Thursday 19 September 2019

Cliona Foley: 'History beckons for two clubs haunted by too many finals'

Mourneabbey’s Eimear Meaney (right) with the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup and captain of Foxrock-Cabinteely Amy Ring ahead of the All-Ireland Club Ladies Football final today at Parnell Park. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Mourneabbey’s Eimear Meaney (right) with the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup and captain of Foxrock-Cabinteely Amy Ring ahead of the All-Ireland Club Ladies Football final today at Parnell Park. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Cliona Foley

Even on the heartbreak barometer, today's ladies football All-Ireland senior club finalists are hard to separate.

Both are loaded with inter-county superstars who have won All-Irelands and multiple county and provincial club titles, yet still come to Parnell Park with their hurt lockers bulging.

It's Mourneabbey's fourth club final in five years and Munster's five-in-a-row champions still haven't got over the line.

Eimear Meaney was among their four All-Star nominations this season and two of them - sisters Ciara and Doireann O'Sullivan - brought home gongs.

Just 21, Meaney has already won two All-Irelands and three NFL titles and, off-field, the final-year speech therapy student speaks with the same assurance that she demonstrates in Cork's defence.

Yet her ebullient confidence wobbles a bit when you ask about her club's recent history, confessing: "We nearly wince at the words 'All-Ireland final' at this stage."

Yet Mourneabbey don't have a monopoly on club anguish. Last weekend the O'Sullivans shared a stage in CityWest with Sinéad Goldrick (27), winning her sixth All-Star on the back of Dublin's two-in-a-row and first Division 1 NFL title.

Those highs were unimaginable two years ago when Foxrock-Cabinteely lost their only previous final to Monaghan giants Donaghmoyne in a soul-destroying season which almost ended Goldrick's career.

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"2016 was definitely the lowest. I wasn't sure if I was going to play for Dublin again," she recalls. "Since 2011 we'd lost three quarter-finals by a point. Then we got to and lost three All-Irelands in a row and it was (by) a point again (to Cork). I sort of lost a bit of hope."

To lose an All-Ireland final with her club nine weeks later was a triple-whammy: "There was this awful, overwhelming sense of failure."

When new Dublin manager Mick Bohan approached, she revealed her misgivings. She needed a full three months' rest anyway to rehab a tendonitis problem in her groin that still flares up. Three weeks into that process she called Bohan and recanted. The rest is history.

Fox-Cab's history is pretty remarkable too.

An all-female club that grew out of an amalgamation just 13 years ago, Goldrick and the two Amys (Connolly and Ring) are survivors of the team that won a Leinster junior title within two years. Now the club fields 22 teams and has won four Leinster seniors in a row.

Hockey and basketball usually ruled for sporty girls in the suburbs of Cabinteely, Foxrock and Killiney until a few coaches in local all-girls primary schools changed all that.

Goldrick actually won a dozen All-Ireland basketball titles with Coláiste Íosagáin, where she was coached by Irish hoops international Marie O'Toole.

But, in St Brigid's NS in Cabinteely, visiting coaches like Pat Ring, Peter Clarke and Philip McAnenly had already harnessed her grá for Gaelic.

It wasn't all plain sailing.

"We didn't win our first Dublin senior until 2012. We lacked numbers and were being hammered for a few years," she recalls, especially by Ballyboden St Enda's who won two All-Ireland senior titles in 2004-'05.

Fox-Cab's success now attracts other inter-county players working in Dublin, like Mayo goalkeeper Aisling Tarpey and midfielder Ciara Murphy (ex-Kerry). But most of their talent is home-grown and also includes current Dublin seniors in Connolly, Niamh Collins, Hannah O'Neill, Emma McDonagh and Tarah O'Sullivan.

Wiinning today, Goldrick insists, would top anything achieved with the Dubs.

"Your club is your heart and your home. Pat (Ring) has been my manager the whole way up.

Hunger "Peter Clarke has had a really tough time. He lost his daughter last year yet was still involved with us and came to the Leinster final a few days after she passed away. There's a huge hunger within us to do our best for our management team.

"Whenever the word 'Foxrock' comes out of your mouth there's connotations," she acknowledges.

"People expect we have the best of facilities but we don't even have floodlights or a bar. We just have a pitch in Kilbogget Park (Cabinteely) and a clubhouse.

"What we have is this great underage structure. When I started playing in my primary school I was one of just a few. Whenever I visit St Brigid's now, all the girls are playing with Foxrock-Cabinteely. Many of them come to our games and the Gaelic4Mothers team do our sandwiches, we have so much support.

"People mightn't realise in Dublin that you have the same love and pride for our club. Not everyone walking down the street would know, but the community you have, within your club, is really, really strong."

That kinship is equally strong in Mourneabbey, just south of Mallow, whose manager Shane Ronayne actually coached Fox-Cab's first senior team back when he taught in Dublin.

Mourneabbey also beat Fox-Cab in last year's semi-finals but only after extra-time, so these two also have history.

The Cork club lost to Carnacon by two points last year, heaping further agony on their final losses of 2015 (to Donaghmoyne) and 2014 (to Termon).

"It was devastating, we were all heartbroken. We want to win this so badly," Eimear Meaney admits.

"We've lost three All-Ireland finals in four years yet our supporters still come out and follow us the length and breadth of the country. That's what spurs everybody on."

Irish Independent

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