GAA Football

Karen Guthrie: setting ladies football priorities.. oh, and October wedding to line out at

Donegal's Karen Guthrie moves in to block Aoife Kane of Dublin during the Lidl Ladies Football National League Division 1 Round 1 match in January 2018
Louise Gunn

KAREN Guthrie knows where her priorities lie.

Just ask her fiancé Sean.

With their wedding day set for October 2018, Karen was making sure it would not clash with any football dates.

The almost 30-year-old is in her 13th season playing for Donegal and she is enjoying it as much as ever as they look to successfully defending their provincial crown, starting off with Monaghan in the semi-finals on Saturday, June 9 before embarking on the All-Ireland trail in July, hopefully with the Ulster title still in The Hills, with a new-look senior championship format, eager to see Donegal enjoy a good run in that with the dream of All-Ireland glory.

At the same time though, she admits that it does get harder the older you get but such is the way the ladies game has evolved and what is now available to players and coaches that it is easier now to play on longer.

“It gets harder as you get older,” laughs Guthrie.

“The recovery time is slower, the pre-season more gruelling and you have to look after your body more. You wouldn’t have thought twice when you were younger about continuing on when you might have been carrying a bit of an injury but it doesn’t work like that now. You definitely have to be more careful and sensible.”

She says too that she is also never done learning under now not-so-new managers Maxi Curran and Damian Devaney, who replaced Micheal Naughton for the start of the 2018 season.

“Maxi is very much about coaching the basic skills and getting that right and when you think about it, it is a huge part of the game.

“It’s the team that makes the least mistakes will win the game and that comes down to your basic skills of handling, passing, kicking, shooting and tackling. You have to come to training with the mind sharp ready to pick up what he is passing on and to learn.”

Guthrie, who was appointed captain of the Tir Chonaill side for 2018 refers to herself as one of the older ones of the team, keen to mention too Yvonne Bonnar, Niamh Hegarty and the newly married Treasa Doherty.

Then there are those from the All-Ireland minor winning team in 2009 – Eilish Ward, Ciara Hegarty, Deirdre Foley but she reminds themselves they are still only in their mid-20s.

“I’m 30 next month and think you can carry on playing for longer because of the way the game has changed. There are better provisions now for players when you think about strength and conditioning and looking after yourself better so that you can play for longer.”

The midfielder also puts her longevity as a senior inter-county player down to the fact she sees plenty of potential in her Tir Chonaill team-mates and she believes they can be good enough to win an All-Ireland.

“Caroline O’Hanlon has said it about Armagh that if you didn’t think your team and team-mates had potential you wouldn’t be there. And I think that is very true,” said Guthrie.

“If you didn’t believe Donegal had potential to win an All-Ireland you wouldn’t put in all that commitment. It’s six times a week out with football, you’d nearly need a part-time job as it’s all consuming but you don’t want it any other way.

“I’m getting married in October – you have to get the priorities right and plan these things around football.

“I suppose the older you get, you do have to start thinking about life outside football and how long you might have left and what you want to do after you finish up.

“But for now it’s all football and hopefully a long summer of it.”

With Cork in particular and now Dublin setting the standards for championship football, Guthrie knows you have to follow suit to try and stay in touch and she is thankful for a supportive county board who share the management and players’ vision of success.

“It’s a lovely feeling to go to training and have every aspect of the game looked at and studied and to get feedback on a personal level that you would not have got five or six years ago,” she said.

“When you look at Dublin and see how they have set the bar and are exposed to whatever the men have like nutrition and analysis, that kind of thing, you have to think ‘well if you can’t beat them, join them’.

“And that’s the way it is in Donegal and thankfully we have a county board and management so understands what it takes to win an All-Ireland and are trying their best to put in place the resources need to try and achieve that.”

And while the Brendan Martin Cup is the long-term aim for the summer, first up is the equally important Ulster Senior Championship title, the most competitive provincial competition around.

The will be favourites to defend their title but it certainly will not be easily and any one of the province’s four senior teams are good enough on the day to win that crown.

Should Donegal get past Monaghan then they face either Cavan or Armagh in what will be a difficult game regardless of opposition.

