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Cathy Carey - Our Laochra Gael

19th January 2024


This Sunday’s National League encounter between Antrim and Louth will be a momentous occasion for the Saffron county as they venture into unknown territory, competing in Division 3 for the first time.

Emma Kelly’s side took Division 4 by storm last year. With a cagey first-round game against Fermanagh going the Saffrons' way, subsequent dismissals of London, Carlow, Leitrim, and Limerick saw Cathy Carey become the first Antrim woman to lift a league title in Parnell Park last April.

Whilst there are several big changes in the Antrim team from last year’s squad, one notable absence is that of Carey herself who, just last week, has sounded the klaxon on her own inter-county career.

It’s a career with incredible longevity, indeed when Cathy first lined out for Antrim, several of today’s crop of players hadn’t even been born. It’s a career that has seen her add to that Division 4 win with three All-Ireland medals (one as captain), a host of Ulster Junior titles, and, just last summer, a maiden Ulster Intermediate title – won against a highly fancied Tyrone side.

In the twilight years of their careers, many players will be seen winding down, or running out the clock, but not Cathy Carey who, in her final two seasons as captain, saw unprecedented success for Antrim. An outstanding performance from the half-forward line in 2022’s All-Ireland Junior Final Replay with 2-1 on the score sheet earned her the Player of the Match Award as well as inclusion in the LGFA Junior Team of the Year and an Irish News All-Star.

A constant presence in the Antrim first 15 for many years, the scores contributed by Carey will be missed but also her leadership on and off the field. Always willing to represent the county at civic and public events, Cathy has been a fabulous spokesperson for Ladies' Football – not just in Antrim but on a national stage.

Cathy will continue to play football with her home club of St. Ergnat’s Moneyglass, where she has now lifted three Antrim Senior Championship trophies as captain and where she acts as a mentor to the next crop of club and county stars.

Since her announcement, Cathy has received many plaudits from across the Antrim Gaelic Games family and across Ireland. Emma Kelly, current Antrim Ladies boss has faced Cathy as an opponent when St Paul’s play Moneyglass and even when Emma featured for Derry against Antrim. She has also played alongside her for Antrim and UUJ. Emma said “She was always 100% committed to whatever team she was involved with. Don’t forget, she was also a dual player with Cargin/UUJ and Antrim camogs. Playing alongside her you always knew you could rely on her when you gave her the ball and she would always get you a score or two.”

“Stepping into management, Cathy was one of the first calls I made. To see what she thought and if she would be on board if I took the reins. She was happy to throw the shoulder behind the wheel and off we went, playing some of the best football we had seen we knew she had the bit between the teeth and she knew we had something special brewing. After losing the 2021 All-Ireland we decided to ask Cathy to be our captain in 2022. The pride she had in this was unbelievable. She had never been county captain before to many people’s amazement. This is when things began to change and we turned a corner.

“She was probably gutted she didn’t get to climb the Croke park steps to lift the trophy but the Athletic Grounds in Armagh with our supporters on the field made up for that. I think no one outside of our squad and management seen this one coming. Cathy led the girls who were on the crest of a wave, belief, confidence, no fear. It was the unknown. Let the shackles off and go for it.

“Last year’s All-Ireland Semi-final was an emotional one. The one that got away. The last dance. We knew then this was it; she more than likely wouldn’t be back. Heartbroken in the changing rooms. Soaking in that moment. What a journey we had and she was proud of it but just disappointed how it ended.

“Now to be fair, up to 2021 most people wouldn’t see Cathy smiling much but the last couple of years and the journey we have been on we all seen a new Cathy. She will be missed as a player but she can hold her head high and be proud of what she has achieved with the county. Now the most successful captain the county has had, she has also left the jersey she held onto for 20+ years in a far brighter place than when she started out. Thanks for all your help and leadership over the years!”

There’s an old Irish saying that goes “Is fearr clú ná cónach” – it is better to have a good name than riches. Cathy Carey has proven that it is possible to do both.

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