BY CHRIS MCNULTY
IN the weeks after Termon’s ladies lost the 2013 Ulster final replay against Donaghmoyne, Francie Friel agreed to take charge for 2014.
The closer they’d come, the further away they appeared. A drawn first game, when two Cathriona McConnell points denied Termon the prize, was followed by a stomach-churning 4-14 to 1-4 replay defeat.
Friel and his girls upped the ante. Trevor Alcorn, last year’s manager, was retained as a selector and Paul McDaid stayed on board, too.
The manner of that replay defeat left a deep cut. They were close, but not quite close enough. Friel started the ball rolling. He had watched Geraldine McLaughlin’s explosive talents already and knew how good her talents were. Ever the perfectionist, McLaughlin was looking for an extra edge. Friel advised her to work on her left foot. In last Sunday’s Ulster final in Enniskillen, McLaughlin hit 4-4, scoring 2-2 off her left foot.
Termon’s 4-7 to 3-8 win over Donaghmoyne sparked scenes of unbridled joy as the Ulster title was secured by the Burn Road girls.
“It was a long time in the making,” Friel says.
“We put our heart and soul into it. All of the girls bought into everything we done this year. Their commitment can’t be questioned.”
During the season, a sample of Termon’s desire can be seen by the fact that three players came from abroad to play: Niamh Friel travelling from Belgium; Olive McCafferty returning home from Edinburgh; and Roisin McCafferty making a commute from Coventry.
Friel’s squad trained a staggering 107 times this term.
He says: “I just said in the Lagoon on Sunday night that people don’t realise what’s going on. It’s like: ‘Such-and-such is away to training tonight’ but there’s more to it than that – much more.
“We trained four times a week – and if you miss training with us, you’re in bother!
“We had lost the last two finals and it meant so much to us. The first time we won it (in 2010), there was a bit of pot luck involved because we got two late goals. This time, we were much the better team. We were so superior to them.
“Last year hurt us big time. We were so close and then so far away, drawing the first game and then getting hammered the next. We met a week later and I said we’d give it one year, give it absolutely everything we had – and we’ve done that.”
Termon had a dream start, roaring into a 2-5 to 0-3 lead early on with McLaughlin grabbing the goals. Donaghmoyne hit back, but Termon led 2-6 to 1-5 at the break. Donaghmoyne, as might be expected from a side of their standing, hit back and actually led briefly before another two majors by McLaughlin sealed the deal.
“Aye, it’s unreal to score 4-4 in the final, but the team around me make it easy to score,” McLaughlin, the team’s captain, says modestly.
“I’m so proud to be captain of such a great bunch of girls – it’s definitely a bonus to be captaining the team. Anyone there could be captain, but it just happens to be me.
“Our heart and our determination won it for us. We’ve done so much work in the last five years. We lost to Donaghmoyne two years in a row there. They’re the kind of team we’ve looked up to. We were always hoping to match them and then beat them.”
Sharon Courtney, the Monaghan star who is one of the best defenders in ladies football, had company to shackle McLaughlin. Their efforts were futile. McLaughlin caught fire.
“She is just absolutely amazing,” says Termon veteran Maureen O’Donnell, another of those who can recap on a superb campaign at county and provincial level, ahead of an All-Ireland tilt in the coming weeks.
“She pulls it out of the bag all the time. She’s matched up against two or three other players and that’s hard to get your head around. It doesn’t seem to faze Geraldine.”
The age profile of their squad is youthful, but the Termon dressing room has experience bursting from its seams.
McLaughlin, though, is their wizard.
“She’s the best player in Ireland, no question about it,” Friel says.
“Just look at her scoring records – she’s an unbelievable talent. Geraldine leads by example all the time. It’s scary how good she is sometimes. She’s always looking to improve and she’s our best trainer. Sharon Courtney couldn’t get near her on Sunday and she’s one of the best players in the game.”
