Sport

Paula's cunning plan gets Farney army to last four

SportBy Cliona Foley
20 August 2016; Ciara McAnespie of Monaghan in action against Aislinn Desmond of Kerry during the TG4 Ladies Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final game between Monaghan and Kerry at St Brendan's Park in Birr, Co Offaly. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
20 August 2016; Ciara McAnespie of Monaghan in action against Aislinn Desmond of Kerry during the TG4 Ladies Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final game between Monaghan and Kerry at St Brendan's Park in Birr, Co Offaly. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Giant-killers Monaghan have done it again!

It wasn’t just that they beat Kerry in Saturday’s TG4 All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals. The shock was their 16-point winning margin and manager Paula Cunningham has revealed it was no accident.

“Kerry had given us a bit of a trouncing in the league when they didn’t even have Louise (Ni Muirchearthaigh) and Sarah Houlihan upfront, so we were slightly worried coming into it,” she confessed. “But we felt they were there to be opened up possibly. They’d conceded three goals to Waterford and we went over the tapes in detail and felt we could do more.”

She also felt her side’s seven unanswered points before half-time was vital, giving the Ulster champions a four-point half-time lead (1-10 to 0-9) as they turned to take the wind advantage.

“That purple patch we had before half-time was vital. At half-time we told them ‘Kerry’s going to throw the kitchen sink at you now in the next 10 minutes so you really have to come out the blocks.’”

They certainly did that; cracking in 2-3 before the Kingdom even opened their second-half account. And when Kerry lost Bernie Breen to a red card the game was up and Monaghan eased into an All-Ireland semi-final against Cork on September 3.

 “It’s been brewing,” Cunningham said of their massive 6-17 tally. “I was very disappointed with the Ulster final because we didn’t play great, we ground out a result but we didn’t express ourselves.

“I really want to play a brand of football that is a joy to watch. It really came together on Saturday, like it did in our Ulster semi-final against Armagh.”

Reaching the last four is a remarkable achievement considering only five Monaghan players turned up to one of their pre-season meetings last Christmas. Cunningham, one of only two female inter-county managers at present with Offaly’s Lisa Flaherty, only came in two weeks before the Lidl National League kicked off.

“Peter Clarke was managing them but he hurt his back over Christmas and had to step down for health reasons,” she explained. “Things didn’t look good because a lot of players had already told management that they weren’t going to be around this year.”

Yet the Clones woman who previously managed Meath and Fermanagh jumped at the chance because “I always had a dream to manage my own county.”

Like many within the camp she says Monaghan’s final league game against Mayo was a huge turning point. “Beating Tyrone gave us a safety net. It was a ‘six-pointer’ to avoid relegation and, by then we knew the players, we were getting structure and consistency.

“The we faced Mayo. They were top of the league at the time, we were complete underdogs but we saw the spirit and character that day.

“We lost the game but really only in the final 10 minutes and came off the field really happy. We’d been banging on and on, telling the players they could do something this year and not to listen to people outside the circle.

“But I think it was their performance against Mayo that finally convinced them we weren’t talking bull!” she laughed. With three sisters each from the McAnespies and Courtneys, plus two McNallys, it is a real family affair with a lot of experience. Getting Caoimhe Mohan back recently has also helped as herself and Ella McCarron both scored 0-5 from play against Kerry.

“Caoimhe graduated as a nurse last year and her first job was in A&E in Drogheda which is mental busy with crazy hours,” Cunningham explained. “Caoimhe wants to give everything 100 per cent. So she thought, with rotas and the pressure of work, that it was better initially to take the time out.

“But she has settled into her work now and, since June, has been able to give us the commitment and we were delighted to get her back.”

The manner and size of their latest victory means Monaghan can no longer play keep playing the underdog card, not even against the defending champions, but Cunningham is obviously relishing their next big challenge.

“I’d prefer to play Cork in a semi-final rather than a final because Croke Park is like their home ground,” she said. “We’ve said to the girls ‘if you want to win an All-Ireland you’ll have to beat these big teams and it doesn’t matter whether it’s in Croke Park or the back-pitch behind the sheds, you just have to go out and do it.’”

When they step up on September 3 the Farney women will definitely come armed with a plan again.

Show your #SeriousSupport at the TG4 Ladies All-Ireland Football Championship Final on September 25th in Croke Park