IT’S BEEN FAR from the easiest of years for Monaghan ladies.

After 27 years in the top flight, the Farney were relegated to Division 2 of the Lidl Ladies National Football League in March. Then, a rare 14-point Ulster semi-final defeat to Armagh ensued, meaning they missed out on reaching an 18th provincial final this century.

Monaghan captain Cora Courtney facing Kerry in 2016.

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

A period of transition is definitely underway, however disappointing it may be. Yes, Dublin and Cork have taken ladies football to a new level in recent times but through the years, Monaghan have always been a big hitter.

Year on year over the past 30 years or so, they’ve probably been the most consistent side in battle and seem to always be in the latter stages of the race for All-Ireland glory.

Understandably, this is frustrating and that’s evident from talking to captain Cora Courtney.

A really mixed year, she agrees, but she’s hopeful that Monaghan can up their game for championship and right the wrongs going forward.

“This is the time of the year that people look forward to the most and championship is what people say it’s all about,” she tells The42.

“Getting to Croke Park in September obviously is a long way off and for us, we’ll not be thinking about that. We’re just thinking about one game at a time, hopefully getting through the group stages and possibly looking forward to an All-Ireland quarter-final.”

In a group with back-to-back All-Ireland champions Dublin and Waterford for the round-robin stages, the Déise are up first this weekend as they open their All-Ireland championship campaign on home soil.

Game by game, as she says. That daunting trip to Parnell Park will be dealt with after Saturday’s first hurdle. But that first hurdle is a very important one, especially considering their opponents starting out on a losing note against the Sky Blues.

The Monaghan team last April.

Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE.

“Obviously Dublin are going to be favourites for that group so it will probably be between ourselves and Waterford for the second place,” she admits.

Maybe people mightn’t be giving Monaghan a good chance but back home, we’re confident enough. Nobody’s giving us a chance but we’ll be confident enough in our own ability.

Niall Treanor’s side have made no secret of the fact that they are rebuilding. A lot of players decided not to commit for 2019 so there have been difficulties on that front. 

That happens, and one must take the highs with the lows. 29-year-old Courtney is well aware of that, and has been through her many years of service in the white and blue.

“A lot of people know that we’ve been struggling with numbers this year and quality-wise,” the Donaghmoyne star frowns. “A lot of the girls have left.

“Unfortunately, the minors, we haven’t had them this year at all because of the Leaving Cert and they’re in an All-Ireland semi-final the day after we play Waterford so we can’t have them. Really nothing has gone our way this year.

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We kind of have a few players with a bit of experience but then we have other club girls in who haven’t played county before. You could say we are on the weak side, but at the same time, you have to work with what you have.

“I suppose throughout the league we have been going well enough. Even though we did get relegated we’d be happy enough with the performances we put in. We could have beat Tipperary, Galway, Mayo… there’s maybe a couple of points that we could have got if we played the games a bit better on the day.”

On the ball for her club, Donaghmoyne.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The important thing, she acknowledges, is that the talent is coming through in the county.

As aforementioned, the minors are in the All-Ireland A semi-final against Meath on Sunday, the U16s were just pipped by Cavan in their Ulster A final while the U14s reached the All-Ireland gold final last month.

The work is well and truly being put in at underage level, and that will pay dividends in years to come. Just not now, with all the clashes.

“Our minor side is a really strong team, they are maybe favourites for that the All-Ireland semi-final,” she smiles. “If we had maybe three or four of those players, it would be a big, massive help. They are really good players.

We have to work with what we have though and unfortunately we are struggling numbers-wise, quality-wise. We’ll just keep going and try our best. 

“Maybe we knew the past couple of years that it was coming, girls saying, ‘Ah yeah, maybe I’ll hang on for one more year, one more year’.

“But this year maybe about 10 of them went of once, eight or nine of them are starters and if you take that out of any team, it is a lot to deal with.”

Understandably it’s tough on the players that are trucking away, but Courtney thinks of the new management team of the helm too. Treanor took the reins in January, and is joined by Ciaran Murphy and Adan Treanor.

Source: Monaghan LGFA/Twitter.

“Unfortunately for the management too, it was hard on them coming in,” she adds.

“It’s Niall’s first year, Ciaran would be new to ladies football this year and Adam would have been with [2018 All-Ireland intermediate club finalists] Emmett Óg. He knew a bit about ladies football.

“It was them trying to get to know us, to get to know the players and get them in. They were probably contacting people who have been here before for a long time and asking questions, ‘Are they coming, are they not coming?’

For a long time we didn’t know what kind of team we were going to have. It took a good few months before we got up and running properly. That was probably a big thing in the league as well, which maybe relegated us too.

“This past while, we knew what we were dealing with so we were able to continue on with what we had.”

Of the four Courtney sisters, who are synonymous with ladies football in Monaghan, just Cora and Rosemary — the youngest — are on the panel this year.

She understands the others’ decisions to step back and pursue other things in life, but Courtney, who works in a creche, is firmly committed to the cause and doesn’t see herself going down another avenue anytime soon. 

“At the minute, no. I’m a home bird,” she laughs. “I wouldn’t be one for holidays or anything like that.

“I’ll be about for another maybe… I don’t know how long I’ll be about for, but another few years anyway.”

The senior counties represented at the 2019 TG4 All-Ireland championship launch.

Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

With the club scene back in full flow and kingpins Donaghmoyne targeting another successful championship kicking off the end of August, Courtney is more than happy to be in the thick of it all and for everything to be all go again. 

She’s reluctant to talk too much about club, she’d rather focus on Monaghan and the job at hand in that regard. The league and the Ulster championship are in the past, it’s all about the All-Ireland series, and overwriting the pain of the past few months.

“The Ulster semi-final, we were very disappointed against Armagh,” Courtney sighs.

“We were going in there so confident, we prepared so well and we were going, ‘We can actually do this’. After 10,15 minutes, the game was over basically. We did battle hard back.

“Now with Waterford, we got to see them on Facebook live in the Munster final and on TV against Dublin,” she concludes on an optimistic note.

“We’ve got to see them twice, they mightn’t have got to see us so maybe that’s a bit of an advantage in our hands. The fact that they have to travel to Monaghan too a week after playing Dublin will maybe help us as well.”

Maybe, just maybe.

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