ULSTER LADIES CHAMPIONSHIP
Down v Tyrone
Saturday, O’Neill’s Healy Park, 8pm
By Niall Gartland
DOWN Ladies are bidding to retain their Ulster Intermediate title when they take on Tyrone this weekend, and their experienced skipper Meghan Doherty knows fine well that it hasn’t always been this way.
The Mourne County were demolished, and that’s not putting it too strongly, in provincial finals against Tyrone in 2016 and 2017, but they’ve picked themselves off the canvas and have made considerable progress in recent years.
Doherty has stuck with Down through thick and thin since they won the All-Ireland Intermediate title in 2014, and says the wheel began to turn for the better when Caoibhe Sloan and Peter Lynch came on board as joint-managers a couple of years ago.
Their new manager Ronan McCartan is also doing a sterling job, so it’s fair to say that things are going a lot better at present for the Down team.
“I was on the All-Ireland team in 2014 and after that win, things went completely to rock bottom, a lot of the more experienced players left.
“It was hard for new girls coming in to get it going again but Caoibhe and Peter came in and brought a really professional approach to it. Now Ronan and his team are carrying that on and it’s great to see.”
While their Division Three campaign ended on a disappointing note with a league semi-final defeat to Wexford, it was still a very solid campaign.
Doherty, who plays her club football with Carryduff and is also an accomplished netball player, says they’ve responded well to their eight-point defeat to the Yellow Bellies.
“It was our strongest league campaign in years, we were unbeaten in the group stages and then came up against a strong Wexford side.
“We’ve been training flat out since we lost to Wexford, I think girls stepped it up after that loss which is great to see.”
While Down got the better of Fermanagh in last year’s Intermediate final, it’s likely to be a lot tougher against Tyrone, who ply their trade in Division Two.
Both teams have received a ‘bye’ into the final and Doherty recognises it won’t be easy to get the better of the Red Hands.
“Last year was the same, we went straight into the final with Fermanagh. It’s a lucky draw in a way but Tyrone are a very strong team.
“A lot of girls are new into the panel so we’re very excited about the final but it’ll definitely be a challenge.”
Doherty also says that Gaelic football is her main priority even though she also loves playing netball.
“I play for Belfast ladies, it’s club netball basically. Training is on the same nights as the football so I have to prioritise Down really. But I play netball if I’m free.
“A few years ago I played both full-on but when county started stepping up it was hard to do both. Some girls play netball full-time but Gaelic is my first choice.”