By Robert Cox April 2nd 2020
It’s March 8th and on a wet and windy afternoon in Dr. Hyde Park, the Kildare Ladies Footballers have just eeked out a hard fought win (0-13 to 0-08) over their hosts Roscommon in Division 3 of the league.
The win sees Kildare qualify for the final and extends their 100% record in 2020, with five wins from five under their belt. Things are really beginning to take off for this team, following some barren years since the county won the 2016 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship.
The last thing they need is an obstacle outside of their control been thrown into the mix. The team’s recent run of good form is the culmination of two years hard work under the guidance of Galway man Daniel Moynihan and his management team.
Now in his 3rd year at the helm, Moynihan and his team have unearthed some new talent, who have all added greatly to his panel and played their part alongside experienced campaigners in the shape of Siobhán O’Sullivan, Erica Burke, Róisín Byrne and Mary Hulgraine. To Moynihan’s delight the last three are back in the fold having missed the last few seasons for various reasons. And remember the trio also have All-Ireland medals safely tucked away in their back pockets, this are no ordinary threesome.
Back in Roscommon, the team congratulate each other on their most recent success, high fives all round, (little did they know that in a few weeks they wouldn’t even be able to meet never mind high fives) they know they’ve been in a battle and at the back of their minds they also know this result is a break through. This was game they would have thrown away in previous seasons. But this side have an added steel about them, with leaders around the field, none more so than team Captain Grace Clifford.
Clifford has just put in another monumental performance, driving her team on from midfield, an inspiration to some of the newcomers and a leader to all, just has she has been throughout her Lilywhite career, especially since been named Captain in 2018.
The Eadestown player was also part of that successful All-Ireland winning side of 2016 and now in 2020 she is determined more than ever to get this current side moving in the right direction. She more than anyone will be thrilled at qualifying for the league final and will be already planning for their most likely finalist opponents Down in a few weeks time.
With only the winners gaining promotion to Division 2, Clifford knows it’s time to park the Roscommon success and is already looking forward to putting in a few hard weeks training back at Hawkfield.
They still have two league fixtures to fulfill and given her winning mentality, she will want to win them too and make it a perfect seven from seven. Nothing is going to stop her and her team mates in their quest for glory she thinks as she boards the bus from Roscommon back to Kildare. Their time is now.
Fast forward a few weeks and with the country since in lockdown due to the CoronaVirus, we caught up with Clifford (over the phone of course!) for a chat to see how she was coping with isolation and restriction from seeing her team mates, extended family, friends and to see how she found working and training at home alone.
What was life like for an Inter County Captain during Cov19. Thankfully for the Recruitment Consultant, who resides in Eadestown, her job means she can work from home and as we called it came as no surprise that on her break she was out for some fresh air and exercise, determined to keep up her level of fitness ahead of any possible return to Gaa action in the coming months.
Clifford is not one to rest on her laurels. A lot had happened since that afternoon in Roscommon, with the joy of reaching the league final, turning to disappointment a week later when the powers that be in the LGFA pulled the plug on the remainder of the National League for 2020 (it won’t be finished at any stage) due to the current CoronaVirus pandemic sweeping across the country.
One feels maybe they made the decision rather hastily and could have looked at potentially finishing it in the autumn. All training had been cancelled and as mentioned above the country had more or less gone into full lockdown, with people asked to stay within a 2km radius of their home.
Clifford for one had to adapt in more than one area of her everyday life, but as usual she was upbeat and positive about the challenge ahead. “Yeah look it’s a crazy time for everyone, Covid19 was something that none of us were prepared for. It’s something that hasn’t happened in our lifetime and please God it will never happen again.
I think what it has shown us is that your health is your wealth. Regardless of our status in life, you are not immune to something like this”
Clifford, who won a Kildare SFC with her local Club Eadestown in 2018, counts herself lucky that she resides in the area, out in the countryside, where she can get out and about without worrying too much about bumping into people;
“I suppose for me I am lucky I live in the countryside in Eadestown so I am able to get out for a good run and walk and thankfully I haven’t really had to go into the towns too much in the last couple of weeks, aside from maybe going to the shops for my mam, so I have found the social distancing part easy enough to adapt too”
As usual Clifford is finding the positives from a bad situation and sees this as a time for people to regroup and take stock of their lives, something she certainly intends to do.;
“I’m a very positive person and am trying to find the positives out of the current situation. Personally for me the last number of years have been go, go, go what with college, training, work, all these things. And like so many I’ve never really had the opportunity to sit back and appreciate the simple things in life. So it’s from that maybe all of us could try and take the positives. To maybe take a step from our busy lives and take stock.
I’ve found that from been at home and been around the family all the time has been nice, though maybe if you ask me that again in a few weeks I could have a different answer!!!
Working from home
Having attended Carlow IT, Clifford now works as a recruitment consultant, where thankfully she can continue her work from home.
“I work as a recruitment consultant so as you can imagine job interviews are probably the last thing that people are thinking of or worrying about at the moment but to be honest we have been pretty lucky and have been relatively busy over the past couple of weeks.
I’m going into week three now working from home and despite initially been unsure how I’d get on with things, I’m actually enjoying it so far. Obviously I miss the company of my work colleagues in the office but I’m content with the change for now.
