By Daire Walsh
ON August 27 in Aghabog, former Monaghan goalkeeper Linda Martin began the latest chapter in her extraordinary club championship story.
Back in 2003 – in her very first year playing top-tier adult football – Martin was between the sticks as Donaghmoyne claimed a maiden triumph in the Farney County’s Senior Championship. Given she was the club’s u-16 captain in the same year, it was beyond her wildest dreams to be part of a groundbreaking success.
This was only the start of her journey with Donaghmoyne, however, as an astonishing 19 consecutive county titles have followed in the intervening years. A further 14 Ulster SFC titles and five All-Ireland senior crowns have been thrown into the mix for good measure and her quest for a 40th major honour in club football began with a 1-10 to 0-9 victory over Emmet Óg in Group B of the Monaghan Senior Championship.
They also accounted for Magheracloone on home soil last weekend and will now continue their quest for a 21st successive county championship in a semi-final clash against Scotstown later on today.
“It has been a long auld run now, but I suppose we’re still enjoying it and looking forward to it as well, which is the main thing. If you got to this stage and you were sort of dreading it, it would be a different story,” Martin explained.
“It’d be time to maybe think about hanging up the boots, but at the minute we’re still enjoying it and training is going well. We have good craic with the girls. It makes all the difference.
“My first time being around the senior panel was actually the first year we won it. That was nice and it’s nice to be involved with every one so far. It would be nice to keep the run going now, but we’ll have to see how things go in the next couple of weeks.”
Remarkably, even though it was all of two decades ago, Martin isn’t the only survivor from that breakthrough county championship win to still be a part of the Donaghmoyne senior set-up. Aside from Martin, Hazel Kingham and three of the Courtney sisters – Fiona, Sharon and Cora – played in the 2003 senior final victory at the expense of Aghabog and were also in the match squad for last month’s aforementioned group stage opener.
Yet as good as it is to have a handful of the original crew still very much amongst the ranks, Martin acknowledges the influx of youth into the panel is what helps to keep them motivated year after year.
“There are a few girls who have stuck with us down through the years. It is great to still have them there. As we say, we’re experienced. We try not to call ourselves old now at the minute! We have a good blend there, we have a couple of young girls coming through.
“That makes all the difference. If you were still soldiering on and there wasn’t anything coming through, you wouldn’t know where to go next. Thankfully we’ve the Garland twins (Amy and Lauren) there and Eimear Traynor. We’ve a few young girls there coming through that’s keeping the team moving. Hopefully they’ll stick with it for as long as we have.”
While their most recent All-Ireland final victory was back in 2016 – a 2-9 to 0-8 win over Dublin club Foxrock/Cabinteely at Parnell Park – Donaghmoyne showed last year that they remain a potent force outside of Monaghan. After once again climbing the Ulster summit with a final triumph against Antrim’s Moneyglass, they reached the currentaccount.ie All-Ireland senior club football championship decider for 2022 with a semi-final win at the expense of Kilmacud Crokes on November 27.
A day on from her wedding at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan, Cathriona McConnell arrived by helicopter to Donaghmoyne’s home pitch and proceeded to kick seven points for the Farney women. This placed them alongside Kilkerrin-Clonberne in what was the first Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup showpiece to be held at Croke Park.
That showdown in GAA HQ didn’t go their way on December 10 – the Galway and Connacht champions retained their All-Ireland crown on a score of 0-13 to 0-7 – but it was an experience that Martin and her team-mates cherished nonetheless.
“Our aim at the start of every year is we just take it one game as it comes and if we happen to win the county and keep going, all the better. We sort of just build game-on-game, but last year I have to say was very special, having the All-Ireland in Croke Park for the first time ever.
“Some of the girls wouldn’t have been involved with the county down through the years. It was really special for them to experience a day out in Croke Park.
“The bus ride up and getting underneath the stand on the bus. Going into the dressing rooms and the different things. It was very nice to experience that with your club and the girls that you’ve grown up with down through the years.”
Croke Park hasn’t necessarily been the happiest hunting ground for Martin, as she lost out in three All-Ireland finals with Monaghan at the venue during an inter-county career that drew to a close in 2018. Following a heavy reversal to Cork in 2008, the Farney County also suffered agonising defeats to the Leesiders in 2011 and 2013 – Martin scoring a goal from the penalty spot in the latter.
Before they can plan for a return to a Brendan Martin Cup decider, however, Monaghan will have to navigate their way through the TG4 All-Ireland intermediate championship. Relegated down to the second-tier in 2022, their bid for an automatic return to the senior grade ended in a quarter-final reversal to Antrim at Davitt Park in Belfast earlier this year.
Although it looks like Monaghan might have a long road ahead of them, Martin remains optimistic about their future on the inter-county stage.
“Over the last couple of years they’ve been in minor finals and u-16 finals, so the talent is definitely within the county. If they can just get the structures in place and get everyone to stick with it at senior level, I don’t see a reason why they can’t get back up there,” Martin added.