Christina McGinty Interview

  • Mar 15,2021

Dublin and Thomas Davis legend Christina McGinty chatted to Stíofán Lionard of the Echo last week about all things Dublin & Thomas Davis ..... 

WITH All-Ireland Championship titles bagged in every one of the past four years, Dublin Senior Ladies Football and its following have never had it so good.

Indeed the Jackies faithful have grown accustomed to their side's appearance in the annual showpiece at GAA Headquarters having figured in the decider for the past seven years, yet the success the county enjoys today has been built on the shoulders of many great players and management teams of the past.

Tallaght's Christina McGinty Collins undoubtedly stands among those great players who helped elevate her county to the senior ranks back in 1989 and sojourned with the Blues at a time when Dublin ladies football and the game itself was devoid of the glamour it rightly enjoys today.

Fuelled by the unquenchable passion her father Christy harboured for GAA, Christina was a rising star in the game from a young age, making her inter-county debut for the then Dublin Junior team back in 1988 at the age of 13.

A year later she was celebrating All-Ireland Championship success with the side, something she would not again enjoy for the remainder of her inter-county career on which she called time in 2002.

Yet her story was far from over even at that point as she went on an amazing run with her beloved Thomas Davis in 2012 that began with the club's first ever Dublin Ladies Championship title and was quickly followed by provincial and All-Ireland Junior honours.

The so called 'Road Trip' continued the following season as the Kiltipper club added Dublin and Leinster Intermediate accolades to the trophy cabinet subsequently promoting the club to Senior Ladies football where they still compete strongly to this day.

It was a timely return to the game for Christina who had been in and out throughout the previous few years as family life took over, yet it was fitting that the woman who had worked so hard to see girls and ladies football take root in the club should play her part in its golden age.

Working today as a SNA in Scoil Aonghusa, the former Scoil Maelruain and Old Bawn CS student took some time out to look back on her life in ladies football and on some momentous days for the game in both Dublin and Thomas Davis.

“I started playing with Davis at Under 10 with Tony Riordan, so I would have had two years at Under 10 and I later played under Enda O'Toole and Kevin Brennan.

“I played with the boys all the way through up to Under 13 and played in school with St Maelruains and later Old Bawn Community School.

“I played Cumann na mBunscol with Scoil Maelruain and I was the first girl to captain a boys team in Croke Park.

“But there was no underage structure for girls football at all then so my first competitive match was with the Dublin Junior team down in Carlow in the National League. That was back in 1988 and I was just 13.

“Back then Dublin were struggling for numbers and so I even got a start that day. I was wing forward I remember.

“They didn't know who this little young one was coming in and we won.

“I remember it was a wet day and we met in Parnell Street and there were five of us who drove down in a car. You had to get cars down because there were no buses organised back then.

“It just kick-started from there and we got to the All-Ireland semi final that year and got beaten against London over in Ruislip.

“That year we would have played a League Final down in Semple Stadium in Thurles and we beat Cork.

“It would have been an older Dublin team, but they did start bringing in a few players. There was Julie Kavanagh, Denise Smyth, Maureen King and Siobhan Bissett.

“There were five of us who were underage even though there was no underage structure. We were just playing adult football for clubs at that stage.

“Davis had no adult team, so I had to go to Robert Emmets. That was the closest team at the time.

“It went good with Emmets. We got to a Leinster Club Final and we were beaten by Rochfortbridge, so I would have won a few county titles with them. They were a good squad.

“But in Thomas Davis we got a team set up when I was about 18 and Alan Byrne and Kevin Donovan took it over. There was still no juvenile at that stage, but we got an adult team set up.

“I always wanted to go back. Davis is my home. It was only when I couldn’t play with Davis I had to go somewhere else.

“So it was great going back because I got to play with my two sisters Carmel and Donna and we just started pulling people from the pubs out to play.

“There was a big uptake at first and we competed very well and we had a lot of young girls coming through.

“So Dublin was coming good. The club scene was getting a little bit better and then in 1989 we won the All-Ireland Junior title.

“We played Clare in the final and drew the first day, so it went to a replay and we were blessed to get that match back in Croke Park again.

“We got to play ahead of the Dublin men who were playing a league game against Derry. So there was a bit of a different crowd there.

“I remember coming off at half time and seeing Paul Curran from my own club there so that was nice.

“We won the replay by a few points. We always had great battles with Clare. We even became friends with some of them and often went down to visit them over the years.

“You meet loads of friends throughout the years in ladies football. I actually did bridesmaid for Marie Crotty who played for Waterford for many years. It's just the friendships you make throughout the years.

