismore remained playing club football for one reason.

"Is it the case that I stayed playing club football for a Munster championship victory? I absolutely did.

"The gas thing is now that you achieve it you kind of want to push on even a little bit more but if I was to retire in the morning I'd be happy with what we've achieved in the last number of days," Ryan admits.

For Ballymacarby attention now turns to an All-Ireland semi-final in three weeks against either reigning champions Kilkerrin-Clonberne of Galway or Burrishoole of Mayo who meet in the Connacht decider this weekend. Regardless of the opponents it is a fixture they will will relish.

"We do want to achieve but we know that we're going to need to go to another level again if we have any aspirations or any hope of getting to an All-Ireland final in Croke Park in the second weekend of December.

"We're looking forward to the challenge, it's a great place to be in from our perspective."

Having walked up the steps of the Hogan Stand for Waterford in 2015, Ryan now has the opportunity to dream of doing the same again for her beloved club.

SEE ALSO: How A Cork Club Rose From Junior D To Senior In Seven Years



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