“Monaghan are a quality team even if they are going through a period of transition.

“They seem to sustain that quality and we know there are players who have returned from injury since we played them in the league and we are not taking them for granted.

“Our league win over Monaghan was one of our smallest winning margins so that shows you just how tough they are and how close games between us can be.

“We are very aware of the type of battle it will be against Monaghan and we can’t think of an Ulster final or if it will be Cavan or Armagh until we get over the semi-final.”

CHAMPIONSHIP 2018

 

ANTRIM

Manager: Benny Marron

Captain: Emma Kelly

Main player: Cathy Carey – The Moneyglass club player’s form is good going into this year’s championship.

Last year’s highlight: It wasn't a memorable year for Antrim in the league or championship. They lost to Derry in the Ulster semi-final after extra-time in a game they felt they probably should have won in normal time while in the All-Ireland campaign, another defeat to Derry saw them fail to get out of the group stages.

Disappointed if they don’t: Give a better account of themselves this championship and as per last year, it can only get better. First up for the Saffrons will be the Ulster title, a straight shootout with Derry and then it will be All-Ireland glory and with players to return to the squad who were missing from the league, if they put together a couple of decent results they might not be far away.

Next fixture: Ulster Junior final v Derry (Saturday, June 2, St Tiernach’s Park Clones, 7pm)

 

ARMAGH

Managers: Lorraine McCaffrey & Fionnuala McAtamney

Captain: Caoimhe Morgan

Main player: Aimee Mackin – The double All Star winner is one of the hottest forwards in the country. She is more than good for a few goals and a handful of points each game and it seems there are few defenders, if any, who can stop her.

Last year’s highlight: It was a tough year for the Orchard County with relegation from Division Two, losing to Donegal in the Ulster semi-final and then a surprise exit to Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Although, Aimee Mackin’s All Star was a high point.

Disappointed if they don’t: Reach the Ulster final but with a semi-final against Cavan, there is a 50-50 chance they might not. They will have serious aspirations of an Ulster title too. They are in the top eight senior counties in the country but will really be wanting to break through into semi-finals.

Next fixture: Ulster Senior semi-final v Cavan (Sunday, June 3, Inniskeen, 6pm)

 

CAVAN

Manager: James Daly

Captain: Sinead Greene

Main player: Sinead Greene - A tigerish defender that will give any forward a tough day and will also drive forward when the opportunities arise, well capable of hitting important scores; team captain and a fantastic leader.

Last year’s highlight: Cavan came close to the Division Two league title and promotion only to be denied by Westmeath after a replay. The summer didn’t produce what they would have wanted with defeat in the Ulster semi-final to Monaghan while their All-Ireland campaign ended in the qualifiers to Waterford after beating Laois in the preliminary round.

Disappointed if they don’t: Make the Ulster final, and they are good enough to beat Armagh in the semis, but it’s a tough game to call. Are they good enough to beat either holders Donegal (or Monaghan) in the final – you can speculate. Again, they will target a long summer and to begin with a quarter-final berth.

Next fixture: Ulster senior semi-final v Armagh (Sunday, June 3, Inniskeen, 6pm)

 

DERRY

Manager: Paul Crozier

Captains: Cait Glass & Emma Doherty

Main player: Emma Doherty – the experienced Steelstown player is a vital cog in the Derry team and is extremely effective pulling strings from the midfield or half forward lines. She is reliable from the dead ball and can keep the Derry scoreboard ticking over.

Last year’s highlight: Derry surprised many teams last year in the championship and know they should have beaten Fermanagh at the first time of asking in the All-Ireland Junior Final last September when they were nine points ahead in the final quarter. The replay didn’t go their way as they lost a second final to the Erne County after their Ulster final defeat.

Disappointed if they don’t: Match their achievements from last season. After making massive inroads, to see the county fall a step back by not getting back to the same stage will be a huge disappointment. The talent is there, we just need to start seeing the results.

