By Niall Gartland
THE Ulster Ladies Intermediate Championship hasn’t been the most appetising competition in the world in recent times – it’s usually Tyrone and Down going head-to-head for the title – but they’ve mixed it up a bit this season and it should be a more novel experience for the Red Hand ladies.
Last year Tyrone came out of the two-team competition with a deserved victory over Down, but there’s been a bit of a shake up and this time around Sean O’Kane’s team will compete for the provincial prize with Monaghan, whom they play this weekend and Antrim.
It’s been a reasonably promising season so far for Tyrone – they shipped a couple of bruising defeats in Division Two but they managed to avoid relegation and some of the newer girls on the panel like Maeve Corrigan and Aoife McGahan have been excellent.
It’s O’Kane’s second season in charge of the team, and while the application of his players isn’t in question, he says that they’re still reaching for consistency.
“There’s no doubting the commitment and effort of our girls, but it’s been a real yo-yo season for us and consistency has been a problem. But the priority at the start of the year was on staying up, and we’ve done that and we’re excited for the championship.”
There’s been a fair overhaul since Tyrone came out on top of the All-Ireland title back in 2019. with a thumping defeat to Meath. Vastly experienced players like Neamh Woods and Gemma Begley have called it a day while Niamh O’Neill, who scored 1-3 that day is unavailable this year. But they still have a considerable amount of experience in their ranks and captain Aoibheann McHugh, Niamh Hughes, Chloe McCaffrey, Emma Hegarty, Slaine McCarroll among those who are hoping to play a big part in this year’s championship campaign.
That said, they lost out to Monaghan when they met in the league on a scoreline of 1-12 to 2-4 so it’s a tough championship opener, as their manager acknowledged.
“It’s a serious challenge. They beat us by five points in the league but to be honest Monaghan bossed that game from start to finish. They have some very experienced players like the Garland twins (Amy and Lauren) and a lot of strong young players coming through the ranks as well. It’ll be a tough task, and it’ll be the same when we play Antrim after that. Antrim are an up and coming team, they won Division Four and they’ll be playing Division Three football for the first time next year.”
Tyrone’s league campaign ended in unusual circumstances as their final round opponents Cavan (who happen to be managed by former Red Hand manager Gerry Moane) withdrew from the game due to issues with their county board regarding a number of issues including expenses. O’Kane emphasises with their plight, even if it wasn’t an ideal situation.
“Well it’s disappointing to miss out on any game. There were a few podcasts and interviews going around, obviously there were a few major issues between players and their county board, but that’s for the Cavan team and their powers-that-be to sort out. It was disappointing but we appreciated that players didn’t take that drastic step for no reason.”
Once Ulster is done and dusted, Tyrone will turn their attentions to the All-Ireland series. O’Kane reiterates that consistency is something they really need to find.
“We’re at a starting point in a way. If you take the Armagh game, they absolutely trounced us and I was happy to see them win the Division Two title and achieve promotion to the top flight as they’re a bit above us at the moment. The Westmeath result was encouraging, it wasn’t long ago they were Intermediate Champions and we won that game after going 0-7 to 0-1 down. If we’re able to build on that we’ll do well but on the whole our inconsistency is an issue.”