Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Tommy Grealy/INPHO Donaghmoyne last won the All-Ireland in 2016.
# come on eileen
From Perth to Croke Park and back again - a Monaghan bid for more All-Ireland glory
Eileen McElroy reflects on a ‘very special journey’ with Donaghmoyne. It’s not over yet.

IT WAS A lovely summer’s night in Perth, a dull and dreary January afternoon in Galway.

Eileen McElroy fired up the laptop and synced it with the television. Her heart sank for a moment, as it always did when she watched her beloved Donaghmoyne side from afar.

The Monaghan powerhouse fell short to Kilkerrin-Clonberne in the All-Ireland senior semi-final, the Galway side going on to dethrone Mourneabbey and be crowned 2021/22 club champions.

328 days later, Donaghmoyne and Kilkerrin-Clonberne do battle once more.

This time in the All-Ireland final.

This time in Croke Park.

And this time, McElroy is on the team-sheet, back home from Australia.

“Well, I kind of still am in Perth,” the star midfielder, who also represented Monaghan at inter-county level through the years, tells The42.

“I’m only home for six months to play the football. I’m doing my [doctor] training in Perth. I’ve been over there for the last five-and-a-half years. I went over in 2017, we had just come off the back of winning two All-Irelands in-a-row.

“Only went for six months at that time because I was coming back home to Donaghmoyne to play for potentially a three in-a-row that year in 2017.

“But unfortunately we lost the Ulster final that year. I got a bit of a giving out to from some of the girls telling me never to come back for football again!

“But here I am, five years later, coming back for football.”

carla-rowe-with-eileen-mcelroy Morgan Treacy / INPHO Facing Dublin's Carla Rowe with Monaghan in 2015. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Originally a mixture of work and the opportunity to travel lured McElroy Down Under. She graduated medicine at UCD in 2015, and planned to follow the trend of Irish doctors going overseas for a stint. Perth was the place that was offering plenty of jobs so, “like the sheep that I am,” she joined friends and work colleagues there. 

A long-term stay never even crossed her mind back then. She could never have imagined still being there in 2022, the same year Donaghmoyne won their 20th county senior championship title in-a-row.

“I had initially only gone for six months and then I said I’d go back and give it one full year and that kind of turned into another year and another year and now, I’m in the middle of training up over there.

“I’ve got two-and-a-half years left to do whenever I go back, but the opportunity fell to me this year that I could come home and and give it six months at home. I’ve been very lucky to get three months of work while I’m at home as well.

“It’s allowed me to play football and spend some time with family and friends and have a Christmas at home eventually. It’s been wonderful.”

The pull was always there. That itch to come home. 

Reminders often came through on the the phone, and they were always Donaghmoyne-related.

A friend in Oz advised her to leave the team WhatsApp group to ease transition.

But McElroy persisted.

“I never left the WhatsApp group, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it,” she explains.

“You could be sitting on a beach drinking a cocktail, and all I’d want to do was be on the field in Donaghmoyne that evening, never mind sitting on a beach in 40 degree heat.

“You’d always have that little heart-sink whenever they’re about to line out for a championship game. I thought I wasn’t going to be as passionate about it, but watching some of the games, I was incredibly wound up and shouting at the TV.

eileen-mciroy-lifts-the-trophy Ryan Byrne / INPHO McElroy was captain in 2016. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“One time they were playing an All-Ireland semi and I was meant to start a night shift. I had to tell them, I was going to be a half-an-hour late because I was watching the end of the game.

“I thought maybe over the couple of years, the passion might have drifted, but seeing them line out and not being there just made that want stronger to get back home and play with them one last time.

“A few thoughts had passed my mind while I was in Australia, ‘Had I played my last game for Donaghmoyne?’

“But the opportunity arose this year. It’s been a very special journey for me.”

Donaghmoyne to the backbone 

It all started out in 2008 for McElroy.

There was no women’s team at her local club Castleblayney at the time, so she was left without football after finishing up with the boys, aged 10 or 11. At secondary school, she made friends with a few Donaghmoyne girls, including fellow stalwart Amanda Casey.

“They were at me for a few years: ‘Ah, you should come out to Donaghmoyne and give it a go…’ I used to be in the pub selling lottos for Castleblaney, they’d be trying to poach me. ‘Come on out and give it a go!’

