Saturday 25 November 2017

Captain Courtney has high hopes for Monaghan

SHARON Courtney is hoping that the similarities between the Monaghan ladies footballers and Pat Gilroy's heroic Dubs will bear fruit tomorrow.

Like Dublin and 'Sam Maguire,' it's been a long time since they won the 'Brendan Martin' -- a full 14 years, in fact, since that 1997 title.

The Farney women also go into tomorrow's TG4 All-Ireland senior final carrying the underdog tag against a team -- Cork's legendary Rebelettes -- who are accepted as the aristocrats of the game.

Again like the Dubs, Monaghan include three siblings in their squad. In fact, they've got two sets of them.

The Courtneys (Sharon, Cora and Joanne) and the McNallys (Therese, Una and Grainne) are Monaghan's answer to the Brogans. Their squad also includes two sets of twins (the McAnespies and the Byrnes).

There is yet another common thread with Dublin that Monaghan captain Courtney hopes will be particularly vital in swinging tomorrow's showdown against a Cork side who gave them them a four-goal drubbing in the 2008 final.

Many of Monaghan's long-standing greats like Niamh Kindlon, Christina Reilly and Therese McNally are still involved. But they've also had a fresh injection of talent since, as well as a new manager (Derry's Gregory McGonigle) this season.

"There are four or five changes from our starters in 2008, which isn't a lot, but the younger girls who've come in have really made a lot of a difference," full-back Courtney notes.

"Individually I'd say our girls are a lot better footballers now and we're also, as a team, far more balanced than we were then.

"We've been putting up big scores, too, and that was a thing that let us down in other years.

"We wouldn't have scored too many goals before, but this year we've been very clinical."

Monaghan have racked up a staggering 18-74 in this year's five-game championship campaign, including five goals against hapless Down in Ulster.

They shot 2-13 against Meath and 4-15 against Kerry and most of their scores come from play from six particularly talented forwards.

After leading the Kingdom by eight points they found themselves twice behind in the second-half, before hitting the turbo button and adding two more goals to reach their third final since 2002.

Catriona McConnell has shot 3-13 (0-7f), Therese McNally another 2-12 (0-4f) and Ciara McAnespie 3-6 from play, but youngsters like Ellen McCarron (Ray's daughter) and Caoimhe Mohan have also been huge additions.

Mohan, from Truagh, is a teenage nursing student who combines angelic good looks with the killer instinct of all great strikers.

Her 9-10 in this campaign all came from play and she looks set to become one of the new superstars of the women's game.

"Yeah Caoimhe has just turned 18 and has made a big difference," Courtney says. "She's got lightning pace and is hard to stop. She is one of those who is particularly clinical."

Reproducing such form on your Croke Park debut is always difficult, but Courtney believes Monaghan's younger players will not be intimidated by the occasion.

"We got a walk around Croke Park and the dressing-rooms last week and hopefully, the initial 'wow' factor will have gone.

"The other thing is that a lot of our younger girls have played in All-Ireland finals before with their school and clubs and I think that will stand to them."

Courtney herself is about to go back to college (UUJ) to start a Masters in nutrition.

She was only 21 when she lined out at full-back in the 2008 final and only turned 24 two days ago -- but plays like a veteran.


Her attacking runs from defence gave Monaghan vital late impetus against Kerry and with her club (Donaghmoyne), she usually plays centre-back or midfield.

But with the likes of Amy O'Shea and Valerie Mulcahy loitering nearby tomorrow, she doesn't expect to be straying too far.

"I don't think I'll get too much chance to be running out against Cork," she laughs. "But if I stand at full-back and don't touch the ball, I don't care as long as my player doesn't touch it either. Everyone has a job to do."

Victory tomorrow would, like it was for the Dubs, be a massive breakthrough.

Monaghan were among women's Gaelic football's super-powers in the '90s, contesting five finals in a row from 1994-'98 and winning in 1996 and '97, but the county has undergone a barren spell since, during which their schools and clubs largely carried the flag.

But they beat Cork in the league back in February and sound confident.

"In previous years, if Kerry came back at us like that, we'd have lost," Courtney says, "but the girls have a great hunger this year and are really, really determined. We've got high hopes this time around."

Cork v Monaghan,

Live, tomorrow, TG4, 4.0

Irish Independent

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