Football

Fermanagh and Derry ladies' footballers begin league campaign

CJ McGourty makes inter-county managerial bow with the Erne side

Joanne Doonan
Joanne Doonan Joanne Doonan will be involved with Fermanagh this season after a stint in Australia (Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)
Lidl Ladies’ NFL Division Four, round one
Fermanagh v Longford (Sunday, Donagh, 2pm)

FORMER Antrim dual star CJ McGourty will manage his first inter-county game when Fermanagh take on Longford in tomorrow’s Division Four opener.

The St Gall’s native was appointed Erne manager back in September, replacing James Daly, who had been at the helm for the last couple of seasons.

McGourty comes with invaluable experience as both a senior footballer and hurler and plenty of accolades to back that up, including six Antrim senior football titles, two Ulster Club titles and one All-Ireland Club winners’ medal. He also won a Nicky Rackard Cup with Tyrone hurlers in 2022.

McGourty’s grandfather hails from the Erne county so it was natural that his name was prominent when the position of Fermanagh senior ladies’ manager came up.

“As a young person, I always went down and travelled through the county, I was well aware of the football that goes on inside the county and how passionate they are.

“I’ve no experience at this level but have managed teams before. This is my first gig at county level and I’m looking forward massively to the challenge that it will bring.

“I have always been involved in coaching, either through my job or just as a player, I’ve always enjoyed it, it’s a massive passion of mine and I’m looking forward to getting back into the inter-county scene having played in it for a number of years,” said McGourty.

His backroom team is made up of Fermanagh men Kane Connor, who is in as strength and conditioning coach and is also a former Erne county player; selector and analyst Conor McGovern, who was also with the squad last year; and Geraldine Gleeson, who is liaison officer.

Sean McCartney from Ardboe, where McGourty now lives, is team-co-ordinator and video man.

Fermanagh reached the Division Four semi-finals last year missing out on a place in the final to Leitrim, while their All-Ireland journey, after reaching the junior final in 2022, was ended in the semi-finals by Limerick by the narrowest of margins. Down also defeated them in the Ulster final.

While it is very much a clean slate for McGourty and his management team, he is able to call on the majority of the panel from last year and has also been boasted by the return of Erne stars Joanne Doonan, who is back home from Australia after playing AFLW for Essendon last season, and Eimear Smyth, the 2019 Junior Players’ Player of the Year, who did not play county football in 2023.

Shannan McQuade remains as captain with Blaithin Bogue and Courteney Murphy vice-captains.

“We are very, very pleased to keep 95 per cent of last year’s panel for the 2024 season and delighted that Eimear Smyth and Joanne Doonan have rejoined the squad,’’ said McGourty.

‘’We are also very pleased that we have brought on four or five younger girls to the panel who have come through the development system in Fermanagh and they are pushing hard for a place in the matchday squad. We have a lot of options.’’

Having strength in depth is something that McGourty believes is crucial if Fermanagh are to challenge for honours this year. First aim is to qualify for the knock-out stages of the league.

“We are under no illusions, the Division Four and the junior championship they are very competitive and there will only be a kick of the ball between a lot of teams in those competitions.

‘’We need to be competitive every Sunday that we go out to play a match. It’s also very important for us as a management group that we try and develop younger players into inter-county players so that there is a conveyor belt in Fermanagh coming through in four or five years’ time.

“We are also trying to get a level of consistency over the league and to blood new players.’’

Longford were relegated from Division Three last season. The last meeting between the sides was in the league in 2020 with Fermanagh coming away with the win that day.

Longford were also relegated from the intermediate championship last year in what was a tough year for the county.

Derry v Carlow (Sunday, Celtic Park, 3pm)

DERRY begin their campaign at home to Carlow on Sunday with new manager Paddy O’Brien looking for progression over the next two months.

With seven rounds in eight weeks, there is plenty of football to be played and it gives Dromore man O’Brien and joint-manager, Errigal Ciaran man Damien (DD) McCaffrey, the opportunity to learn about their players and plan long-term for the championship season ahead.

The Tyrone duo were only appointed to the position in late December and so have had little time to prepare.

The new management team consists of Mattie Brady as strength and conditioning coach. He works with Ulster Rugby as their academy’s athletic development coach and with the Donegal senior men’s team. Garry Currie is on board as a selector and Caitriona McCaffrey as liaison officer.

It is no secret that Derry at a senior level have struggled and last year they recorded just one victory, a league win over Kilkenny, their first competitive win since 2021 and a first league win since 2019.

However, it is also no secret that the county has a high calibre of players playing football for their club and O’Brien, on the back of Steelstown’s Ulster intermediate club championship success and Lavey’s Ulster junior club championship success, as well as the massive strides being taken by the county at underage level, hopes that the tide can turn and Derry can become competitive for league and championship honours over the next few seasons.

“Sunday will give us a good chance to see where we are, the league will be an opportunity to build a good squad. We haven’t had much time to prepare but we have a very good strong panel of 36 girls together. We want to be competitive in the league and use the league as a platform,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien and McCaffrey will be able to call the experience of Steelstown players like joint-captains Aoife McGough and Ciara McGurk, Emma Doherty and Megan Devine.

Derry’s captain last year Joanne Corr, Annie Crozier, Anna Martin and Erin Doherty are also hugely experienced players alongside Hannah Mullan, Blaithin Donnelly and Annie NiLochlainn, while younger players Clodagh Moore, Annie Kilpatrick and Cara Donnelly have the opportunity to make their mark on the team this year.

Division Four was split last year so these sides did not meet. However, they did come across one another in the All-Ireland series, Carlow winning comfortably in the end 6-11 to 2-6. Derry had led at half-time thanks to late first-half goals form Annie Crozier and Erin Doherty.

Carlow went on to reach the semi-finals before losing out to eventual winners Down. Cliodhna Ni She will lead their line, while other players that Derry will need to curtail will be Sara Doyle, Roisin Bailey and Sinead Hayden, all of whom found the net against them in their meeting back in July last year.