Farney army never lost faith says captain of Ulster's comeback queens
IF THERE was a cup for resurrections this season then Monaghan would have already won it.
They hadn’t a manager in the New Year, won just one game in Lidl Division One and had to scramble all the way to narrowly avoid relegation. Yet somehow they’ve bounced back, rocking Armagh with 3-17 in their provincial semi-final and then beating Cavan by three in this year’s novel Ulster final pairing. Now comes an even more mammoth task: Kerry in a TG4 All-Ireland quarter-final in Birr next Saturday (2.15). So can Ulster’s comeback queens keep their run going?
“It is absolutely amazing,” Monaghan captain Laura McEneaney (23) admits. “If you’d told me in January that we’d win Ulster I wouldn’t have believed you.”
“We’d no management initially and we knew for a fact that seven of the girls weren’t coming back. There was a big hill to climb but, a lot of us still hung in there and we still believed that Monaghan wasn’t dead and gone.”
“Paula Cunningham came in as manager and also brought Aidy Little with her, who’s a very good trainer.”
“We did have a poor league campaign but then we had 11 weeks and just put our heads down and worked really, really hard so we’re delighted to have got something out of it,” she stresses. “Everyone had written us off but, inside the camp we were happy and going in as underdogs - sure there’s no better way to go into matches!”
“Armagh probably had an off day and we really stepped it up and that gave us good confidence going into the Ulster final.” McEneaney found herself straddling two counties ahead of that game as the DCU graduate’s first year out teaching PE has been in the Holy Family School in Cavan’s Cootehill.
“I got a lot of slagging before and after the game but it was all fun and games,” the Corduff star laughs. Holy Family is a special needs school which serves both Monaghan and Cavan and she is delighted to have just been made permanent there.
“It was hard at first because I had no real exposure before to people with special needs but I could immediately see the kids’ potential,” she enthuses. “It is challenging work but I absolutely love it.”
Getting Caoimhe Mohan back in time for the latest step on Monaghan’s redemption road is a significant coup as they now turn to face the might of Kerry. McEneaney believes their blend of newcomers and experienced heads like the McAnespie, McNally and Courtneys sisters is a good mix. For all of this year’s changes, the Farney still contested senior All-Ireland finals as recently as 2013 and 2011.
McEneaney is a vital and versatile cog in their attack but missed most of this year’s NFL with a hip problem, which left her whole season in some doubt. “I didn’t really know if I was going to be able to play much, I just kept breaking down but thank God it’s right now,” she says, paying tribute for her recovery to team physio Kieran Quinn.
As the daughter of Seamus ‘Banty’ McEneaney she has grown up in a football-mad family and admits “it’s the main topic of conversation at home.”
Like many young girls, all her juvenile football until U13 was on boys’ teams, alongside her two older brothers and cousins, so she’s never short of practice partners or advice. “Dad was over us (Monaghan) three years ago, and helped out with our club team too, so it’s good to be able to share that with your dad.”
Her dad’s not just a legendary inter-county boss but also a regular media pundit, so does his expertise make him a tough critic?
“Ach no, though after the Ulster final he said ‘you made a better speech than you played!’” she chuckles. “I was like ‘that’s a bit harsh now!’ but it was probably true so we had a good laugh.”
“He wouldn’t be very hard on me. He just always gives me the honest truth and I appreciate that. After a game I’d always go to him first because I know if I haven’t played well he’ll tell me.”
The Ladies Football Championship Final will take centre stage September 25th. Be there to show your #SeriousSupport.