Antrim Ladies Gaelic football team - The only Ulster GAA team with all-female coaching staff 2 months ago

Antrim Ladies Gaelic football team - The only Ulster GAA team with all-female coaching staff

"A female would maybe get away with saying something to a female than maybe the other way around."

The Antrim ladies' football team has gone from strength to strength this year, and last week dismantled Derry in the Ulster Junior final.

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The woman in charge of this success is Emma Kelly, who only last year was still playing for the county herself; her 22nd year year at inter-county level.

However, she wasn't getting the game time that she wanted under then-manager Damien McConville and was happy to hang up the boots at county level to just focus on her club, St Pauls.

That was until out of the blue, she received an opportunity she couldn't turn down.

"Basically I wasn't for playing this year, and I was doing a bit of CrossFit type training and just enjoying being out and about, not having to worry about football training.

"Then word came through that Dee had stepped away, and next thing I was getting messages from some of the players asking 'Are you going for this? You need to be going for this.'

"The county board then rang and said it was the first time that people have actually been asking for somebody specifically so I was put in as interim manager, just like that."

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Every good manager needs a good coaching team however, and former Down star, Kyla Trainor was the perfect person to accompany Kelly on this journey.

"I was racking my brain about who to bring with me, someone with similar experience, and a female if possible. Then I remembered Kyla who I coached with at the Cup Camps.

"I'm a sports development officer and she's been a coach for years, plus when playing against her, I knew what she was capable of and her experience."

First thing you have to do when you get a new management position is select your squad. The previous manager had already one picked, but Kelly didn't agree with his process of choosing it.

"Dee didn't have any trials and we thought it was only right to do them, so the Antrim secretary sent off an email to all the clubs and announced that we're doing trials for everyone, regardless of what division they are in.

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"The plan is for the next five years, to get the right systems in place, and yes we won Ulster, but we're still trying to work on how we're going to play and things like that."

Having an all-female coaching staff has the benefits that maybe a male coach wouldn't have, when taking on a large squad of ladies' footballers.

"It's really good craic, the girls are buying into it, and I think it's because me and Kyla are both females, and because we were both recently playing. It's not like we stopped 10 or 15 years ago and everything has changed.

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"Males taking females is a bit different, you kind have to watch what you say. A female would maybe get away with saying something to a female than maybe the other way around. You still have players that need an arm around them and others who need a kick up the arse.

"Even with the likes of hormones, the girls can talk to us a bit more and I think because they know us, they would see us as approachable.

"We want to see more females in coaching, our minor management is female as well. It's the same in refereeing, we need more female referees.

"The other big thing is that obviously men have never played ladies' football, the tackle and everything is different. You can't wrap people up, you can't put your arms around them and it's frustrating because the men's rules are different.

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"The tackle is the big one, or you can hear people shout that was a 'fair shoulder' but there is no 'fair shoulder', you're allowed contact in ladies football but you're not allowed deliberate contact.

"There are plenty of berries that the women need to knock down but trying to get more females involved in coaching is the way forward. It would be good to see a female taking the men's Gaelic team some day, to see if it would add.

"Right now, it's about getting the right people involved and getting women to promote women, and I think that's key."