IT’S Sunday evening and you find yourself covered in mud, muscles throbbing, back aching, but a smile spreading its way across your face.
Just another relaxing day at the spa? Try again. Try harder.
Try doing something that you find scary, exhilarating, challenging, but at the same time, rip-roaring fun.
That is what Gaelic for Mothers and Others has become for me. The mud, the muscles, and the smiles (not to mention the newfound friends), are all in when it comes to G4M&O.
G4M&O is an initiative created by the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) to introduce mothers and other women to playing Ladies Gaelic Football.
According to William Harmon, national development officer for the LGFA, “G4M&O provides those women with a sporting and fun outlet for their spare time but also gives them the social outlet of doing so with a team, and not have the pressure of competition that comes with playing at club level.”
The usual G4M&O schedule consists of a one-hour weekly training session, with the occasional match thrown in to keep us players on our toes.
There are more than 200 clubs currently in operation, and nearly 7,000 players, nationwide. And right now, I count myself lucky as one of their ranks.
Growing up in the Bronx as the child of Irish immigrants, I opted for the more American sports of basketball and baseball.
Although the iconic Gaelic Park was only minutes away, the only time I entered was to see Irish relatives play their beloved sport, be it hurling or football.
As I sat on those bleachers (and laughed at their shorty shorts), never did I see a future for myself that involved Gaelic football. Well, now it’s their turn to laugh...
That’s the beautiful thing about G4M&O — you can show up without ever having played. This year, when I joined my local club, St Ailbe’s in Ballybricken, Co Limerick, that lack of experience was the one hesitation I had.
But it needn’t have been — within seconds of arriving at the pitch on that first night of training, I heard someone say, “Welcome, Siobain,” and that was that.
St Ailbe’s G4M&O team is into its second year, with the number of women playing between 20 and 25. Our coach, Seamus McElligott, says that one of the great successes of G4M&O at our club has been “getting mothers out of their cars and onto the sidelines”.
“Because St Ailbe’s is made up of three parishes, a lot of the parents don’t know each other, so G4M&O is a way for them to meet each other and make new friends.”
Seamus also points to G4M&O as a “great feeding ground for other positions within the club, be it the administrative side or coaching side”.
I, along with my “partner in sport” Martina Hurley, are prime examples of this feeder phenomenon.
Last year, we were strangers to each other with the only link being that our daughters played on the same under-8s team at St Ailbe’s. This year, not only are we teammates on G4M&O, but we were also roped in to be coaches for the under-8 team.
Martina calls the G4M&O training session “an hour where I can walk out the door and leave it all behind. We’re all there with the same common goal — to get fit, have a laugh, and a bit of peace and quiet”.
One of the biggest benefits our coach Seamus sees of G4M&O is that “you can bring the whole family with you”.
And with his wife Margaret on the team, and his three children at the training session, Seamus sees this as an added bonus. “The whole family is out exercising, improving their fitness and making friends.”
Margaret points out that “playing football now makes me realise what my kids are going through — I know what it is to get the ball taken off you”.
Another veteran member, Aoife Ryan, speaks similarly of G4M&O.
“Playing for Ailbe’s has brought me closer to my 13-year-old daughter (who plays u-14s at the club). It’s just something we have in common and can talk about together.”
An additional benefit of G4M&O is the fitness element. “It’s my bootcamp every week,” says Kay Bateman, another novice like myself.
Who needs Crossfit when you have a bit of grass, a ball, and a group of like-minded women willing to give their all for an hour?
It is a sight to behold on a Sunday evening – women up to their mid-50s sprinting around the pitch like their 16-year-old selves. Creaky knees and achy backs be damned.
And if you do fall and twist an ankle, or just slip in the mud and make an ass of yourself, there is a hand waiting to pull you up. And probably a wise crack to follow, but that is the whole fun of it.
“The camaraderie of our G4M&O team is phenomenal,” says Seamus. And I have to agree with him – five months in and I’m feelin’ the love.
So, to my dear friends and family, you can all stop belly laughing when I tell you proudly, “I play Gaelic football now.” See you on the pitch.