Sunday 18 February 2018

Memory of a former team-mate inspiring Monaghan boss Cunningham to new heights

Fermanagh ladies manager Paula Cunningham Picture: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Fermanagh ladies manager Paula Cunningham Picture: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Jackie Cahill

On Friday, October 1, 1993, a young Paula Cunningham was travelling from Clones to Galway for a challenge match with local side Killanin.

That evening, Cunningham and her team-mates were plunged into grief when their 13-year-old team-mate, Trudy Kearns, was killed in a road accident.

For the small town of Clones, it was a massive tragedy and Cunningham, a goalkeeper at the time, considered quitting ladies football for good.

She recalls: "It took so much out of us as a group of players.

"I was nearly going to turn my back on football but I took a conscious decision anything I would do in football was a tribute to her.

"She inspires me, her family inspire me and they've become some of my closest friends. It's something I'll never forget."

Cunningham and the other Clones players had planned to use various B&Bs in the area but instead they shared a house together when word filtered through. Rather than playing that challenge match, the Clones players visited a morgue.

Helen O'Rourke was LGFA president at the time and her first official function saw her attend the funeral.

Cunningham recalls that it "the most beautiful, colourful funeral" that she can recall as teams from all over Ulster, Connacht and further afield turned up in their respective colours.

Cunningham would later embark on a successful coaching career that saw her manage Meath, the Ulster provincial team and Fermanagh, before she landed her dream job with her native Monaghan.

And she believes that Kearns has been with her in spirit all the way. Cunningham smiles: "Her parents and sisters still reminisce about the good old days."

Kearns isn't Cunningham's only inspiration, the left shoulder of her Monaghan top bears the word 'Joggy', etched in a love heart and sewn into the fabric.

In 2013, Cunningham's beloved aunt Geraldine, affectionately known as 'Joggy', passed away.

Cunningham smiles: "She loved Monaghan ladies in particular and would be bouncing around with the way they're playing at the moment."

And make no mistake, Monaghan are playing well.

In the TG4 All-Ireland quarter-final, the Ulster champions banged six goals past Kerry to set up this evening's clash with Cork.

Cunningham, the only current female manager of an inter-county team, said: "There's no point going out and doing what we did against Kerry if we don't believe we can beat Cork and compete at this level.

"A lot of playing Cork is playing the name, who they are and what they are."

Irish Independent

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