By Daire Walsh
It might be almost three years since she announced her retirement, but there are still parts of inter-county football that former Tipperary captain Samantha Lambert misses to this day.
On January 21, 2021, the Ardfinnan star brought the curtain down on a career with the Premier County that saw her winning no fewer than three TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship titles – including two as skipper in 2017 and 2019.
A senior championship outfit since that latter win over Meath, the current crop of Tipperary footballers will begin their Lidl National Football League Division 2 campaign against Cavan later this month. While this used to be the time of year that she relished the most, the school teacher at Comeragh College in Carrick-on-Suir has nevertheless found ways to move on from the highest level of ladies football.
“I miss the girls more so than anything, the socialising with them. They become your family really and a lot of my best friends are and were playing county football. I do miss them a lot and I love the intensity of training, the hard slog this time of year as well. That’s why I loved it, most people would be the opposite way around,” Lambert explained.
“It was great to be back fit and feeling fit, looking forward to the league games. Definitely, I do miss it, but at the same time I’ve a lot going on now that keeps my mind busy and keeps me busy too.”
Aside from continuing to line out at club level for Ardfinnan and welcoming a new baby in 2023, Lambert has also been working on a number of initiatives that she feels passionate about since calling it a day with Tipperary.
In early 2022, she became an ambassador for the LGFA’s ZuCar Gaelic4Teens programme — a coach education based initiative that is aimed at increasing the retention rate of teenage girls aged 13-17 years in clubs that are usually subject to an increased level of dropout.
Additionally, Lambert has also been heavily involved in Lidl’s #SeriousSupport schools programme in recent times. Supported by the LGFA and delivered by Youth Sport Trust and their specially-trained athlete mentors, this programme is designed to educate teenage girls about the positive mental and physical health benefits of playing ladies football.
“I’ve been doing that (#SeriousSupport) for the last three years and I really, really enjoy it. Just using sport to transform the lives of young people. To share my story and how sport has helped me be successful on and off the pitch.
"The Gaelic4Teens as well, that is more so to do with the coaches rather than the girls. It’s just frightening for me. I’m a secondary school teacher as well, and the stats that are there. By the age of 13, one in two girls drop out of sport, and girls are three times more likely to give up sport than boys. I’m hugely passionate because I know what sport has done for me.
“I would hope that other girls that are younger than me will get the same out of it as what I’ve got because it’s just invaluable really. I wouldn’t be where I am today or have gotten the opportunities that I’ve gotten if I hadn’t played county football for Tipperary. I find myself very privileged and in a lucky position where I am today.”
‘LIFE-CHANGING’ AFRICAN TRIP
Lambert also credits her time as a Tipperary footballer for affording her the opportunity to travel to Kenya last November for the 2023 edition of the ‘Plant The Planet’ Games. The brainchild of Warriors for Humanity CEO and founder Alan Kerins (the former Galway dual star), this particular initiative first came to fruition in 2022, when 50 past and present inter-county players across the GAA, LGFA and the Camogie Association made a week-long trip to the African country with the aim of planting trees to tackle the devastating effects of climate change and raising awareness of the work of Self Help Africa.
Many of those who made the trip in 2022 described it as “life-changing” and Lambert returned from Kenya with a similar perspective.
“It was something that I’ll never forget. It was just absolutely amazing, inspiring and humbling. A seriously rewarding trip that really opened my eyes to what is going on in the world. How privileged we are. We really are just lucky to have what we have and we don’t realise it.
“We moan about the small little things and there’s a lot of bigger problems in the world. You can look at all the pictures in the world or someone might tell you about it, but when you see it in the flesh, that’s when you really realise that we are a very privileged bunch of people here in Ireland. We should really appreciate what we have.
“As I said already, sport has done so much for me. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity to go only for sport and for ladies football. Then to go on a trip like that with nearly 50 other GAA players. We were like best friends coming home. It was just remarkable and a life-changing experience.”