“It was a great start to my inter-county career and then it just went downhill. I never did get to another All-Ireland Final at inter-county although in '88 we won the National League and we did get to a Senior B Final in the late '90s when Westmeath beat us.

“When we won the Junior All-Ireland we went senior and a lot of the girls retired.

“We did have good youth coming through because we won an Under 16 title and got to an Under 18 Final, but they weren't quite ready.

“But it was just a struggle in Dublin. There was soccer, there was camogie and other sports and other interests. Only a handful who had won that Under 16 All-Ireland really kept playing.

“There were sacrifices made. You were playing with club and county and then the facilities weren't great.

“We used to train in the Phoenix Park with no toilet facilities. So it was tough going even though the sport in Dublin and the clubs were growing.

But we were senior now and were competing against the likes of Laois, Kerry, Cork, Mayo, Waterford. Laois were very prominent in Leinster at the time.

“And it took us until 2002 to win our first Leinster title when we beat Laois. Dublin had never won a Senior [Ladies] Leinster title and that was the start of Dublin's run.

“I retired in 2002 and I had my son Ciaran in 2003, the year Dublin were beaten in their first All-Ireland Final.

“My last match for Dublin was against Mayo in the All-Ireland semi final in Longford in 2002 and we were beaten. It was very painful.

“I was quite young when I retired. I was 27, but I was after having played 14 years by that point.

“Dublin definitely was on the rise at that stage. There was a different structure coming in, there was a professionalism coming in. Even the sponsorship that was coming, it wasn't just Dublin ladies football, it was ladies football in general that was on the rise.

“I was glad that I had been part of it and I kept going to all the games, never stopped going to all the games.

Because you had been part of the team for 14 years, you still kept thinking that it was your team and it's who you support.

“I had played with so many of them and then my clubmate Siobhan McGrath came on the scene the year after I left.

“So I'd be going to watch the matches with McGrath or for McGrath and watch all the other girls. They were still my friends, they would have been my team mates, the likes of Angie McNally, Louise Kelly, Martina Farrell, Elaine Kelly, Gemma Fay, Asho' McCormack. I could list them all.

“And they weren't just team mates, they're friends. I could still pick up the phone to any single one of them today. It's like they're your best friends.

“I was often captain throughout the '90s. That was a great honour. It was an honour to put on the jersey itself and I wore it with pride.

“I started young and I learnt from the best, players who were older than me. Louise Lynch who was a very special friend from the '89 team. She has passed away since.

“She would have been a dual player, and you learn from these people and you take a lot from them.

“You learn from all the different managers you've played under. There was Alan Byrne, Eamon Gilligan, Brendan Dardis and Mick Bohan. I could list them.

“And look, I might not have won all the time, but the friendships and the bonds I have are so important.

“You were still striving to win and you still believed you could win. You trained as hard as everybody else. We believed in ourselves. We had great players, Dublin had great players, but we just couldn't get over that line sometimes.

“On the club front, the team in Thomas Davis was struggling and it did disband again, so I had to go to Portobello because we had no team. I just wanted to play football and if you wanted to play with Dublin you had to play with a club.

“It went very well with Portobello. I got to an All-Ireland Senior Club Final in 1998 and Ballymacarbry beat us in Birr.

“I was with Portobello for three years before we got Davis back up and running. But now we had a juvenile structure in place and I was club coach and so we got the ladies team back up and going. Once Davis had the football, I was always there.

“We had players coming through and it's gone from strength to strength since then.

“I had my daughter Aimee in 2005 and I played after she was born and then I played up until 2007 when I got pregnant with Luke and so I gave it up.“I now had three young kids under five and I said 'Ok that's it, I'm not going back.'

“So I stopped then, but in 2012 I got a phone call. Davis were struggling for a team and Stephen Bates rang to see if I'd just go out and give a hand for the fixture. 

It was a cup game and there were loads of girls away. So I said 'no problem.'“I had coached this team for a year myself and we got to a county final and we lost.

“But to get to a county final that year was a real stepping stone to where we were going and about a year later Stephen came in with Niall Kelly and Mary McGrath.

“But I came back in 2012 and I was a sub obviously. I got out on the pitch and I enjoyed it, so I said I'd give the season a go and I stayed on for the rest of that.

“I enjoyed it. The kids were a little bit older. I was at home with them, so it was my little outlet.  

My husband Tim has been a great supporter of me along the way. He'd mind the kids when I used to go out and play especially in 2012. I always had great support from him.“So I went back with them and the rest is history. We had a great run in 2012.