“In 2008 I took the plunge, I was 17. Amanda Casey picked me up for training and I’ve never looked back. 

“I’d heard about Donaghmoyne at that stage. They were up and coming, they had already won an All-Ireland [2006]. My friends would be telling me all the craic they’d be having in the pub and everything. But I never thought that I was going to be a part of that.”

They’ve reigned supreme in Monaghan every year since. McElroy holds eight Ulster medals (2008-09, 2011-13, 2015-16 and 2022) and four Celtic Crosses from 2009, 2012 and 2015-16.

She can’t speak highly enough of the team she holds so dearly, that remained the centre of her universe almost 15,000km away.

“You never lose that connection. You’ll always have those people to come back and just fall in with, you’re back in with your group of friends. They welcomed me with open arms whenever I arrived back in on a Tuesday evening.

“They never forgot about me. There’d always be phone calls. If they won the county title or Ulster, they might say, ‘When are you coming back?’ or ‘Get yourself on a plane!’

claire-egan-and-amanda-casey Ryan Byrne / INPHO Amanda Casey. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“The temptation was always there to just hop on a plane and come home and join them again.

“I think for me this year, the journey has nearly been better than the actual wins,” she adds with a smile, having not missed a beat since returning to these shores in August.

All in, 100%. Eating, sleeping and breathing football.

That’s the religion in Donaghmoyne, silverware the currency. October, November and December the preferred time of year; the cold, dark, wet evenings indicating “we’re doing well”.

But what’s the secret to their success?

“We hate losing,” she grins. “That, I think, is what drives us on.

“Thankfully we haven’t lost a massive amount of games and the ones that we do, we ruminate over them and we always think we could do better. We always say a team never beats us, we lose it within ourselves. We’re very honest, and just incredibly passionate for the sport and for each other.

“We love winning. I think it’s probably as simple as that. While we have the good times and we know we can do it, why stop? There’s girls that are meant to be retired years and years ago, and they’re still soldiering on. The Amanda Caseys, the Fiona Courtneys, the Sharon Courtneys, Joanne Courtney is still there. She’s commuting from Kilkenny to just be a part of the team and make the games.

“It’s just that band of sisters that you want to be a part. Some girls have never left the club, they’ve been there throughout all the 20, 30 years the club is going.”

Just like one special man. The mastermind behind it all.

The one and only Francie Coleman.

“Francie formed the club 31 years ago and it’s really fitting that the day we make it to Croke Park he’s the man that’s leading us out. It’s incredibly nice.

“I’m sure he thought about maybe hanging up his boots every now and again, but he still comes back. I think it’s his passion. If Francie wasn’t there, I think you’d have a few less players, but once we hear Francie is still on board with us, that always gives the girls that hunger to get back.”

francie-coleman Tommy Grealy / INPHO Legendary Donaghmoyne manager Francie Coleman. Tommy Grealy / INPHO / INPHO

Croke Park calling

To fly the flag on the biggest stage is something special. 

McElroy and co. have plenty of All-Ireland final experience, but across an array of venues like Drogheda (’05), Dromard (’06), Banagher (’09), Ballinamore (’12), Carrick on Shannon (’13), and Parnell Park (’15 and ’16), some even lining out at HQ with Monaghan, but to take to that hallowed turf with your club elevates this occasion.

“It’s a dream to be able to run out onto Croke Park. Everyone dreams of it as a kid kicking the ball around. We’re gonna get to live it for real this time.”

A big rematch of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final lies ahead, and McElroy says the group take confidence from that 2-8 to 0-8 defeat.

“I know personally, I haven’t played Kilkerrin-Clonberne but knowing the calibre of some of the players that have lined up for Galway, they’re an excellent team and you can see they’re very well set-up.”

The Holy Grail is within touching distance.

For Donaghmoyne. And for McElroy.

The cherry on top of a remarkable year.

“This is what we love,” she enthuses. This is what they do.

The burning question before finishing up: Is that return flight booked?

In short, yes. She’s taken some time off in January, February and March to do some travelling, before spending Easter at home and then returning to Perth — “with a heavy heart” — and picking up her training.

“But as I say,” she concludes. “You never know what each year holds.

“I’m hoping that this will not be my last match with Donaghmoyne. You never know what the next couple years have in store…”

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