Monday 19 March 2018

Boot on the other foot as fathers can only watch as daughters run out on All-Ireland final day

Peter Canavan with his children Áine, right, Claire and Darragh after victory over Armagh in 2003. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Peter Canavan with his children Áine, right, Claire and Darragh after victory over Armagh in 2003. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

'If someone had told me during my career that I will never win an All-Ireland title but my daughter will, I would have taken that."

These are the words of Johnny Magee, former Dublin footballer and father of Lauren who will line out in midfield for Dublin in the All-Ireland ladies' football final against Mayo today.

Magee will be there, watching on and supporting Lauren as she tries to put the ghosts of All-Ireland finals past to bed and finally claim the Brendan Martin Cup. And although he couldn't be more proud of her, he certainly won't enjoy the experience of watching her play.

"It's hard; I'm not playing so I can't control anything," says Magee. "That's the worst part about it. I was never as nervous when I was playing myself as I am when she is playing. I know what she is going through; I know the ins and outs of it. I know about the pain of losing. As a father you have a protective instinct, you want to protect your kids when they are hurt.

"When the whistle went in the final last year and they lost I just wanted to go in, pick her up and take her off the pitch away from what was going on. That was me looking at her like she was still a little girl.

"But she is an ambitious young woman now and I have to let her go through the experiences for herself. But it is definitely not easy."

Peter Canavan's daughter Áine will play for Tyrone in the intermediate final against Tipperary and he feels the same. During his playing days the nerves would subside once the game got under way, but watching Áine the nerves never leave him.

Canavan admits that when it comes to his children and their football careers he tends to watch from a distance. As a teacher, he has seen too many pushy parents turn their kids off sport.

"The best way to learn is by finding out for yourself," explains Canavan. "The game is about them, and them deriving satisfaction from it. The most important thing for me is that she enjoys her football and she certainly does that."

John Caffrey, All-Ireland winner with Dublin in 1983, will also be at GAA headquarters supporting his daughter Leah. Like Magee and Canavan, he knows exactly what his daughter is going through.

"I wouldn't put her under pressure," explains Caffrey. "I'm from the Jim Gavin school of thought, what's the point of building it up to anything that it isn't? Ok, it's an All-Ireland final, but if you get yourself too worked up you won't perform so it is a question of going out, doing your best and having no regrets."

Magee believes that keeping it simple will be the key for Dublin and Lauren. His advice for her will be to keep her composure, stick to her own game plan and don't do anything over-elaborate until she is settled into the game. He's always on hand if she needs a steer but he knows it's important to respect the manager that is at the helm of her team.

"She often asks me about things. Anything to do with football in general she will ask me. I did coach her in Crokes and I had to be stern with her at times. I'm very honest with her.

"I got that from my father - if I ever wanted an honest assessment of how I played my father would give it and I do the same. I can give her a kick up the arse and put an arm around the shoulder at the same time. Some people can't see anything wrong in what their kids do but I believe if you are not honest with them then you are setting them up for a major fall."

There are plenty of connections between the men's and women's teams lining out in Croke Park today. Dublin's Sarah McCaffrey is the daughter of Noel and sister of Jack. Paul Flynn is the boyfriend of Fiona Hudson, Dean Rock is going out with Niamh McEvoy and Con O'Callaghan is going out with Aoife Kane.

Sport has been the common ground in many families and relationships around the country and for Magee this is great as it means there is no shortage of conversation.

"My mother was one the people who set up the ladies football in Kilmacud Crokes, it was so my sister Denise could play. I sent Lauren down to try it out and she really enjoyed it. She took to it straight away. Because she would have went to a lot of my games with Crokes and Dublin she always went for the ball hard from looking at myself and Darren play, she didn't realise she didn't have to go in that hard.

"She had no fear. There was always football in the house and I was lucky that my kids saw me play. They were there when we won the All-Ireland club final and I brought her and her sister up on the podium."

Just like Lauren Magee, Áine Canavan was around for many of her father's glory days. She even played in a primary schools curtain-raiser ahead of one of his championship games with Tyrone in the latter stages of his career. The Canavans are a sports-mad family and she will be well supported today.

However, as soon as the match is over, her family will head back to Tyrone to watch their club, Errigal Ciarán, take on Carrickmore in the senior championship.

The Tyrone County Board came under fire last week for scheduling the men's championship games for the same day as the ladies final.

"I won't get to see the senior game because I will have to go back up to support the club," says Canavan. "It was a shocking decision by the county board to put the senior championship games on. I'm very disappointed for the girls and also as I would have liked to watch Mayo and Dublin."

Dublin are making their fourth consecutive appearance in the senior final having lost the last three finals to Cork. It's a different match-up for Dublin with Mayo involved and Caffrey is glad the opposition has changed for today's game.

"I think there was probably a bit of baggage there with Cork. It's a new one with Mayo and it's a 50/50 game. There are no hang-ups, it's go out and do their best.

"They played Mayo in the semi-final last year and beat them by a point. Mayo beat them in the league this year by a point so there is nothing between them.

"The interest is great, so many people mention it to me about Leah, people who I wouldn't expect to know about ladies football. They are getting great exposure and the standard is getting better all the time. They are very fit, they train hard, they eat the right foods and they get good coaching."

For a long time, articles about All-Ireland-winning fathers and sons featured in the build-up to All-Ireland finals. But now, as women's sport grows in popularity and significance, stories about fathers and daughters are taking centre stage.

And in years to come this coverage will probably feature stories about these players' famous sporting daughters.

When that starts happening it will be a good day.

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