PATTERNS and omens make good companions for sports stars, and for the Fermanagh ladies more of the same will do just nicely in Saturday’s All-Ireland Junior final against Wicklow at Parnell Park.
This is a competition that has generally provided redemption. In the last 15 years alone, Sligo, London, Limerick, Wexford and Louth have all come back from final defeats to win the tournament the following season.
Jonny Garrity’s side are now trying to add their name to that list. Last September, the side met Louth in the All-Ireland final and were resoundingly defeated 3-13 to 2-6. Their motivation this season should be obvious.
Team captain Courteney Murphy wore no.6 at Croke Park that day as Kate Flood ran riot for the Wee county. Lessons have been learned, she hopes, as they prepare to meet more Leinster opposition in the form of Wicklow.
“The experience of being in a final, you saw it with Louth last year,” Murphy said.
“There was a lot of disappointment that we didn’t perform last year against Louth and we’ll carry that into this year’s final.
“Obviously you can’t dwell on games in the past too much, but I think it’s definitely a bit of motivation. We want to redeem ourselves.”
This Junior final is traditionally played in Croke Park, and the Kinawley defender said that there was a bit of deflation that the match would be played in the surroundings of Parnell Park.
“I think everyone dreams of playing in Croke Park and it’s not too often we get there,” she said.
“Obviously if you get to an All-Ireland final under normal circumstances you would be playing in Croke Park.
“We’re managing it fine, there hasn’t been too much talk. We experienced it last year although we have a few new girls in who haven’t played there.
“We haven’t won in Croke Park so maybe that would have been a bad omen.
“This year we are grateful to have any sort of football and we are delighted to have made it through to the final, whether that’s in Croke Park or Parnell Park.
“The weeks have flown in and it’s hard to believe it’s December now. The way the season worked out, you were looking forward to a game every weekend, which was great. You train and you play and the weeks are ticking over fine.”
Murphy’s two appearances at headquarters were last year’s loss to Louth and the drawn 2017 final with Derry.
The Erne girls won the replay in Clones and since then Murphy has enjoyed massive success with her club, even if they have suffered Ulster Intermediate final defeats to Shane O’Neill’s (Armagh), Emmet Og (Monaghan) and St Paul’s (Antrim) in that period.
Overall she feels that ladies football in the county is growing stronger, and that a win this weekend could really set the wheels in motion for tangible progress.
“It’s heading in the right direction,” she said.
“The management team we have now have said that it’s not a flick in the wind, this is going to be a plan for the future.
“They’re in there for the future and they want to develop us for the future. You can see that even with the depth improving in the squad. Outside that, club football is going well.
“We are going well and you have the likes of Derrygonnelly, who have come up into the senior, and that’s making it more competitive. That’s what you want.”
Fermanagh had a hard-fought 4-10 to 4-3 semi-final win over 2018 champions Limerick with goalkeeper Shauna Murphy producing the goods to prevent the Munster side from getting even closer.
In the other semi-final, Wicklow caught the eye with a seven-goal burst against Antrim and Fermanagh will be aiming to reverse their 1-2 to 0-9 group loss to the Garden county at Halloween.
“Limerick would be similar to ourselves. They won in 2018 and they were relegated from intermediate in 2019, just like we had done the season before,” Murphy said.
“We knew it was going to be tough. We played them in the league semi-final last year and just got over the line that day. It’s the perfect preparation for the final. You want to go into having been tested, knowing you’ve had one tough game and another one is coming.”
All-Ireland Junior Football Championship final
Fermanagh v Wicklow
Saturday, Parnell Park, 4pm
By Niall McCoy