16 December 2023
~6 minutes read
‘Glory days’ – The Big Interview with former Waterford and Ballymacarbry star Fiona Crotty-Laffan
It has been a long wait since their last appearance at this stage of the competition, but club stalwart Fiona Crotty-Laffan is thrilled that Ballymacarbry have finally made it back to a currentaccount.ie All-Ireland Ladies Senior Club decider.
Back in 1998, Crotty-Laffan was selected in the half-forward line as the Waterford side defeated Dublin’s Portobello on a scoreline of 2-15 to 0-8 in Birr to claim top-tier honours. This was her ninth time to collect an All-Ireland SFC club crown, but Ballymac were also first-time victors in 1987 prior to her progression onto the senior panel.
While they have continued to dominate the Waterford championship in the past quarter of a century, the emergence of new powerhouses on the provincial and national scene has made the task of reaching an All-Ireland final all the more difficult. Yet following a convincing semi-final success over Ulster champions Clann Eireann, Ballymac return to the big stage at Croke Park this evening to take on reigning champions Kilkerrin-Clonberne.
“These bunch of girls that are going to be playing on Saturday have had a hard slog over the last couple of years. The likes of Michelle Ryan, Aileen Wall, Louise Ryan, Karen and Michelle McGrath, those older girls on the team. They have fought for Ballymac for several, several years now,” Crotty-Laffan said.
“To keep the momentum going and to get where they are now is just fantastic. I’m really excited for them and I’m delighted for them because they thoroughly deserve it.”
For a number of reasons, Crotty-Laffan is expecting Ballymac to be a highly-motivated outfit when the ball is thrown in at 5pm in GAA HQ today. Aside from attempting to halt a Kilkerrin-Clonberne side that have won the last two All-Ireland senior club titles, there is also the fact that Mike Guiry’s charges lost to their Galway counterparts at the penultimate stage in 2022.
Additionally, the winners of their latest encounter will climb the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup. A former team-mate of Crotty-Laffan, Tyrrell was the captain of that first Ballymac team to secure an All-Ireland senior crown in 1987 and the trophy was named in her honour in 1994 – a year after she had sadly passed away.
“They’re going for three in-a-row. That’s a big motivational thing for Kilkerrin-Clonberne, to win the three in-a-row. It’s also a big motivational thing for Ballymacarbry to try and stop that. I know they met them in the semi-final last year. Unfortunately it didn’t go Ballymac’s way and they were beaten very well last year, but they’re a different team this year.
“If there was any motivation to win this, it must be looking back at all the training and hard slogs that they have put in over the last couple of years. They’re 60 minutes away from an All-Ireland. That’s huge motivation, I think.
“Also, the fact that it’s the Dolores Tyrrell Cup. It’s very special to be in this All-Ireland and compete for the Dolores Tyrrell Cup. There’s plenty of motivation there to rile the girls up, absolutely.”
Of course, Crotty-Laffan knows what it feels like to be going for a third All-Ireland senior club success on the bounce. Having been part of the sides that overcame Rochfortbridge (Westmeath) and St Grellan’s (Galway) in the previous two years, she was posted at right corner-forward when Ballymac once again defeated Rochfortbridge in a 1991 final held at Dr Cullen Park in Carlow.
Though Ballymac went on to make it seven All-Irelands in-a-row four years later, the ’91 season was a truly special one for Crotty-Laffan. As well as winning top club honours, she was remarkably in the starting line-up on the Waterford sides that won the U16, Minor and Senior All-Irelands.
The latter victory – at the expense of Laois in Croke Park – was the Deise’s first at the senior grade and Crotty-Laffan went on to win a further four Brendan Martin Cup titles with her county in the same decade.
“It (1991) was a very busy year. I came along at the right time and I was involved with an amazing bunch of girls. I think there was nine girls in my class in primary school and eight of us played football. Back then, you could play U16, minor and senior, and you were brought up onto every team if you were somewhat decent.
“I was lucky enough to play in all four of those All-Irelands that year. Probably my most memorable match would be the ’91 club All-Ireland against Rochfortbridge because that was a really, really close game (0-9 to 1-4 was the final score). We were going for three in-a-row at that stage.”
Before being managed in the senior set-up by the legendary Michael Ryan, who was also her inter-county boss, Crotty-Laffan was coached by her sister Marie Crotty on a Ballymacarbry U14 squad that triumphed at the community games in Mosney. A multiple Celtic Cross winner with Waterford and Ballymac like her younger sibling, Marie has the distinction of being the first ladies footballer to register a score in Croke Park – her opening point at the Jones’ Road venue setting the Deise on their way to an All-Ireland junior win over Wexford on October 12, 1986.
Crotty-Laffan has also tried her hand at coaching in recent years and took over as Waterford U14 manager in 2022. Maintaining the family connection, her daughter Makayla Laffan was part of the panel that year and featured prominently as the Munster side sealed victory over Tyrone in an U14 All-Ireland Silver Final.
“When you have your own kids, it’s easier to step back in to get involved again. I took on the U14s there in 2022 and we had a very successful year,” Crotty-Laffan added.
“I had a wonderful bunch of girls that year. They were so committed, they were great fun. We had an absolute ball. I’m a firm believer that you play your best football when you’re having fun. I know we certainly had fun when we were playing.
“It was all about setting up that correct environment where the girls could develop and thrive. Enjoy their football and want to come back. That’s what we did.”