“We won the Dublin Junior Championship. The first time a Thomas Davis ladies team won a championship final. We beat Lucan Sarsfields in the final out in Peregrines.

“My mother Mary had passed away just a few weeks before we won that first Dublin Championship.“She was a very big supporter of mine. She encouraged me all the time, came to the football matches all through the years. Everyone would know her voice on the side line that's for sure.

“So I was a bit emotional after that match, but I felt she was always there when we went on that campaign, guiding us through.

“Winning the Dublin Championship was huge because we had never been able to get over that hurdle. But now we went on a run and we won the Leinster Club Final that year and then we went on and won the All-Ireland Club title. It was a super achievement. It was brilliant.

“We beat Boherbue from Cork. It was a tough match, any Cork team is tough, but we put in a really good performance.

“Nora Kirby was the captain and we had Siobhán McGrath, Olwen Carey and Ciara McGuigan. We had a nice balance to the team and we had Katie Fitzhenry who plays rugby with Ireland.

“I'll never forget coming back to the club that day. There were bonfires, the kids all on the walls, the flags, the support we had from the club was amazing. We even had a Garda escort. It was brilliant, just coming down the Kiltipper Road that evening. It would have brought a tear to your eye.

“The whole club really got behind us that year and it created such a super atmosphere. It was a fantastic journey we went on, an absolutely brilliant journey.

“And credit has to go to all the mentors who had gone before and put all the time in with those girls coming through, the executive, the committee of the Ladies section, the likes of Linda Walsh, Paula McGuigan, Rosemary Deasy, the people who work behind the scenes.

“So we went intermediate the following year and we won the Intermediate Championship, beating Kilmacud in the Final.

“They would have been hot favourites, but we had that momentum with us and we had that belief. We had a great team with more young girls coming through.

“So we were on another road trip and we went on and won the Leinster Intermediate Final. We beat a team from Westmeath in Mullingar.

“We actually had to wear the Dublin jerseys that day because the jerseys clashed. Myself and McGrath joked that we got to wear the Dublin jerseys together once on the pitch.

“We went on to the All-Ireland Final against Claregalway and we were beaten by a goal.“So we went from junior to intermediate and then up to senior in the space of those two years with an absolutely brilliant team who had a great bond and great belief.

“They're still senior now and their competing very well at the moment. They're holding their own in Division One and got to the championship semi final there a couple of years ago against Fox-Cab', so they’re doing well.

“I played in 2014 and my last match was a Senior Championship game against St Sylvester's. I went up for a ball, came down, the girl's knee came into my knee and I tore half my cruciate, so that was it, good night. Lights out!

“But I did make a kamikaze return last year. I went down to Dingle with them to play in the Páidí Ó Sé Tournament, the February before Covid.

“I loved it. Liam McGuigan took me off at one stage and put me back on as quick because I was annoying him on the sideline.

“I started midfield in one of the games with my niece Kerri Owens so I got to play with Kerri who's a Dublin Minor player as well.

“I did get to work with Thomas Davis. I was GPO and worked with the Dublin County Board for a good few years, so I was giving back some of what I got from the game.

“To work as a club coach for four or five years was another super opportunity from Thomas Davis, putting in pathways, academies, coaching the kids and seeing them coming on, it was just brilliant. I'm still coaching.

“Now I'm with my son Luke's teams, Under 13 boys hurling and football and I'm with my daughter Aimee's football team as well.

“Years after I captained Scoil Maelruain’s in Croke Park, both Luke and Aimee captained their Scoil Maelruain teams there too in the Cumann na mBunscol Finals.

“Today we've a super set-up in Thomas Davis with Club Coach Stephen Stewart there. He's doing a great job there with the academy on a Saturday.

“There's great people there doing voluntary work, giving up their time.

“But you can't beat joining the GAA, you can't beat Thomas Davis. When things are down they get behind people. It's a real family place and you never stop meeting new friends.

“But what I do miss is walking into the dressing room, throwing the bag on the floor and then the banter. That feeling of putting on the jerseys and going out on the pitch together. You miss that, that camaraderie because you were part of something. You were always part of something.

“I had my share of ups and downs, but I kept going back because I loved it. It wasn't just about winning.

“We wanted to win, we thought we were going to win every match, you went out to give your best performance, you went out to play for yourself and your team and not let yourself down.

“You weren't always going to win, but if you gave it 100 percent on the pitch, that's what was important and I just loved playing whether we were winning or losing. It was my passion, my life.”

Article was first published in the Echo March 12th 2021. Thomas Davis Image credits Paddy Barrett and Jimmy Clarke.