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Dublin: 13 °C Monday 14 October, 2019
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'He was always in the back of our minds - we're so proud we lifted that trophy for him'

Kate Flood and her Louth team paid tribute to their late manager Mícheál McKeown as they won the Leinster crown last Sunday.

“WE’RE SO PROUD we were able to go up and lift that trophy for him because that’s one of the goals he set for us at the start of the year.”

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WJM_2720 Louth lifted the Leinster junior title last week. Source: Warren Matthews

As Louth captain Kate Flood lifted the Leinster junior football crown last Sunday, there was one person to the forefront of her mind.

Emotion swirled all around Netwatch Cullen Park. There were tears, both of sadness and happiness, as this team from the Wee county fittingly honoured someone who meant so much to them.

It has undoubtedly been a difficult few weeks following the death of their manager, Mícheál McKeown. The 67-year-old took ill before their Leinster championship clash against Kilkenny on the first Sunday in June, and passed away two days later in hospital.

News travelled around ladies football circles fast, as tributes were paid to the much-loved character and highly-respected coach. Anyone that had interacted with McKeown through any walk of life had nothing but good to say about him, and it was clearly evident that each and every player on the Louth panel thought the world of him.

While it was absolutely heartbreaking for all involved, they did their utmost to make the best of a difficult situation. It galvanised them further as a unit, and drove them on to play for him, and in his memory.

“We’ve such a close bond, especially after Micheál passing,” Flood tells The42, looking out on Croke Park at the launch of the TG4 All-Ireland championships.

“That brought us together something serious.”

Her eyes gloss over slightly as she shares the sense of pride she felt in lifting the cup for him and fulfilling one of the goals he set for the team when he took over last October.

On the day, of course his name was mentioned. But there was a conscious effort made not to overdo it. They drew on the emotion, just the right amount without letting it run too high. It was more an unspoken thought across the board.

“We did speak about him but we didn’t want to go too detailed into it,” Flood explains. “We didn’t want to get upset or anything, we wanted to concentrate on the game.

He was always there, he was always in the back of our minds. (We were thinking) ‘We’re going to do it for him, 100%’ It was tough but ah, he’d be definitely proud of us.”

While McKeown was looking down from above, his wife Mary was eagerly watching on in the stands and the players did their utmost to involve her in the jubilant, but highly-charged celebrations at the final whistle.

Louth v Wicklow - Lidl Ladies Football National League Division 4 Final Flood leads her side around. Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

She was right at the heart of the huddle afterwards, embracing each and every one of the players while clutching onto her late husband’s hat, as they rallied through the outpour of emotion together.

“That’s all she kept saying, ‘I brought his hat, I brought his hat,’” Flood smiles, her admiration shining through as she speaks glowingly of McKeown’s survived wife.

“We were delighted Mary did come down. We didn’t know if she was going to — it could be a bit soon, it’d be very tough for her. But she made the journey and she was just delighted.

“She was so happy that we were able to get that cup for him. Ah, she’s such a lovely lady. It was lovely to do that for her too.”

That extra motivation knowing that Mary was there surely drove the side on. Both Flood and new manager Darren Bishop spoke eloquently about that factor in a video with Jerome Quinn after, with Bishop full of praise for the players and ‘Mícheál’s team’.

In that video, they also made reference to a flag the team got photographs with which read ‘fight like a child’. Flood explained that a few girls in the local area are sick at the minute and they bring the flag to every game to keep them with the team.

Source: LadiesFootballTV/YouTube

It’s about much more than the football.

It always has been with this group, the perfect blend of youth and experience.

“We get on so well all of us,” she adds. “It’s really a family-orientated team. It’s brilliant. There’s good vibes about us.’

Also a talented soccer player, the 25-year-old has played both right the way through underage up until this year. She gave up the soccer, found it too difficult to manage the two but is clearly happy with her decision.

The good vibes are surely helping, Flood is really enjoying her football and that’s showing on the pitch.

“I always played the two,” the office worker explains.

“It was tough. It was nearly every day of the week. I used to play for Newry City and they folded so I had to go to Belfast. Travelling up was tough.

“Come Thursday or Friday, I wasn’t fit… training on Friday I just wasn’t fit. Games on Sunday, then you’re back training on Monday and starting the week over.

Kate Flood In action for Raheny in 2012. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It was just…. I was like, ‘I’m going to have to do one or the other’. I said, ‘Look, I’ll give Louth a shot this year and see what I can do anyway.’”

It’s paid off, she agrees, but admits that she does miss the soccer. While there is less pressure and it is a weight of her shoulders, there is a bit of a void there.

“Definitely. But I think it was the fact of working all day, then leaving work and going straight to Belfast for a training session, it was just a siege.

“I definitely miss it. I’d say I might go back to a local team to keep fit over the winter. But I’m loving Louth now this year, loving the Gaelic.”

Modest as can be, she’d rather talk about the team than herself. Conversation moves back to that win last weekend, and how nice it was to bounce back from disappointment weeks previous.

Although Louth ran out 10-point winners on Leinster final day against Carlow, they didn’t start just as brightly as they would have liked to. Trailing by a point, a 21st-minute penalty expertly converted by Flood settled the nerves and they went from strength to strength from there.

Antrim v Louth - TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Junior Championship Final In action in Croke Park. Source: SPORTSFILE

“We knew when we were going out that it was definitely going to be a close game and a really hard game,” she recalls, adding that having the half-time lead helped.

“Once we got the second goal then, I think their heads went down a wee bit and it just gave us that extra drive and we just pushed on. We had in our heads that hard work was going to win that game and you couldn’t fault the girls at all, they just put so much effort in.

“We’re delighted with the win now. It was tough especially with the weather but we were delighted with it.”

The provincial title win was likely made all the sweeter given the fact that they were well-beaten by Wicklow in the Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 4 final.

A 4-17 to 2-8 loss marked a disappointing end to which, up until that point, had been a successful league campaign.

“We had a good league up to the final,” St Patricks’ forward Flood continues.

“Look, that’s football for you. You lose some, you win some. We just put that in the back and concentrated on the Leinster final. We kept our heads down, we worked hard at training, stuck together. That’s the same thing we’ll do going into the championship.”

Lidl Teams of the 2018 Ladies National Football League She was named on this year's Team of the League. Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

Always looking forward. They’re joined by 2017 semi-finalists London, this year’s Ulster runners-up Antrim and Kilkenny in their championship group but that doesn’t mean much, she insists.

Flood would rather her side focus on themselves and take things as they come rather than get carried away by hype surrounding the opposition.

“It’s definitely going to be tough,” she concludes.

“It’s always going to be difficult no matter what team you come up against. You’re just going to have to work on yourselves and take the positives and the negatives, keep the head down and work hard. That’s exactly what we’re going to do.

“We’re just going to concentrate on ourselves and take it one game at a time.”

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