23-years in the Carlow jersey finally rewarded for Hayden

April 20, 2024

Limerick's Cathy Lee and Edel Hayden of Carlow ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

By Daire Walsh  

Following many years of hard graft, veteran Carlow footballer Edel Hayden finally got her hands on national silverware at Grant Heating St Brendan’s Park in Birr a fortnight ago. 

Lining out at midfield, 37-year-old Hayden played a significant role in helping the Barrowsiders to secure the Lidl National Football League Division 4 title with a 1-7 to 0-6 triumph over Limerick at the Offaly venue. Since claiming the NFL Division 2 crown with a final victory against Roscommon in 1993, Carlow's only additional successes in ladies football — up until two weeks ago — had been at a provincial level. 

Remarkably, Hayden first arrived on the adult inter-county scene in 2001 and has experienced a number of highs and lows in a Carlow jersey. Suffice to say, their showdown with Limerick on April 6 in Birr very much falls into the former category. 

“I think it was Rachel Sawyer (her Carlow team-mate) was saying to me in the dressing room just before the match, I think her Mam was on the last team that won the Division 2 back years ago. Since I started back in 2001, other than a Leinster final and making semi-finals, we haven’t got any silverware really,” Hayden said. 

“It was unbelievable and even just for managers that have been in with us, and people that followed us even through the ups and downs. There are a lot of those that still come to games. No matter what part of the country it’s in, you see similar faces throughout the years.” 

The notion of winning a Division 4 title seemed like a far away dream for Carlow ten years ago, when the county didn’t compete in the Lidl National Football League for the first of two consecutive seasons. Yet they eventually returned to NFL action in 2016 and Hayden believes the Carlow resurgence began in earnest the following year when Bart Gilmartin assumed the reins of the county side. 

Gerry McGill (who steered Dublin to their maiden TG4 All-Ireland SFC success in 2010) and Mark Keating had subsequent spells as Carlow managers, before current supremo Ed Burke was appointed in the winter of 2021.  

“I can remember even, there was years we were going on a bus. We’d pull into Askea car park and there might be 13 of us on a bus. Kathleen Mullins, she’s no longer with us today unfortunately, but she always used to get a few people along the way,” Hayden recalled. 

“It went from trying to drag players and beg players to come and play, to when Bart Gilmartin rang me, I think it was back in 2017. I think from there it kind of changed. There was loads of girls interested. He brought a great freshness that time as well to us and he was so interested. 

“We did really well in 2017 and it just did change from there. Since Ed Burke came in, Ed has been unbelievable really. He’s obsessed with the game. He’s brought just something so different.” 

Although she has played rugby for Carlow Coyotes in the past — and was also part of an Ireland 7s development squad known as ‘Green Lightning’ for a period of time — Gaelic football has always been the main sport of choice for Hayden. In addition to being the sister of former Carlow and London star Derek Hayden, she also has a father (Joe), grandfather (Brendan Sr) and uncles (Brendan Jr and Colm) who have represented the Barrowsiders with considerable distinction. 

“Derek went to work in London and he ended up playing over there. He has played for Eire Og (which is also Edel’s club) now for a number of years and still throwing on the jersey now and again when needed! 

“He had a great career in football in fairness and even with Carlow there at times, he would have been there or thereabouts. It ran in the family from my Dad and my brother to my aunties and uncles. It was a big football family. We were just lucky we were brought up in such a sporting family and that’s how we’ve all ended up staying in football.” 

While she did make her senior debut all of 23 years ago, there have been certain periods when Hayden was away from the inter-county game. This is thanks to a combination of long-term injuries and the fact that she is also the mother of four children. 

Away from the football pitch — having previously worked as a hairdresser — Hayden has also become a stay at home Mam in recent years. 

“I’ve four kids. Dylan and Harper, and then the younger two, Dáire and Ellie, they have autism. I’ve had to give up work and stay at home. Try and do what I can to get them where they need to be as well. 

“I’m a stay at home Mam to them at the moment, just until I can get more help for them. I haven’t been able to go and work. Just the way they are, the kids. They need me more at home.” 

Despite having a massive amount on her plate off the field, Hayden views football as a great outlet and remains hugely passionate about representing Carlow. 

She is hopeful their NFL Division 4 triumph can be the springboard for them to scale even greater heights later this summer. As well as wanting to defend their Leinster Junior Football Championship title in the coming weeks, Carlow have a desire to take a significant leap forward in the TG4 All-Ireland Junior Football Championship. 

Semi-finalists in each of the past three seasons, Carlow believe they are more than capable of making it to Croke Park for the competition’s showpiece decider on August 4, but Hayden also stressed they won’t be getting ahead of themselves in that particular pursuit. 

“Everyone is going to want to progress to a semi-final and obviously your dream is to get to Croke Park. It’s going to be so competitive, but we’re really looking forward to the challenges,” Hayden added. 

“Like we have done all year, we’re just taking one game as it comes. I’d say we’ll take the same approach now coming into the Leinster and coming into the All-Ireland series. We’ll just take one game as it comes and that’s how we’ll operate.” 

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