Proud Westmeath captain dedicates victory to her late granny
Westmeath captain Fiona Claffey felt the presence of her recently departed grandmother Rose as she led her team to All-Ireland glory at Croke Park last Sunday week.
“I have to say my granny Claffey (Rose) was a huge supporter of football. She passed away a few weeks ago. She was definitely with me in spirit there,” said an emotional Fiona afterwards as she fondly remembered her grandmother, who died last month.
“It was great to get that win; my aunties were all there and hopefully it will help lift the family a bit again. She would have been delighted with it,” Fiona continued.
Fiona’s aunt Patricia Dolan played for Westmeath in the All-Ireland senior final of 1987 and has been deeply involved with the Garrycastle club for several years. Her first cousin Sarah Dolan won an All-Ireland medal in 2011 alongside Fiona. As to suggestions that the extended family would be very proud of her achievement of lifting the Mary Quinn Cup, Fiona responded with a laugh: “I’m sure they are, they won’t let on but they probably are!”
In trying to sum up the comprehensive All-Ireland final win over Wexford, Fiona said: “It’s a proud day when everyone on the team played so well. It was really a full team performance, everyone who started and everyone who came in. The girls on the sideline were with us every bit of the way. I’m so proud of this team and how we played.”
“In a couple of our games earlier in the year, we let teams back into it. Sometimes we can go hard and then taper back a bit, but it was literally hard work the whole way through the game today,” she continued.
Fiona is the only player who started in the 2011 All-Ireland final replay win against Cavan and this year's decider. And she is well placed to give a perspective on the Westmeath ladies football journey over the years.
“There have been a lot of highs and a lot of lows in Westmeath jerseys. When I started, we were in Division 4 and we were junior. When we got up to Division 1 and started playing senior football, I couldn’t believe it,” she reflected.
“It was very disappointing when we got relegated from senior two years ago. In some senses maybe it’s a good way to rebuild a team. We’ve seen what Meath ladies have done – they went down to intermediate and rebuilt again. The bit of confidence and momentum that we can take from today we can hopefully carry into next year. There are so many young girls that never had this experience and I think it’s great to get that behind them, and hopefully it can be brought into Division 1 of the league next year.”
Fiona was delighted that a number of experienced Westmeath players were introduced from the bench in the All-Ireland final. Also, among the subs who came on was Garrycastle’s Aoife Connolly, who has battled back from two cruciate ligament injuries.
“Jo-hanna, Karen (Hegarty) and Rog (Jennifer Rogers) have all been a pivotal part of our team. Even this year they have come on in games and made a huge impact, especially Jo-hanna in the semi-final against Kildare. It was also great to see Aoife Connolly coming on – she’s had a tough time with cruciate injuries and she’s a great player,” said Fiona.
A former Kilbeggan Shamrocks player, Fiona has been playing with Foxrock Cabinteely in Dublin for a number of years. She said the club has been “very good” about her inter-county commitments with Westmeath.
“They always say county football is your priority during the season and there is no expectation on me to be at training with both,” said Fiona.
"I do really enjoy playing club football in Dublin, obviously I live in Dublin. It’s a really high standard and I’d know a lot of the Dublin girls. At the same time, nothing beats winning with your home county, it’s amazing,” she added.
And just three days after Westmeath's All-Ireland final success, Fiona was introduced as a substitute for Foxrock Cabinteely as they defeated Portlaoise in the delayed 2020 Leinster club senior football decider. The final was played in Kinnegad with Foxrock Cabinteely winning by 1-12 to 2-4.