Kilkenny had Angela and Ann Downey – Athy has Lily Bowden, Gemma Martin and Breda Wall. Camogie players par excellence, Lily comes from Mullaghmast, Breda from Athy, while Gemma who has lived in Athy since she was 10 years old, comes from the Ards Peninsula in County Down. All three hold the unique distinction of winning camogie championship medals 25 years apart. Lily captained the Athy camogie team to win a Junior Championship Final in 1986 and with her on that team were Gemma and Breda. All three girls featured in the build up to this year’s Junior Final which saw Athy beat arch rivals and near neighbours St. Laurences.
The game of camogie goes back a long way in Athy, the first all girls team from the town having made an appearance as early as 1909. A Miss Campbell was the club captain, while administrative duties of club secretary were undertaken by a Miss Tierney. By 1935 two Athy Clubs, St. Patricks and Clan Bridge were represented at that year’s County Camogie convention. Five years later, as the war against Hitler was entering its second year, Athy Camogie Club won its first junior title. That victory was achieved after Athy defeated Ballitore in a replay of the County Final on Joseph Masterson’s waterlogged field in Kilmead.
Athy Camogie Club went into decline soon thereafter and remained inactive until revived in or around 1953. The following year Sean Healy of Athy was elected Chairperson of the Kildare County Camogie Board and the Vice Chairperson was another Athy Club delegate Sheila Hughes.
The Athy Club’s second trophy came with success in the 1974 Junior League which was followed twelve years later with another Junior Championship title under team trainer Michael Kelleher. Captain on that day was Lily Bowden and included on the twelve woman team were Gemma Martin and Breda Wall. All three played a part in this year’s successful Junior Championship and only injury deprived Gemma Martin of the opportunity to join her two colleagues of 25 years ago in the long awaited victory.
The success of the Athy team is intrinsically linked with Scoil Mhichil Naofa, the primary school where both Lily Bowden and Gemma Martin work as Special Needs Assistants and where in 1996 Lily started to give camogie classes to the young pupils. Practice games were played on the nearby Clonmullin pitch and many of those who learned their hurling skills in Scoil Mhichil Naofa were involved in this year’s camogie final. These included Ruth Crowley, Shauna Moran, Ellen Clancy, Jessica Martin, Katie Moylan and Emer Garry. The same school had no less than seven of its teachers on the 2011 final team, including sisters Alva and Emer McManus, Emma Lalor, Evelyn Crowley, Emer Haverty, Georgina Maher and Gillian Loughman.
I was intrigued to find two mother and daughter combinations involved with the team. Lily Bowden and her daughter Laura, who is not yet 16 years of age, played in some early matches, but the youngster could not participate in a championship proper as she had not reached the minimum playing age of 16 years. Gemma Martin was joined by her daughter Jessica. The Ards Peninsula native, whose County Down parish team of Ballycran, produced over the years many good hurlers, brought an energy and a passion to her hurling which was typical of the determined team which represented Athy in the Junior Final against St. Laurences.
There is great rivalry between Athy and near neighbours St. Laurences and Gemma’s husband Eddie, who is a former Larries footballer, must have had mixed feelings as he watched his wife’s and daughter’s team overcome his beloved St. Laurences on the score of 2-3 to 1-3. Despite their keen rivalry the good relationship between the two local clubs is evident at mens junior hurling level where several former Athy hurlers in the absence of an Athy team were part of the St. Laurences team which won the Junior A Hurling Final last Sunday. Not many can match Lily Bowden’s haul of camogie medals which includes not only two junior titles, won with Athy in 1986 and 2011, but also two junior medals, won in 2001 and 2006, with guess who? – St. Laurences.
Lily’s involvement with St. Laurences preceded the revival, yet again, of Athy’s Camogie Club in 2007 when the Club’s players, thanks to the help and cooperation of the local Rugby Club, were afforded match practice facilities at the Showgrounds. The Club’s first trainer was Peter Barry and that role is now taken over by Colm Byrne. Strangely the Camogie Club, like the local Hurling Club, are separate and distinct from the local Gaelic Football Club and so must sometimes seek help outside the Gaelic games code to be able to access match practice facilities. That situation has improved over the last year and the beneficial results can be clearly seen in the success of Athy’s camogie team of Georgina Maher, Kathryn Hurley, Ruth Crowley, Glenda Bracken, Karen Cahill Foley, Emer Garry, Emma Lalor, Shauna Moran, Gillian Loughman, Lily Bowden, Alva McManus, Katie Moylan, Emer McManus, Evelyn Crowley, Maeve McManus, not forgetting the other players on the panel who all played their part in the Club’s success.