Laochra Loch Lao embark on historic occasion on Sunday

By Kevin Herron 

Sunday 2nd October will be a historic day for Laochra Loch Lao as the club embarks on it’s first ever Championship final. 

The Irish-speaking club based in Coaliste Feirste was established in 2019 and on Sunday their senior ladies take on Ardoyne in the Antrim Junior-B final at Pairc Rossa (1 o’clock throw-in). 

Under the guidance of Sarsfields clubman and Coaliste Feirste school-teacher Ciaran Doherty – they defeated St Teresa’s to the semi-final to book their place in Sunday’s decider- which is a huge achievement for the young club.  

“It’s a huge, huge achievement and actually the first final for the club as a whole” reflected Doherty.  

“No team in the club has ever reached a final in juvenile or senior, male or female. It’s a huge day and we’re getting a lot of publicity from the schools. The young Irish primary school did a video for the players- for the teacher who is representing Laochra- which has been fantastic. 

“It has been huge for the language as well and for the team because there is plenty of teams around Belfast and a lot of teams would have spoken about not needing another GAA team here. The girls having been working hard here for the last couple of years and have been building towards something like this – but they probably never would have thought it would happen so soon. 

“For a lot of these girls, this will probably be their first ever final and a lot of these girls have just represented the club as a social thing and have just taken up football and are doing it for the cause as such. They are now in a final- which is incredible, and this is probably their first ever final. 

“Obviously Ardoyne girls have probably played Junior finals and juvenile finals – but for a lot of these Laochra girls, probably 80 percent of the girls- it is their first ever final, which is incredible too. As much as it is historic for the club, it is historic for the girls too and it’s hopefully a day they’ll not forget. I made them a wee programme there and hopefully they’ll keep that in their memory box and have that and if they can add a medal to that memory box- it would be epic”. 

Doherty was only drafted into the role two-months ago and the senior ladies manager decided to step away and he admits that reaching a final wasn’t the top of his list of objectives. 

“I only came into the process about two-months ago” Doherty revealed. 

“Unfortunately, the manager stepped away, so I had to come in there and with the help of a few others – put things back. It was a wee bit broken when I came in so there was a lot of fixing to do and a lot of loving to do and bring the girls back to enjoying football – that was my first task to bring them back to playing football, enjoying it, and enjoying getting together. 

“When I came in, I must say that my main goal was to bring happiness and fun back to the game. Did I ever think that we would get to the final – probably not. Just based on how things were, and the way results ended- the last few results weren’t so good and there wasn’t a good feel about the place. 

“It’s been a quick turnaround and the girls are playing lovely football and it has been a joy to watch. It’s been great to the young ones to watch it too. I didn’t expect this, we had two tough games in the Championship with St Pat’s and especially St Teresa’s- we’ve had a good few duals with them and we knew it was going to be tight. To be where we are now is fantastic and the excitement around the girls is evident. The nerves as well because they probably never, ever dreamt that they’d get to this stage. It’ll be a brilliant day and we’re delighted to be there”. 

In an interesting twist of fate, two of Doherty’s fellow coaches represent Ardoyne in the form of Oisin McVicker and Eamonn McLaughlin. The trio are friends from their University days at Coleraine. 

McVicker will come up against his sister- who will line out for the North-Belfast outfit and his father is chairman of the club- something Doherty hopes could come in handy. 

Ardoyne’s Oisin McVicker is part of the Laochra management team, along with fellow club-mate Eamonn McLaughlin

“I’ve two Ardoyne men in our midst” jokes Doherty. 

“Oisin McVicker, his sister is playing for Ardoyne and Eamonn McLaughlin is an Ardoyne hurler- they’ll be coming up against their club in Ardoyne. Oisin’s dad is chairman and his sister’s playing so it’s kind of a family affair there and it should be very, very interesting- I don’t know whether they will be able to drink a pint in the bar after. 