McLaughlin’s two goals in the last six minutes of Sunday’s final ensured that a late Donaghmoyne goal, netted by Ballybofey woman Gina McGowan, proved only a footnote in the tale. Brendan Rice’s final whistle released four years of Ulster frustration into the Brewster Park air from Termon.
“It’s still pretty surreal to think that we actually won it,” says half-forward Dara Kelly.
“Once you’ve been waiting for so long on it and then it actually happens, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. When the final whistle went the majority of us just burst into tears – of joy! Seeing the supporters run on just made it. It’s just a fab feeling.”
Twelve months previously, Kelly had a watching brief, sidelined because of that most horrific of injuries. During the All-Ireland Gaeltacht final down in Waterford in June 2013, against Kilcummin, Kelly felt ‘excruciating pain’ in her left knee. Subsequent scans confirmed her worst fears: Her cruciate was damaged.
“I went up to catch a high ball and as I landed my marker tripped me and I fell awkwardly – I knew straight away it wasn’t good,” she says.
Under the direction of surgeon Ray Moran in Dublin and physio Tommy Kerr, she was soon back in action, her return coming when she played a half against Moville in a League game.
She says: “I was weary of it but from training I got used to it and got a few tight knocks!”
Friel had been worried at half-time that the missed chances could be their downfall. At the final whistle, his own emotions spun. It was just a day before the second anniversary of the death of his wife, Elaine (Winston).
“It meant a lot – It was Elaine’s second anniversary so it was an emotional time anyway,” he says.
Around Brewster, the reaction from the Termon supporters told the story of the end of a wait. Their win had been deserved – and earned.
As well as McLaughlin’s scoring exploits, Termon had huge games from her sister, Nicole McLaughlin and Emer Gallagher at the back. Cathriona McConnell, Donaghmoyne’s danger woman, scored 1-4, but her goal was from a penalty and just one of her points came from play.
“Emer Gallagher would have been player of match bar Geraldine’s scores,” Friel says.
“Nicole McLaughlin was excellent, too. They mark Geraldine every night in training. It’s the same as Neil McGee marking Michael Murphy – that competition in training makes them all better players.”
Friel added new, young blood this year into the squad with Lucy O’Flynn, Shannon McGroddy, Shauna Kelly, Holly McDaid and Lauren McElwaine now winners of an Ulster senior title. 16-year-old McElwaine, like Dara Kelly, had been out with a cruciate injury, but has returned to form.
“She made a serious contribution when she came on in the final,” Friel says. “She’s known as a defender, but last week she kicked eight points for the minors; she’s a fantastic prospect.”
Termon aren’t finished just yet. On Sunday-week, they travel to face Kilkerrin-Clonberne in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Friel says: “The mantra all year has been: ‘One game at a time’ and we’ll look no further than the next one. It’ll be a serious ask – but we’ll go and play to our own strengths.”
These are the days and weeks that McLaughlin and company have always craved. Already this year, the Donegal and All-Ireland Gaeltacht titles are on the sideboard; the Donegal and Ulster SFC crowns followed suit. Now, just one remains. Their success means everything to them – and to add the ultimate honour now would crown this most memorable of seasons.
“We’re a big family,” McLaughlin adds.
“You fall out with one of us, you fall out with us all. We’re all on the same page and we all know what we want out of it. Most of us have grown up together. We grew up winning trophies at underage level and this is always what we wanted eventually, to be winning the big titles.”
Laura Gallagher, Lauren McElwaine, Emer Gallagher, Nicole McLaughlin, Maria Carr, Roisin McCafferty, Petra McCafferty, Sharon McLaughlin, Shannon McGroddy, Grainne McDaid, Roisin Friel, Dara Kelly, Maureen O’Donnell, Geraldine McLaughlin (captain), Lucy O’Flynn, Olive McCafferty, Niamh Friel, Jamie Leigh Murray, Therese McCafferty, Shauna Kelly, Hollie McDaid, Anna Gallagher, Claire McDermott.
Next up is a meeting with Ulster rivals Monaghan in Clones on Sunday afternoon, throw-in 2pm, with games against...