Improvement the key for Moneyglass

By Daire Walsh

HAVING pushed them to the pin of their collar before ultimately losing out in the 2022 Ulster LGFA senior championship decider, Cathy Carey and St Ergnat’s Moneyglass were determined to go a step further against Donaghmoyne in the latest meeting between the two teams.

On November 13 of last year in Owenbeg, the Antrim champions were on level terms with their Monaghan counterparts on no fewer than five occasions and it took a late goal from Grainne Cumiskey to seal a 1-11 to 1-7 victory for Donaghmoyne. This victory represented a remarkable 14th Ulster title since 2004 for the women from the Farney County and the expectation was that the 2022 All-Ireland senior finalists were going to retain their crown in the current season.

Yet Moneyglass had other ideas and thanks to goals courtesy of Orlaith Prenter and Maria O’Neill, they secured a famous four-point win (2-8 to 1-7) over Donaghmoyne in an Ulster quarter-final clash at Pairc Fontenoy last Sunday. Remarkably, this was the first home defeat that the reigning provincial holders had suffered on their home patch in all of 24 years.

While this result will go down as a shock, it wasn’t the first time that Carey and her Moneyglass colleagues have upset the form book. Back in the 2021 Antrim SFC showpiece, St Ergnat’s came up against a St Paul’s outfit that were searching for a 10th consecutive county crown, only to add their own name to the competition’s roll of honours with a emphatic 7-11 to 1-6 success.

“Whenever you go in with nothing to lose, you kind of play a wee bit with less shackles on, I think. That definitely happened us the first time we beat St Paul’s in that senior championship. That first time was maybe a bit more of a shock to people in terms of the manner in which we did it,” Carey recalled.

“It’s just having that belief in your squad, that you know girls are going to do the job that they’ve been sent out to do. It was probably quite similar in terms of how we approached the game against Donaghmoyne.

“We probably prepared a wee bit better this year. We maybe went in a wee bit green last year and we were nearly enjoying the process of getting from match-to-match. We took a lot away from that game and I think the belief was within the squad. I don’t know if too many others had backed us, but we knew that we could go out there and win it.”

Despite getting past a side that have dominated the Monaghan and Ulster club scenes for several years – and have also won the All-Ireland senior football championship on five occasions – Moneyglass have another obstacle to overcome in their bid to reach a second successive provincial final.

Managed by the recently-appointed Armagh boss Gregory McGonigle (who coached Carey when she was a student at Ulster University Jordanstown), Clann Eireann overcame Cavan’s Drumlane in clinical fashion last weekend. They will provide the opposition to Moneyglass in the last-four tomorrow week (November 5) and Carey anticipates the mentality of the two sides will be quite similar coming into the game.

“It’s where we wanted to be, in the semi-final. We know Clann Éireann are absolutely gunning for Ulster this year. They got through Armagh relatively unscathed, so we know they’re going to be a massive threat. It’s down in Lurgan as well.

“We just have to prepare as much as we did for our previous game. As far as anyone in Ulster probably sees it, they probably see that the competition is now blown wide open with Donaghmoyne out of it. Out of the last four teams, it could be anybody’s game, you would imagine.”

In addition to the three senior crowns she has claimed on the bounce with Moneyglass, Carey has also secured the same number of TG4 All-Ireland Junior Football Championship titles at inter-county level with Antrim.

A debutant for the Saffrons at the tender age of 12 in 2002 – “that was before there was any age restrictions or anything” – the operations manager at CrossFit Anam in Toomebridge was skipper for Antrim’s All-Ireland JFC final replay win against Fermanagh at the Athletic Grounds last year.

Given she was the first one to climb the steps in the Armagh venue, this victory proved to be even sweeter than Antrim’s successes in 2009 and 2012.

“In terms of maturing and realising these days don’t come as often as you would like, that is the one that I probably savoured the most. You’re probably realising that you are coming to the end of a career.

“The buzz about it, and the fact that there was just so much support for us, and so much support around the club, it just made it such an event. The replay helped even in that. The Athletic Grounds, on the day that it was, was just brilliant. It’s probably something I’ll carry for a long time.”

Whereas Antrim struggled to make a lasting impact in their previous stints as a second-tier team, 2023 saw them producing a big splash in the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Football Championship. After claiming a maiden Lidl National Football Division 4 crown in April, Emma Kelly’s charges progressed to the knockout stages of the Mary Quinn Memorial Cup thanks to group stage victories over Westmeath and Longford.

An eye-catching quarter-final win followed at the expense of Monaghan, before they eventually lost out by just four points (2-14 to 1-13) to Clare in the penultimate round. A shot at a second championship title in as many years wasn’t necessarily on the radar for Antrim at the beginning of the season, but as time moved on, there was a realisation that they were more than capable of performing at a higher grade.

This is something Carey hopes can be maintained as they now move into Division 3 of the Lidl NFL.

“At the start of the year, we talked about just staying up in intermediate. That was one of our goals and then to be really disappointed to have lost out on that final spot in that semi-final was mad considering [what we said] at the start of the year,” Carey added.

“The goalposts shifted throughout the year. We realised that we really could step up to that standard. The county squad is full of talent and it’s great to see Antrim finally getting out of Division Four. It’s massive for the county.”

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