Emigrant GAA team in good health

FOR St Anthony’s women’s Gaelic football team, getting 15 players on the pitch is not a problem — it’s cutting people from the panel.

Yesterday the team, made up of nurses working at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading in England, played an exhibition match against Fr Murphy’s of London at half time in the Premiership rugby match between London Irish and Sale Sharks at Madejski Stadium.

Remarkably, more than 150 Irish nurses are now either training or working at the hospital, meaning up to 30 players turn up for coaching sessions.

Little wonder, then, that since the club formed in 2010 it has swept the boards, claiming trophies in a host of competitions and challenging for promotion from junior to senior level.

One of the players, full-back Clara Canavan, said interest in the club has grown following the influx of Irish nurses at RBH.

“They tried to set up a team a few years ago but it did not work because there wasn’t enough players, but in the last few years there has been a great improvement,” said Clara, from Tullow, Co Carlow.

Clara played intercounty with Carlow before moving to RBH to train as a nurse in 2007. In the past two years, the number of Irish nurses at the hospital has exploded, with 19 more due to start there this week.

The growth in numbers has been reflected on the pitch.

“It was strange when they all started coming in, but it is brilliant because it’s a home away from home,” she said. “When I first came over I was on my own but when they all moved over it was like being in college back at home.”

Training sessions take place on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings, and the team will travel to Kerry to take part in a tournament organised by Kerry football legend Páidi Ó’Sé next month.

It is the latest venture for a club that has won a championship, a league, the Tom O’Connor Cup and a shield in just two months.

For most of those playing in yesterday’s exhibition, it was the first time to play before such a large crowd. Not so for Clara, who has played intercounty in venues such as Portlaoise and who works in the stroke unit at RBH alongside team founder, 29-year-old Dee Donohoe.

Dee, from Crossmolina, Co Mayo, moved to RBH in 2002 to train and now works, like many of those in the squad, as an occupational therapist.

Dee said the St Anthony’s men’s team, operating since the 1960s, played a huge role in helping the women’s team, as had their sponsor, the Gateway Bar in Reading, run by Corkman Martin O’Sullivan.

For the record, the final score yesterday was Fr Murphy’s 1-02, St Anthony’s 0-02.

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