THE fortunes of Offaly county teams might not be at a high ebb these days, but the Faithful county spirit still endures. Whether you’re dragging your suitcase across Australia or across the Westmeath border, the affection for Offaly never withers. This is very much the case for Jennifer Byrne who has just resumed her ladies football intercounty career with her native county this year.
“I’ve always been from Offaly,” she insists despite having lined out behind enemy lines for Westmeath in the past. “I went to school in Athlone, I went to the Bower. Then I started playing with Garrycastle and I got asked to play with Westmeath. I just moved home recently because I’m working in Ballinasloe. I’m just delighted to get the opportunity to actually play for Offaly now,” she said.
Although she is thrilled to finally wear the green, white and gold jersey, Offaly ladies have had a poor seasons so far, suffering six defeats and one draw.
“We’re never going into any match saying, ‘we’re expecting to lose this’. No Offaly team ever goes into a match thinking that”, she stated.
“The league campaign was a bit disappointing. Since then we’ve been training very hard, everyone’s come together a lot stronger. We’ve a few challenge matches coming up now before the championship and I think things are looking a lot more positive now.”
Chasing a win like that is sure to take its toll mentally, but Byrne insists that it’s in the past and they are ready to take on the Leinster Championship next weekend against Wicklow.
“Initially it was a little bit tough to get the positive mind set back after the league because everyone was obviously a little bit disappointed after that Roscommon match. We had a week off to get our heads around it but since then we’ve been back training hard.”
“We’ve had good numbers down at training and people have been working hard. We’ve a few people up from the minor team now. It’s always good to have that competition and new people coming in.”
“I’m just hoping all the hard work will pay off and it will show on the day.” A woman of faith indeed.
The big stage
Unfazed by the pressures of Championship football, Byrne is used to stepping up to the plate on big occasions. For five years whilst she was a student in Galway she swapped gloves for shin pads and played soccer with the prestigious National Women’s League.
“I really enjoyed it and I got the opportunity to play for Ireland. My scholarship in college was for soccer so I’d no choice but to play soccer for those five years”, she said.
“I’ve played the two sports since I was very, very young but you get to a stage in college when it’s hard to keep both going. They’re both big commitments. I’ve always wanted the chance to go back playing Gaelic again because I’ve loved both sports. Now that I’m home it’s nice to get back to the Gaelic”, she says of making her debut with her home county.
Along with representing her country in soccer, one of Byrne’s proudest moments was when she donned the Offaly Rose sash and was crowned the Rose of Tralee in 2017.
“It was an incredible experience. The whole thing is a bit surreal now looking back. This time last year I was in Australia and it was a once in a life time opportunity. It was incredible but I’m very much back to normality now. I’ve great memories of the year and I got the chance to do things that I never would have got the opportunity to do.”
“Normality” to Byrne is juggling her work in Portiuncula hospital where she is training to become a doctor with the demands of county football. But with a little help, she has been able to master the act.
“My job wouldn’t be Monday to Friday. You have to be able to commit to the two things. If you’re organised, you can swap shifts in advance. In general, I try and do favours for my colleagues so that when the time comes around they might give me a hand as well.”
“Hopefully the payoff will be worthwhile at the weekend, and that’ll help me through the next night shift where I’m working back one of those favours!”