“I really hope the two lads can pull it off for Laochra on the day and if there is any in house-tips or anything we can get, I don’t think Stevie [McVicker] will be giving him any. He is fully Ardoyne, hopefully Oisin can get us that added wee tip or two from Ardoyne and hopefully we can sneak a wee drink in the cup after- even if we do have to fill the cup up in Ardoyne- hopefully it will be done nicely”. 

A teacher himself at Irish language secondary school Coaliste Feirste, Doherty feels that the language is the big attraction to the club and also spoke of the warmth and good feeling that exists.  

“It’s a love for the language and the club’s ambition is to attract that” he acknowledged. 

“The club’s ambition is not to attract players for other teams, but if other players have got that ambition to play for a team that speaks or does things through the language – then brilliant. It’s a very welcoming and greeting club, there is no duals or enemies with other teams – which is great. 

“Most of the time, the girls are out drinking or having lunch after the match with the other team- which is amazing. They beat St Teresa’s and then they all went out that night and had a drink together and St Teresa’s were really, really complimentary after the game and were wishing the girl’s good luck. 

“There is a great atmosphere there and people like Laochra and have, there is no rea hatred. There is people that could be at the end of their tenure at their club and fancy something different and would wish to come down to Laochra and enjoy their football- maybe the end of their football- were they don’t have to go into a division 1/2 game and it’s not the same pressure and it’s more of an enjoyment. 

“This year we’ve brought that enjoyment and intensity that we can get to the final and I’ve no doubt that the boys will get to the stage at some point.   It’s trying to get the balance right that we’re here for the language, we’re here for enjoyment for the next step is to get silverware and get in finals and get the atmosphere and kids buying tickets. 

“It’s small things like people buying tickets and talking about it in staff rooms and stuff like that- it gets you going and gives you that realistic ambition. The boys are talking about the final and their support in the semi-final was huge. The girls getting to the final has had domino effect on the club, it’s had a massive effect and the younger ones are playing at half-time – which is fantastic. 

“Being a Sarsfield’s man and being involved in finals, this final has had a massive effect on Laochra itself. Sarsfield’s have been in finals, and I wouldn’t say it has had this sort of effect – but the whole club [Laochra] is behind the girls and the younger girls are talking about it, it seems to be the word of mouth in the Irish primary schools and secondary schools. The girls are probably getting the recognition they deserve”.

It was originally Doherty’s intention to take this year out of coaching – having previously managed numerous underage sides at his own club and recently agreed to take over as U-5 coach with his daughter’s team next year- but he admits that he has enjoyed the experience of the last two-months – even if it was unexpected. 

“The only girl’s team I thought I would be managing is my daughter [Aida]” he admits. 

“She is four now and she basically like the child mascot and she doesn’t miss a match and been brought up on that. Even though I’m a Sarsfield’s man, her mum [Carly] and her aunt [Seanna-Lee Kavanagh] both play for Laochra. I didn’t think I ever take them, I would always watch and enjoy to be honest- It’s been a real enjoyable experience because the girls are so good with Aida. 

Aida Doherty joins her father Ciaran, mother Carly and auntie Seanna-Lee in the centre of a team talk

“She would go on at half-time and chat with them and usually good down and steal their sweets at half-time to be honest more than anything. I must say, I would never have thought I would get involved in a senior ladies team. I’ve actually taken a position as U-5 coach with Sarsfield’s girls and I think that’s where I always thought I would start- at the bottom. 

“When I got offered this two months ago – I had to hmm and haa over it but knowing that I’d had that experience of chatting to the girls and being at most of their games- I owed it to them. I wouldn’t leave them in the lurch when they have Championship games coming up. It was definitely something that was unexpected that I didn’t plan on doing or thinking it would happen. 

“I’d planned to take the year out of coaching and looking at putting a plan in place for the young ones at the club. I’m absolutely delighted I took it and I as I said to the girls- they’ve had a serious effect on us. we’ve been nothing but impressed with their attitude, their football and how they’ve respected us and took things on board to the point that they’re playing the best football I’ve seen them play since they’ve been established, and they’ve got us to this stage. I’m absolutely delighted I’ve taken it and it’s been a joy from the side-line”. 

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