All-Ireland Club Ladies Football Intermediate Final
Naomh Pol (Antrim) v Naomh Ciaran (Offaly)
Saturday, Breffni Park, 2.30pm
By Niall Gartland
ST PAUL’S boss Brian Coyle admits he won’t sleep as soundly as usual in the lead-up to Saturday’s All-Ireland Intermediate club final against Offaly outfit Naomh Ciaran (Breffni Park, 2.30pm).
It’s a massive moment for the club, the footballers, and the man himself as they bid to end this particular decade on the highest note possible (they still remember well their All-Ireland semi-final defeat back in 2009).
The last team from Ulster to lift the All-Ireland Intermediate crown was Lisnaskea back in 2011, while Leinster teams have dominated the competition in the last couple of years, but Coyle doesn’t think the pre-match nerves are a bad thing necessarily.
“There’s a lovely mix of youth and experience on this year’s team. We have three or four players from the team which won the Ulster Intermediate 10 years ago before losing to a Tipperary team (Brian Boru’s) in a game we should have won.
“Mairead Cooper, Aine Tubridy and Kirsty McGuinness were all teenagers back then. We’ve learned that it gets harder and harder when you get out of Ulster.
“Mental preparation is the big thing this week, all the hard work has been done. It’s important to let the girls get a bit of rest, and also to have a bit of fun and craic because some of the younger girls have never got this far and they’ll be nervous. I get nervous too, I never sleep well in the lead up to a big match. The day you stop being nervous is the day you’re overconfident and that you’ll be caught.”
The matches have progressively got tougher and tougher for St Paul’s, who claimed their seventh Antrim title in-a-row with victory over rivals Moneyglass.
Thereafter they scored nine goals against Gowna, another nine against Kilcoo, but needed extra-time to defeat Kinawley in the Ulster final before edging Sligo side St Nathys by a single-point in the semi-finals.
They aren’t lacking in character then, but one of the things that has also really stood to them is their impressive fitness levels with strength and conditioning at the forefront of their training since the winter.
“We don’t get tested as much in Antrim as we used to because we’ve such a great underage structure, so Kinawley was a great experience for us. I knew the girls had the fitness to get over the line in extra-time, and it was the same when we went four points down against St Nathy’s, I never stopped believing,” said Coyle.
It’s somewhat surprising that Doyle still gets nervous considering he’s been managing for half a lifetime. He started in this business in 1978, having great success with St Paul’s minor teams, and he also managed the Antrim minors to an All-Ireland semi-final appearance against Kerry in 1982.
Coyle basically founded the St Paul’s ladies team in 2003, and even though they’ve tasted great success, this year has been particularly special, and it’s been all the more remarkable given one of their very best players, Saoirse Tennyson, who suffered a cruciate injury in Antrim’s All-Ireland Junior Championship semi-final defeat to Louth back in August. She’s going under the knife this week, but she’d still love to be there at Breffni Park to cheer on the girls.
“She’s supposed to have the operation on Thursday (today), but she wants to travel with us and she’d be on crutches while no the twisty roads to Breffni.
“She wants to be with the team and she has been, she cancelled her operation before because of the Ulster final. That’s the dedication of these girls, it’s a very close-knit group.”
St Paul’s are well represented on Gaelic Life’s All-Star Ladies team this year with Kirsty McGuinness, Maria Hanna, and Lara Dahunsi set to pick up awards at the official ceremony on January 10. Lara’s father is Nigerian, her mother’s from Dublin, but she’s a proud St Paul’s player.
“Lara has two sisters in the group as well, they got involved when I was coaching at the Primary School they used to go to. We brought them into St Paul’s and they’ve won every underage title going. “They were born and bred in Dublin and came to live in Belfast and they’re fantastic natural athletics.”