Next fixture: Ulster junior final v Antrim (Saturday, June 2, St Tiernach’s Park Clones, 7pm)

 

DONEGAL

Managers: Maxi Curran & Damian Devaney

Captain: Karen Guthrie

Main player: Yvonne McMonagle - Every team's dream player that will give you everything with a lot of unselfish work battling to win the ball back for her team, as well point scoring from every angle, is always an outlet to hit with her great runs into space.

Last year’s highlight: Donegal were crowned Ulster senior champions for a second time in three years, following on from a first ever NFL Division One final appearance, on their return to top flight football, losing out by the minimum to champions Cork.

Disappointed if they don’t: Retain their title but it won’t be easy with Monaghan first up and the winners of Cavan and Armagh in the final. With the new All-Ireland championship structure, they will also be looking to reach at the very least the semi-finals.

Next fixture: Ulster senior semi-final v Monaghan (Saturday, June 9, Healy Park, Omagh, 7pm)

 

DOWN

Manager: Ryan McShane

Captain: Orla Boyle

Main player: Natasha Ferris- the experienced forward is one of Down’s veteran players and a great role model for the team’s younger players. She has a keen eye for goal and is a real scoring threat to opposition teams.

Last year’s highlight: There were few Mourne highs in 2017. Down won just one game – a league one that was enough to secure their Division Three status while they were comprehensively beaten by Tyrone in the Ulster intermediate final and bowed out of the All-Ireland series to Roscommon in the qualifiers.

Disappointed if they don’t: Build on their good start to 2018, reaching the Division Three semi-finals and should they reach the Ulster final give a better account of themselves than their 2017 final. As a team in development, they will want to test themselves against the rest of the counties to see just where they stand.

Next fixture: Ulster intermediate semi-final v Down (Saturday, June 2, St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, 5pm)

 

 

FERMANAGH

Manager: Emmet Curry

Captain: Aisling Maguire

Main player: Eimear Smyth – The teenager broke onto the inter-county scene last year in the championship and quickly became one to watch. The forward takes each game in her stride and can cause defences a lot of trouble.

Last year’s highlight: Fermanagh made an immediate return to intermediate football after their All-Ireland junior championship title win over Derry, after a replay, to complete the double over the Oak Leaf county following their Ulster title win.

Disappointed if they don’t: At the very least compete in both the provincial and All-Ireland championships. With Tyrone and Down in the provincial competition they will find the going tough but with a young team they will not fear any of their opponents.

Next fixture: Ulster intermediate semi-final v losers of Tyrone/Down (Saturday, June 9, Healy Park, Omagh, 5pm)

 

MONAGHAN

Manager: Ann Marie Burns

Captain: Sharon Courtney

Main player: Ellen McCarron - a player with plenty of talent and will be key for Monaghan’s charge this year in hitting those important scores both from play and placed balls.

Last year’s highlight: It was just an okay 2017 for Monaghan. They avoided relegation from Division One winning a play-off against Armgah while they lost their Ulster title to Donegal and did not get beyond the qualifiers stage in the All-Ireland series losing to Cork who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Disappointed if they don’t: Win Ulster, as such a proud county like Monaghan will have their provincial championship as one of their summer targets, while of course, they would like to finally get their hands on the Brendan Martin Cup again. Being realistic though, they will be underdogs going into against Donegal in the Ulster semi-final, while a quarter-final All-Ireland berth might be within reach

Next fixture: Ulster senior semi-final v Donegal (Saturday, June 9, Healy Park, Omagh, 7pm)

 

TYRONE

Manager: Gerry Moane

Captain: Neamh Woods

Main player: Neamh Woods - probably one of the best leaders on the field of play, a stalwart in defence while always pushing forward for her team. Her presence uneases the opposition while her team-mates learn so much from their captain knowing she has their backs.

Last year’s highlight: After clinching a second successive Ulster title, Tyrone reached the All-Ireland intermediate final only to lose to Tipperary in Croke Park.

Disappointed if they don’t: Win a third Ulster intermediate crown and reach back-to-back All-Ireland finals. The ultimate aim is to go one step further and win the Mary Quinn Cup and in doing so, make the step back up to senior grade.

Next fixture: Ulster intermediate semi-final v Down (Saturday, June 2, St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, 5pm)

 

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