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'It's no fluke that we keep coming back year after year' - Monaghan side dreaming of back-to-back All-Irelands

Donaghmoyne are bidding for their first back-to-back All-Ireland titles, but Cork’s Mourneabbey stand in their way of a final spot on Sunday.

ONE OF THE most successful ladies football clubs in the country, Donaghmoyne have their eye on writing their own piece of history this year – which may come as a surprise to some.

The Monaghan club are hoping to win back-to-back All-Ireland senior titles for the first time, after being there or thereabouts for the past few years.

Donaghmoyne celebrate with the trophy Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Donaghmoyne have been pretty much unstoppable in both Monaghan and Ulster for as long as most people can remember, claiming 10 of the last twelve Ulster titles.

And this year has been no different to others for the ‘Fontenoys’.

Off the back of another convincing Ulster final win, Francie Coleman is preparing his side for their biggest challenge thus far in the season – An All-Ireland semi-final battle against last year’s final foes Mourneabbey.

The Cork and Munster champions will undoubtedly come to Monaghan all guns blazing, as they seek revenge for what could have been in last year’s final.

With the sides level and seven minutes left on the clock, Mourneabbey looked like they might just get their nose over the line ahead of 13-women Donaghmoyne.

But no.

The Monaghan and Ulster champions pulled together when it mattered most to win by four points, and prove that they are true champions.

This year brings a new challenge, a new goal, another new chance to place themselves at the forefront of ladies club football.

And it’s one they’ll grab with open arms. They’re hoping to do something they haven’t done before – win two All-Ireland titles in a row.

“It’s probably no secret, it’s been spoke about that we would love to win back-to-back All-Irelands,” Donaghmoyne and Monaghan defender Sharon Courtney tells The42.

“There were previous years where we won the All-Ireland, we struggled to get out of Ulster [the following year], and for a number of years we didn’t win Ulster the year after we won the All-Ireland.”

Cora Staunton and Sharon Courtney 1/12/2013 Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The closest the side came to two-in-a-row was 2013. Having won the previous year, the Monaghan club were narrowly defeated in the final by Cora Staunton’s Carnacon.

“The hunger wasn’t maybe there for us and we got there not by pure chance, but we got there [2013 All-Ireland final] by just playing ok. Then our year probably caught up with us and we were just maybe a step too far.

“They barely beat us, so that was really disappointing, the fact that we were so close to winning it.”

Team coach Annmarie Burns also shared the club’s drive this year for back-to-back titles.

“That was probably our main focus this year. We’ve never backed up an All-Ireland,” she tells The42.

“We’ve probably fallen short every year after an All-Ireland and that’s the disappointing thing for us – we probably left a few behind.

“There’s a big drive for it. It’d be something nice to do, to get the second one in a row. But look, we have to get over Sunday first.”

Mourneabbey, of course, have their own driving force for Sunday – revenge for last year’s final, and the prospect of that coveted senior All-Ireland title, after two consecutive losses.

“There’s a driving factor in each team. They’ll be hurting from last year as well, two years now,” Burns continues.

“It’ll be a very tough match. Mourneabbey have six or seven girls on their county panel, they’re a strong outfit – strong from one to 15, one to 20 – it’s going to be tough.

“You’re in an All-Ireland semi-final, there’s no easy games anymore.”

Cora Courtney and Doireann O'Sullivan Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Monaghan star Courtney is also weary of Cork captain Ciara O’Sullivan’s side.

“Look we know they’re going to be really really up for it. I know the first couple of minutes of the game is just going to be hell.

“That in itself, the fact that they’ve that revenge factor and that hunger. As well as that, Mourneabbey are a brilliant team and take the hunger and that out of it, they’ve still got brilliant players across the field.

“So with the skill level and pace, it’s going to be scary. It’s going to be a very top level, so the whole mixture together makes for a very very good team coming up to us.