I’ve actually had a lot of job interviews happening and companies still working, looking to move on ahead. These are companies that are maybe been prepared since the last recession. I think people are utilising the technology we have now days, with the likes of Skype and Zoom to hold interviews, whislt also respecting the governments restrictions.
Overall working from home has been different but it’s nice to have a change every now and then. I’m grateful that I could continue in my role from home as I know so many people have been temporarily laid off. I’m also grateful to my company for doing their bit and for providing that option for me”
To make it and maintain a career both on and off the field you have to have a good worth ethic, discipline and routine and though we know from the outside looking in that the County Captain possesses all these traits in abundance, she explains to us the importance of sticking to her routine during this difficult time;
“I’m a real stickler for routine. For me I’ve been doing my work and then lunchtime is when I do my workout, so I either do my run or my home gym. That’s really been unbelievable, I find that brilliant.
Then in the evenings after work I always make sure to get out for a good walk as well, while also getting out to the gable end of the house with a football and work on some skills to keep the eye in.
Again keeping this routine has helped me to stay positive and then maybe at the end of the day I would pop into the team’s group chat and send pictures of what work I had done that day. Then seeing what the others girls post too, it helps keep that communication going.
I’m obviously keeping to a very similar routine to my eating habits too, which can be a bit of a challenge at times when you are at home all day”
Keeping in contact, training in groups at a distance and management with Kildare
Going from spending so much time together and working towards a common goal since last November of winning the league has been pulled right from under the noses of Clifford and her Kildare team mates but as she she says they are in plenty of contact, working hard separately and now very much looking forward to Championship when football returns;
“We’ve a really good squad there with Kildare this year, doubled up with a great management and S&C coach, who we’ve been working with in our groups over the last few weeks, putting in amazing work, trying to stay relatively fit. We’ve been given different challenges, runs and home workouts to do.
Everything has been put in place to adapt and respect the guidelines by the HSE and the Government, while still getting out and for our physical fitness. But maybe more importantly, as our management have stressed, to get out for the goodness of our mental health also. In fairness all the girls have been great at keeping spirits up.
Again we were disappointed that the league was cancelled but at the end of the day some things are bigger than football so we’ve taken it on the chin and are looking to moving forward together as a group. As a group we are now looking forward to having a good crack at the championship when football finally does return.
Everyone is linking in and been there for one another. Personally the girls have helped me stay motivated and as a group we are taking one day at a time, knowing every day is one day closer to returning. I think at this stage all the girls will even be relishing to returning to do some pre season runs”
As supporters of the LGFA, we were obviously disappointed with the cancellation of the league for 2020, especially for teams like Meath and Kildare, who were in excellent positions in their respective divisions but as Clifford explains (despite her own disappointment) that sometimes football has to take a back seat in the greater scheme of things; ”
The news of the league’s cancellation was obviously devestating for us at Kildare. From a footballing perspective we’ve been building towards this with Daniel and his team for a couple of years now and not only since last November. It’s been a work in progress that was beginning to bear fruit.
Our goal was promotion and everything had been going so well. Who would have thought that something like this would be the reason we wouldn’t be getting to play. 2020 has been a bit crazy, first all the storms and now this.
People might say that it’s very trivial to be worrying about sport at a time like this and I agree 100% but this is such a big part of our lives. It was a bit dis heartening to see that the league had been cancelled so quickly, particularly as the Gaa and Camogie Associations came out and said they would reassess the situation in April, when we all might have more of an idea where we are at with this.
But I guess more importantly we are respecting the guidelines and pulling together as a country to try and flatten the curve and that’s the main aim right now.
Again in the grand scheme of things football isn’t that important but naturally enough when you are training together for so long and it is such a big part of your life, you just want to be successful.
The fact that we now know that the league won’t go ahead, any glimmer of hope or motivation for that success is gone given the finality of the decision, though some people may disagree and argue that you are better off knowing your faith from the outset.
As I said above, we are a positive group and we have already turned our attentions to the championship, whenever that may be”
Been a Manchester United, Clifford is ever the optimist and knows that the LGFA championship will go ahead in 2020, without knowing what structure it will undertake yet. You can be guaranteed she will with have both herself and her team well prepared;
“I’m been sure that there will be some sort of championship that will go ahead and we’ll continue to train for that in a positive way. We are all doing our bit for our communities and we all want to get back to normality as soon as possible.
Obviously our main focus as a group was promotion in the league, we weren’t even thinking about championship but that has changed now and all focus is on the championship to pick up where we left off and continue that winning streak right throughout the year and see where it takes us.
We’ve a really good group there and I feel we deserve to win some silverware after the work we put in.
On the club front with Eadestown, look it’s always competitive winning at any grade in Kildare, especially at Senior, any side can do well on any given year. I’d be hopeful that we’ll have a successful year. The girls are working extremely hard under new management and like everyone the girls just want to play football.
Honestly I just cannot wait to get back on the field and training with everyone, it’s the commerardery and banter that you miss most. When we return we will all definitely appreciate it more”
One thing is for sure if anyone can help this Kildare side through these difficult few months and help them repeat days like that afternoon in Roscommon at the start of March, then their inspirational Captain Grace Clifford can.
She’s proven that it be at home or at Hawkfield, behind the phone or in the centre of the huddle, things stay the same. Routine, hard work, leadership and most of all positivity makes her the leader she is. And Kidlare is all the better for her.
Photos with thanks to Karl Gormley