Wednesday 19 September 2018

Meet the mother and daughter who inspired Tullow to final glory in fairytale season

Tullow player Maggie Kelly and her daughter Grace celebrate after winning the Women's Leinster League Division 2 final against Suttonians Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Tullow player Maggie Kelly and her daughter Grace celebrate after winning the Women's Leinster League Division 2 final against Suttonians Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Maggie Kelly has soldiered with Tullow since the club introduced a women's team in 2008, through the good days and bad.

She thought long and hard about calling it a day last year, but the temptation to stay on and play alongside her daughter Grace proved too much.

Captain Alex O'Brien, sister of Ireland star Sean, lifts the trophy surrounded by her team-mates Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Captain Alex O'Brien, sister of Ireland star Sean, lifts the trophy surrounded by her team-mates Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

On Sunday, the mother and daughter duo were instrumental in Tullow's 17-15 win over Suttonians in the Division 2 final of the Leinster league.

It was another memorable afternoon for the club but for the Kelly family it held even greater significance as Maggie started at hooker and scored a try, with her 18-year-old daughter Grace at openside flanker.

The remarkable feat is the first time that anything of the sort has happened in the Carlow club, according to manager Cora Browne.

"I've certainly never heard of it happening before," she told the Irish Independent.

"It has never happened in our club anyway - not even a father and son. We have an awful lot of teams in Tullow rugby but this is the first time anything like this has happened."

The pair's journey is one that began last year after Grace turned 18 and was eligible to play senior rugby.

Any thoughts of Maggie hanging up her boots were quickly put on the back burner and it proved to be a wise decision as she shared an unforgettable moment with Grace.

"Neither of them are from the stand-back brigade, they're hardy women," Browne explained.

"In our league semi-final, Maggie had been taken off and Grace had done something that we all shouldn't have done but by god, her mother wasn't afraid (to say it). She fairly demolished her when she didn't pass the ball when she should have.

"One is bold, and the other is bolder! There is a terrific dynamic between them - on and off the pitch.

"Maggie is really one of our star players. She plays in most positions in the pack. She's propped, she's hooked, and she's played No 8.

"She has had a fair few injuries but last year she was very adamant that when her daughter became 18 and was eligible to play with the seniors, she was anxious to give it one more crack.

"She didn't play a lot earlier in the season but she has had an absolutely super end to the season. The last two matches were as good as I have ever seen her play.

"Grace has been playing Leinster Juniors. She's playing with three teams. She's with Blackrock, she's playing with the college in IT Carlow and she's playing with us."

In recent years, Sean O'Brien has helped to put Tullow on the map but the Ireland and Lions flanker isn't the only one in his family with strong rugby connections.

Etched

His younger sister Alex (26) captained Tullow to their league success as she etched her name into the history books.

"Alex was initially No 8 but she suffers a fair bit with back trouble, like himself (Sean), so at the moment she's in the centre and playing super," Browne said of her skipper.

"She's very, very physical. She's a big girl, hits hard. She's super. She had a few trials for Ireland and Leinster but they never spotted her.

"She's a stand-out player in all the matches that she plays for us - in the way that she tackles and she hits."

O'Brien, a fiercely proud Tullow native, lent a helping hand to the women's team in the build-up to last weekend's final win, offering up some of his time during a couple of training sessions.

"Sean always comes up and gives us a night or two," Browne explained.

"He actually did come for a few nights before our final. Some of the girls who were new to the game really learned from him and thought his input was very, very valuable.

"He has a great, simple way of getting points across to girls. You'd imagine he would be more technical, but actually he's more simplistic, which is terrific.

"He was there last night (Sunday) celebrating with us for a while and he put a few bob to fill the cup for us. He's very pro-club."

Tullow are back in action this weekend as they look to keep their double dream alive when they take on Gorey in the cup, and central to their plans once again will be Maggie and Grace.

"We can't play without them," Browne added. "We have very little bench support at the moment so everyone, even if they are walking wounded, is going to have to play their part again next weekend.

"We have won Division 2 before but that was four years ago when there wasn't as much emphasis on going up.

"We lost four or five girls that year to marriage or pregnancy so we had a choice of not going up to Division 1.

"Since then, we have a good squad and some good girls coming up from the U-18s. We feel that we are well able for it.

"There will be no rest for the wicked for another few weeks."

Irish Independent

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