McFarland explains reason for Antrim’s remarkable run to final

SINCE the start of the year, the Antrim ladies footballers have been taking part in post-match runs.

These brutal sessions involve the players being made to run random distances after a game is over.

The practice was implemented by new management team Emma Kelly and Kyla Trainor. The runs strike fear into the hearts of the newer players who, at the end of every match, fear that they will have to run for a further 30 minutes. Sometimes it is a few laps, other times it can be relentless.

However, according to captain Aislinn McFarland, the run sessions are part of the reason why Antrim have been so successful this year, and why they have been able to outlast their opponents in the latter stages of matches. For example, against Carlow in the All-Ireland semi-final.

“Kyla mentioned when they won the All-Ireland with Down they brought that in. At the end of training session, I can honestly say you are at training dreading this. Ten minutes of your life that you would rather not have.

“They brought it in at the start for fitness. Towards the end (of the season) it has been about mentality. That has been reflected in the games we have played, like the extra-time against Carlow, we haven’t given up.

“It means that if you get a goal scored against you in the dying minutes then you know you can go again. Fair play to Kyla, it is the worst thing in the world, but it has been the best thing for us.”

That battling mentality has led Antrim all the way to this weekend’s All-Ireland Junior Championship final against Wicklow.

But there are other factors in play. McFarland says that the team are more of a unit this year.

“The one thing this year is that we have formed a team. You always get the club rivalries coming into it, that has been a side note this year, perhaps that’s because the championships haven’t started yet. There has been no overlap.

“There is a real unit there. The panel has real depth. Previously we have relied on Áine Tubridy, Saoirse Tennyson and Cathy Carey, whereas this year there is no ‘best player’, it has been different this year.”

McFarland is 25, and as one of the more experienced players she is enjoying leading players.

“It has been an interesting transition moving from a player to a captain and I have really enjoyed it.

“I have been asked to go into full-back. That is not my natural position but as a captain that is what you do. I have been given a job and I will go and do it.

“It speaks volumes about Emma and Kyla, they know what they are doing. They have the respect that if they ask you to do a job you go and do it. It is not about being a stand-out player, it is about going and doing a job. If you go and do your job right, and if they do their job right then we can’t lose. We work as one unit.”

McFarland says that Emma Kelly’s experience of being a player with Antrim means she has a better understanding of her squad.

“She has seen the transition of Antrim over the past number of years. It is not that girls don’t have respect for each other, or that there hasn’t been friendships. You would rely on the clubs like St Paul’s, you would rely on Moneyglass. This year it hasn’t been like that. There have been six or seven clubs involved in our starting team, whereas before you would have two or three.

“Emma has come in and brought it back to base level. There is encouraging each other. She is a St Paul’s woman, and some might look at that sceptically, but in a weird way that has been really helpful. She sees players at club level and is bringing them on. Taking out the dominance of one club and allowed other clubs to move up.”

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