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All Star hangs up gloves

Ladies' football legend Mary Rose leaves Wexford fold

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Mary Rose Kelly after captaining Wexford to the National League title in 2018

Mary Rose Kelly after captaining Wexford to the National League title in 2018

SPORTSFILE

Mary Rose Kelly after captaining Wexford to the National League title in 2018

After almost 24 years representing the county, Mary Rose Kelly has decided to retire from inter-county football, leaving the ongoing quest for honours to the next generation.

The seeds of her love for football started at a tender age, when she set out on what was to become a remarkable career.

Mary Rose hails from a sporting family, as her father, P.J., was a noted athlete, and her uncle, Seamus, was one of the county's leading rugby players, representing Lansdowne, Leinster and Ireland as an out-half of quality.

Seamus also lined out with Wexford Wanderers, and also found the time to play inter-county football with Wexford.

Mary Rose was first introduced to ladies' football in a strange sort of way. As there was no club in the town at the time, she was faced with a dilemma in order to fulfil her dream.

'With no ladies' club in the town it was either St. Fintan's or Shelmaliers. Jimmy Kelly of The Faythe, and Pat Murphy, a St. Fintan's clubman then known for his Kelly's Bakery bread rounds, encouraged me to link up with them.

'That's where it all started and I still play my club football with St. Fintan's,' she explained.

Her love for the game was nurtured on the playing fields of Ballymore, and she went on to play for her county to the top level.

Kelly is not one hundred per cent sure, but she reckons she made her Wexford Senior debut in 1995.

'I did take a few years out in between. I spent a year in Australia, while I went and played National League soccer with Wexford Youths for a while.

'I suppose if you add up the years, it's going on 24 years,' she added.

There was just one campaign when she opted to play both codes at the same time, and that was in 2014.

Wexford beat New York in the All-Ireland Junior final in Croke Park, while the Youths won the league in that same season. It was, of course, a tricky balancing act but she made it work.

'In fairness, I had two very understanding managers. It's happened over the years with camogie and football where they both expect you to give one hundred per cent, and you can't. You'll burn yourself out so you need to have that bit of conversation between management,' she said.

'But I think when you come to the higher level you do have to pick one or the other.

'It came to making a decision. I love both but I was always ingrained and brought up through Gaelic football and I think that's where I was always going to finish off my career.'

There was plenty of success through the years, but it was 2014 that stood out.

'That was the first for the county,' she recalled of the glorious All-Ireland Junior win.

'We were there in 2007 (Intermediate) against Leitrim and we lost. We seemed to lose a bit of momentum after that and camogie excelled and we had a lot of dual players.

'A lot of these went to camogie and went on to win three more All-Irelands after that. We seemed to have to re-group a little, having lost a lot of players who had given so much.'

Despite having enjoyed a great game in the 2014 final, being awarded the Croke Park Hotel player of the month for September of 2014, and having won an All Star in 2007, one question springs up: why keep going through the years?

'The love of the game. You are always trying to excel, improve, reach the next level. We came so close on so many other occasions,' she added.

'We came close against Tipperary in 2018 and look where they have aspired to. They beat us in the Division 3 league final in 2018 after a replay and secured promotion to the second tier. They went on to lift the Intermediate title, securing Division 1 football. That is what teams aim for.'

Mary Rose enjoyed winning a National League title with Wexford in 2018, while last year they won the Leinster Intermediate football crown, but then lost to Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final having beaten them in the Leinster final.

Mary Rose recalled 2007 when she joined the stars of ladies' football. It was in the Citywest Hotel in Dublin that the then 25-year-old St. Fintan's player was rewarded for her outstanding performances during Wexford's run to the All-Ireland Intermediate championship final by picking up her first O'Neill's/TG4 All Star.

Kelly conceded just seven goals in eight championship games and kept a clean sheet in Wexford's disappointing four-point final defeat to Leitrim in Croke Park on September 23.

Along with Leitrim's Sarah McLoughlin, she was the only Intermediate player to be honoured with an All Star that year. She has also played for Leinster, helping them win the inter-provincial shield.

She also recalled one famous occasion in Ferrycarrig Park when she was on the receiving end.

She laughed when a certain goal was recalled, one that went on to be nominated for the FIFA Puskas award.

Stephanie Roche, lining out for Peamount United in the Women's National League, scored a spectacular effort, and it was Kelly between the posts for Wexford Youths that day.

'It was a fabulous goal by Stephanie. She didn't think it was going in, sure no one did. The way she caught the ball on her foot, the two keepie-uppies to control, the turn, and then smashing the volley home.

'Sure look, wasn't it fabulous for women's football? It was on the stage with Messi and Ronaldo. It was great to see that a goal scored in a women's game in Ireland and in Wexford could contest that award.'

It's been a long journey, but a memorable one for Mary Rose, who is now running the family furniture business at Cornmarket in Wexford town.

Online Editors