Clare Conlon has been lining out for the Juggernaut of Laois ladies club football – Sarsfields – since she was in primary school.
The Sarsfields and Laois stalwart has been involved in her club’s senior county titles in 2008, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Conlon was out through injury for her side’s in the semi-final victory over Timahoe in this year’s county championship campaign but she came on during the championship final, oozing style as she helped them towards six championship titles in a row.
The corner-forward added three of Sarsfields’s twenty points in their Leinster quarter-final victory over Eadestown and is sure to be a key player in their Leinster semi-final meeting against Miltown of Westmeath this coming Saturday.
What’s your earliest football memory?
One of my earliest football memories of ladies’ football was in primary school. I was in fourth class at the time and wasn’t aware of female only teams as I would have only played with my local boys club The Rock up to this point.
I spotted the St. Josephs GNS team out training for the Cumann na mBunscol when the teacher coaching asked if I wanted to join in as they needed extra numbers. I happily joined in and ended up joining the panel for the rest of the year and went on to win my first ever medal in football when we won the competition that year.
It was through my primary school that I discovered there was a girl’s club in the area and ended up joining Sarsfields shortly after.
Can you tell us a bit about the club?
To the best of my knowledge Sarsfields was established in 1995. It is a parish club which includes local clubs, The Rock, Mountmellick, Rosenallis and Kilcavan. The club has grown a lot since its early years fielding teams from U10 right up to Senior.
What are the facilities like?
We use the facilities of Mountmellick GAA and have pretty much called it home since the club’s establishment. The facilities are quite good with two full size pitches, with the training pitch equipped with floodlighting. There is also a wall ball area for all those who play the stick game.
Can you remember the first time you went to compete with the club?
I can’t remember my first ever game with the club but I do fondly remember my first county final with the club which we reached in my first year playing with Sarsfields. We reached the U12 county final against Graiguecullen over in Timahoe. It was a miserable day and it lashed rain for the whole game but the weather was irrelevant to us as we won our first ever county championship for the club.
I can’t remember off the top of my head but I think myself and Aileen O’Loughlin might be two of the only members of that team that are still playing today around 21 years later, I’m feeling old now!
What is your favourite memory while being involved?
After playing for a club for over 20 years there are a few that jump out. Winning our first senior county final after losing a good few before that will always be a highlight. My favourite county final win would probably be in 2015 that went to a replay over in Crettyard against Timahoe it was a cracker of a game, we probably got out of jail the first time out in O’Moore Park as Timahoe were the better side that day but we made no mistake in the replay and went on to win it in extra time.
Also, in 2014 when we went to London to play Parnells of London in the All Ireland Quarter Final was a great trip, we still have a lot of laughs when we look back on that one. Although a few players probably wish we’d stop bringing it up… CIARA!
Did you enjoy much success in the underage grade?
Yes, I was very lucky at underage, I have won county championships in all age grades from u12 right up to minor.
Who did you look up to in the club when you were younger?
There are a few players I could mention but it would be hard to look past Lorraine Muckian. She was an amazing footballer and she was the first player that I came across who brought a real professionalism to ladies’ football.
She played at full back at the time for our club and for the county team, she was the player you didn’t want marking you because she was so good, but, for the same reason you did want her marking you because if you managed to score against Lorraine you were doing something right!
What young player in your club would you say is one to watch out for?
That’s a tough one, we have a few good young players’ coming through, Ciara Hughes has been doing well the past few seasons for the club and broke in to the Laois team this year. Younger players like Ava Lawlor and Grainne Lawlor are after joining our Senior panel this year and look like promising talents, I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty of them in the next few years.
If you could do anything to improve the club, what would it be?
If I won the lotto in the morning I would invest money in the club. I think we all know the hardship involved in the yearly struggle to fundraise.
Fundraising is part and parcel of amateur sport and it is a necessity to keep our club’s afloat but it seems to get harder and harder every year. We have a fantastic committee who do their very best to run our club and it would be nice to take one burden off them.
What’s the best and worst thing about being involved?
The best thing is easily the banter with the girls, I have literally grown up with some of these girls and they’re not the worst bunch to be fair to them.
The worst thing is probably the sacrifices we make to be involved, our family and friends are often at the receiving end of a text or a phone call saying we can’t go to something because we have a match or training.
Clare also proved this was the case as weekend of the Eadestown match, her brother Brian was getting married the day before. She still managed to enjoy the day and record a victory in the quarter-final.
Sarsfields take on Miltown of Westmeath this Saturday, October 20 in Acragar GAA Grounds, Mountmellick, at 2.30pm.