Laochra Ladies on the verge of historic league success

By Kevin Herron

Laochra Loch Lao are on the verge of clinching their first league title and could do it on Sunday evening when they visit Con Magee’s Glenravel (6.30 throw-in) with victory ensuring Division 3A honours. 

Fresh from securing the Junior B Championship with a victory over Ardoyne last season, manager Ciaran Doherty believes that momentum has carried into this year and credits the make-up off his management team and their specific roles for the position they find themselves in.  

“Absolutely, I think we came in with a hunger from the Championship” believes Doherty. 

“As I said last year, I had no real plans to stay on and to be honest- the appreciation and the love that the club, committee and everybody around the place- it kind of helped me to stay. It was more of an honour and privilege than anything else.

“We put a management team together. I knew we needed something special to achieve what I wanted to achieve, I brought in my brother [Darach] who is a tactical genius, I brought in Michaela from Rossa, who is a goalkeeping genius, John McMahon- whose wife plays on the team, and he is one of the best one-to-one coaches that you will get. 

“I brought Eamonn- who is a best friend of mine and his words of wisdom have really helped us also. Aisling McConville was the last coach I brought in and Aisling’s wealth of knowledge around the leagues, around ladies’ football and drills and games are second to none. I knew when I put the team together that we would give ourselves a good chance. 

“We had a PowerPoint presentation at the start of the year and if I’m going to be honest, our aim was to do better than last year in terms of the league. I wasn’t manager for the league last year, but I was at most of the games, and I was hopeful we could do better. I think we finished 5th or 6th and I thought that if we could finish in the top half of the league I would be delighted, and anything could happen from there”. 

Doherty admits to initially worrying that their squad wasn’t big enough to push for the title this year, but revealed that some returnees to the game helped bolster their numbers for their campaign. 

“One of my worries was that our squad was down to the bare bones last year” admitted Doherty. 

“We were down to 18 players for the final, so if you’re getting 18 players for a final – I was thinking that this wasn’t’ going to be good enough for a league campaign. You needed a panel of about 20-30. I think the attention that the girls got after the Championship win, we got a lot of old players back, which was amazing. 

“We recruited a lot of other players who haven’t played Gaelic football in a while. It wasn’t like it was players from other teams that came. It was girls that maybe fell out of love for the game and wanted to get back at it. The recruitment side of things was really, really important for me because winning a league is very different from Championship. 

“it’s consistency through about eight months and I knew that was going to be hard. We put a pre-season together were we played teams that above our ability. We played my own club [Sarsfields], played Lámh Dhearg and Rossa. We have seven or eight games in pre-season and it was the best thing for us and it really stood by us. 

“Going into the season we had great momentum, the squad was really, really good and things were going great.The match before the season started our centre-half forward fell pregnant (something I’ve had to get used to as a manager as I’m used to taking boys teams), our left-half back got a serious injury in pre-season and had has been out for the year. We had to jig things around a bit because we were playing a style and working out what our best team was going to be. 

“It gave other players the chance to step up as such and Darach putting a playing style together and we worked together and put our stamp on it. We wouldn’t be where we are without the coaches that we have and influence they have in their own different ways. We started the league really, really well. We actually have the best defence in the league, our defence has been unbelievable and really, really fantastic – we’ve done a lot of work on tackling and stuff like that”. 

Defeat to Randalstown earlier in the campaign proved to be a turning point in eyes of Doherty, in that it brought them back down to earth- though the Sarsfields clubman feels they have pushed on since. 

“We went to Randalstown and they gave us a hiding up there and it took us a while to get back after that” he reflected. 

“We had a few wins in a row and Randalstown brought us back down to earth again and we had to rethink things a bit and change things about a bit. We got back after that and got a few more victories. We finished fourth in the league- which I was delighted with. We said that we would see how we would get on and I dare say that no one ever dreamed that we would be top of the table like we are at the minute. 

“When we went into the split, we were fourth and a couple of point behind. It was really, really close between the top-four teams and we played Randalstown early in the split. At one point we were seven points down and the girl’s showed strength and fight like I’ve never seen. We ended up coming away with a one-point win. 

“We played Creggan on Monday night. There was about 100-people at it, it was amazing for girls football. The atmosphere was outstanding, and it really helped our girls. We ended up winning by seven. We’re away to Glenravel on Sunday and we’re hoping to bring a few supporters down to help the girls because we thought that made the difference the last time. Hopefully we can bring home some silverware again. 

Doherty is adamant that league success would be historic coming off the back of their Championship win last season and feels there is now a greater respect towards the club. 

“It would be great to have a Championship and a league in less than 12-months, it would be historic” insists Doherty. 

“The club are newly formed and for the girls be leading the way is amazing. Hopefully the boys can go on a run with Paddy Murray in charge. Things are going really well at the minute, and I think this would be huge. I saw the affect that the Championship win had on the younger teams and thew talk around the club. We’re no longer the whipping girls or the whipping boys- there is now respect for Laochra and teams know it isn’t an easy two-points against Laochra anymore- they are going up for a fight. 

“The girls have been the heartbeat of that. It has been the most enjoyable coaching year of my life. Girls listening and wanting to learn, and they are hungry for it. I would never ever have dreamed that we would be top of the table ahead of our final game of the year. it’s a fairy-tale and like the Rocky version of GAA. The girls are pinching themselves, these are girls who only started playing Gaelic football in the last five years”. 

“You’re coming up against Creggan, Randalstown, Glenravel- all well-established clubs. They’ll probably kill me for saying this but we’re probably the oldest team in the league. I don’t know if that experience of being woman has helped us. We’re probably not the fittest team in the league, we’re coming up against 16/17 year olds- which we don’t have. The girls have showed something, I don’t know if it has come down the language or being Gaels or what, but we’ve showed some superpowers to get where we have at the minute. We’re just so excited for Sunday”. 

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