By Niall Gartland
DONEGAL ladies ruled the roost for a number of years in Ulster football, but these things have a tendancy to go in cycles and Maxi Curran is philosophical about how the picture has changed dramatically in a fairly short period of time.
While Armagh won the last three Ulster Championships, it’s fair to say that there hasn’t been much between themselves and Donegal, last year’s final meeting determined by a Kelly Mallon goal 90 seconds from the end of extra-time.
But the sense is that the gap has widened considerably over the winter months with a glut of Donegal veterans calling it a day or otherwise unavailable, their absence borne out in their side’s relegation from Division One.
They’re still favourites to overcome Cavan in their Ulster Championship opener at Kingspan Breffni this Sunday and Curran, who seriously considered stepping down at the end of last season, is still enjoying overseeing what is very much a transitionary period for the Donegal ladies.
“At the end of last year we must’ve had one of the oldest squads in the country, we’d girls in their mid-30s and sometimes players need a bit of a break from the whole thing. Some of the girls did decide to come back in the end up, they’ve been very loyal to me and to Donegal football for the last five years, so I felt it was incumbent on me to stay with them and repay them for the loyalty they’d given me, so that was my thinking in committing for another year.
“I know we were relegated but I still think it’s a lovely job. In Division One you’re coming up against some of the best coaches and players in Ireland, it’s a very high standard and you’re learning all the time.
“It’s a new experience for me dealing with a team going through this particular process. There’s great comfort to be taken from the fact that everyone is doing everything they can and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Some of the more experienced players are still around, Nicole McLaughlin and Amy Boyle Carr, both of whom recovered from injury in time for the latter stages of the league.
On the whole there has been something of a dependency on youth but the hope is that will benefit Donegal football in the long run.
Curran said: “We handed out 10 or 11 debuts in the league and playing in Division One has been a brilliant experience for those girls. They need to be playing at that high level to get a feel for things and improve as footballers.
“It was a valuable learning process for them. They’d some harsh lessons, some days they got very close to a result but a wee bit of inexperience cost us from getting over the line. Other days we were completely blown out of the water so we got the full gamut of experience.”
Curran also describes this weekend’s game with Cavan as a 50/50 contest even though their opponents have had well-documented off-field issues which culminated in their decision to withdraw from their final round league encounter against Tyrone.
“They’ve given us plenty of bother in the past when we were considered to be stronger than we are today. They’ll know they have a great chance of taking us down so we have nothing on our minds apart from Cavan at the moment.”