“I suppose from our point of view we haven’t been flying this year yet. As much as the training we’ve put in, when it comes to game day we just haven’t been blowing teams away let’s say.”

With several household ladies football names to their advantage – Courtney and her sisters, Linda Martin and Cathriona Mc Connell to name but a few – Donaghmoyne could operate as a group of individuals, a group of players who just met, and still have success.

But they are much more than that. They go above and beyond the definition of the word team. They are all team players, a solid unit.

The sense of how close the team, and entire club are is most definitely a contributing factor to their success year in, year out.

“We’re very close, not just friends on the football field, but friends off it. Nights out, we’re all kind of with the one group,” Courtney says.

“It does make it that little bit easier that there’s a social aspect of going to the training, it’s not just head down and killing yourself, like there is a social side to it that you do enjoy and you don’t mind going as well.”

Burns is first to agree.

“There’s a lot of sisters on the team, we would be very close. We’ve grown up together all of us, and we’re all coming around the same age.

“They’re always looking out for each other. We had a couple of deaths this year as well in the club, two of the girls’ dads died and it was tough on us.

“Things like that put it into perspective and the girls pull around each other, they help out getting them out to training.

“But now saying that, we kill each other sometimes too but it’s healthy, isn’t it?” she laughs.

Linda Martin celebrates with the trophy Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Another reason why Donaghmoyne are as succesful as they are, of course, is their management team of Burns alongside long-term manager Francie Coleman and assistant manager Noel Marron.

Burns, who’s been coaching the team for three years, lets her modesty shine through.

“They’re a great group of girls, they keep themselves right, I probably just help condition them and take them on a wee bit.

“They keep coming back, so that helps as well. There’s a good core strength of them there this couple of years, so it’s easy enough to keep them fit and ready to go.”

You can clearly sense from Courtney the respect she has for the management team, and how thankful she is for the work they put in.

That being said, she says that Burns fairly puts them through their paces and is a “hard taskmaster”.

“A lot of our training would be done without a ball, hard running and throwing in the bit of strength and conditioning on the field. I would say our club training is very very hard.

“It’s no fluke that we are where we are, it’s no fluke that we keep coming back year after year, because what we do is very hard.”

“If you compare county training to club training, there’s no comparison. They’re both of a very very high level and maybe years there when the county weren’t doing so well, our club training was ten times harder than county training was.

“We still maintain that level that the training we’re doing is just outrageous sometimes. Annmarie [Burns] definitely is a hard taskmaster.”

What Burns when it comes to training is obviously reaping it’s benefits.

“Fitness-wise, I’d do running and the long runs, probably a bit of core work and that just to build up their stamina and build up their fitness,” the coach told The42.

“It’s not nice when they’re doing it, but they feel great after it. You try to minimise it now at this stage of the year, but you still need to be doing a bit of it.

“You keep the girls fresh but you need to still have them at that level of fitness that they’re gonna last sixty minutes, or the sixty four or five minutes.

“Games are tough now, it’s all go. There’s constant movement on the ball and off the ball.

“I probably am a bit of a hard taskmaster, but the results show. If you’re pushing them hard in the early months of the year, it comes to fruition at the end. Hopefully, anyway.”

Niamh Callan celebrates with her teammates at the final whistle Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

When asked to describe her side in a few words, Burns doesn’t hesitate.

“Committed, they have massive commitment and they set very high standards for themselves. They’re very unassuming as well, they probably don’t rate themselves highly enough.

“They’re a great bunch, there’s not too many clubs and teams that have done what they’ve done.

“Unassuming, committed and easy-going I suppose.”

Before fulfilling their two-in-a-row dreams though, Donaghmoyne have a taxing task ahead of them on Sunday, and that’s something Burns definitely isn’t looking past.

“It’s one we’re relishing, we can’t wait to get out and play them again. Hopefully this year will go our way as well.

“It’ll be tough, it definitely will be, but sure look, you want to be there on those days.”

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Emma Duffy

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