Towey departs as London Ladies Development Officer
By Damian Dolan
Claire Towey will be a “hard act to follow” as London Ladies Development Officer, says chairperson Lucia Butler.
Towey leaves the role after three years to take up a similar position with Connacht GAA.
In that time, she has helped to develop the girls’ game at underage level in London, and departs with Gaelic football definitely on the up.
“I’m really excited; it’s a big opportunity for me to go from being voluntary in a role in London to a bigger scale obviously,” Towey told the Irish World.
“It’s going to bring lots of challenges, but hopefully I’ll enjoy it and be successful.”
London Ladies chairperson Lucia Butler told the Irish World: “Claire will be hugely missed; she took her position very seriously and would always work with you, rather than against you.
“The [girls] game has grown massively over the past two years. The registrations have really risen. She’ll be a hard act to follow.”
The girls game at underage in London has seen a number of areas of growth in recent years. In 2015 the number of registered underage girls playing the sport was 32. In 2018 that figure had risen to 172.
Towey attributes that success to the implementation of proper structures for the championships and leagues, and the co-ordinated hard work of the Ladies board, the London youth board and all of the coaches and clubs.
“There were clubs that had girls, but they were falling off after the age of 12 when they couldn’t play with the boys anymore,” said Towey, who comes from Ballaghaderreen and has been in London since 2000 when she started at St Mary’s University in Twickenham.
The number of clubs to cater for girls at under 12 and under 14 has now increased. St Kiernan’s, North London Shamrocks, St Clarets and Gael Londain have all come on board, to augment Tir Chonaill Gaels, Parnells and Tara.
Another big development has been the introduction of girls-only under 12s blitzes – all part of the drive to keep girls involved in the sport in preparation, hopefully, of them joining a club.
“It gets the girls used to playing with girls, and then the next progression is a girls club for under 14,” said Towey, who has given up her job as a PE teacher at All Saints Catholic College in Ladbroke Grove.
“Girls are realising that we have girls teams and that they can now keep playing Gaelic football after under 12s. That’s what we wanted to develop.”
Towey, who also coached underage at her club Tir Chonaill Gaels, says making the sessions fun has been another key component to the game’s growth.
“Yes, we want them to develop as footballers, but the fun element has to be there or they won’t come,” she said.
“They then go to school and tell their friends that they’d been to a tournament in Birmingham or Ireland, and that’s how we’ve built on our numbers. Kids telling other kids how much fun it is.”
As a player, Towey won three senior titles with Fr Murphy’s as well as helping London to an All-Ireland junior championship in 2008.
She later joined Tir Chonaill Gaels ladies where she enjoyed further championship success in 2016, and last year won a championship and league double. And she’s brought all of that experience to bear in her role as development officer.
Alongside Coleen Lynott and Ger O’Shea, Towey helped London’s under 14 girls become the first from Britain to win Féile silverware when they won the Division 6 Shield in 2017. Last summer, she was involved again as they repeated that success.
The London Under 18 Development squad is another shining light of the girls’ game. In 2017, when London sent a team to the annual National Development Blitz in Dublin they had 11 players. The side needed to be augmented by girls from Hertfordshire.
Last year, London sent a squad of 22 players, all from London clubs. Another statistic Towey is immensely proud of.
She said: “The coaches (Liam Moffatt and John Lynch) were brilliant with the girls – they made it fun. I think that is what’s keeping them at it, and they make friendships with the girls in Ireland.”
The under 18s also now compete against university teams.
Towey added: “I worked with a fantastic [London Ladies] county board and the support I got from them was unreal, especially Lucia, in everything we pushed for, for the girls.
“It’s been down to all the board members coming on board, and the clubs and the coaches for the youth. They’ve been absolutely fantastic, and the kids themselves. They’re a great bunch.”
London Ladies chairperson Lucia Butler and treasurer Bernie McGourty recently made a presentation to Claire in recognition of her “hard work, commitment and dedication”.
The Ladies board posted on its Facebook page: “We thank her for her loyalty and her professionalism in carrying out her duties and her friendship.”
Tir Chonaill Gaels, said: “Claire has been a stalwart over the years in both a playing and underage coaching capacity which our minor board recognised this year in awarding her joint club person of the year.”