Rising star following road well worn

For years, Ladies football has played the role of poor cousin to the GAA’s other codes. But there are those that sense a new wind is blowing. DCU star Laura McEnaney tells Sam Griffin about 7am starts and training six days a week.

I’m greeted warmly at the door by the smiling 20 year old PE and Biology student. Around her College Park apartment are strewn football boots, gear bags and O’Neill’s footballs. Drying on the radiator by the window are enough training jerseys to clothe a small army. This is DCU’s GAA house, home to the country’s most talented aspiring footballers. Among them is Laura McEnaney, one of the shining lights of the DCU Ladies Football team.

She was supposed to have a match this evening but the heavy rain means it has been cancelled. The game would have been Laura’s third in as many days. The cancellation gives us more time to talk, but not much more. She will now go home to Monaghan instead and train with her county before coming back up to Dublin to train again with DCU ahead of the first round O’Connor Cup championship game against University of Limerick in two weeks’ time.

The last couple of weeks have been extremely intense for McEnaney. The Ladies first team reconvened for training in DCU back in early January after the Christmas break where 7am starts were the norm. Before and after Christmas the whole team were put through rigorous fitness tests. Players were given strict training regimes to follow over the break. Laura even went for a run on Christmas Day. She admits it can be tough at times to maintain the discipline required.

“You might wake up some mornings and look out the window and it’s either raining or pitch dark and you might think ‘Oh God is this actually happening?’ Back in early January the whole campus was nearly dead apart from the footballers who are back training. But at the start of the year we set ourselves challenges and we know this is what needs to be done to perform to our best.”

Laura recalls one week where she trained Monday through to Thursday with two sessions then on the Friday and a game on the Sunday. Despite the obvious commitment and incredible dedication required to achieve in the sport, Ladies football still appears to play second fiddle to the Men’s code, both nationally and closer to home.

In DCU, Men’s football received almost three times the funding ladies football was allocated in 2012. Laura is unwilling to comment on the prickly issue of club financing in the college, but in general feels Ladies football is well looked after in the university and is growing all the time in popularity at national level.

“Ladies football is becoming more and more empowered. A couple of years ago it didn’t get any attention from the media but as the years go, I suppose it’s becoming more respected by the media. For example, for the first year ever TG4 are going to broadcast the O’Connor Cup Final which is a huge step in the right direction for Ladies football.”

Her positive attitude is refreshing. But with a name like McEnaney it’s hardly surprising. The family is bordering on dynasty status within the GAA. Most recently her father Seamus, or Banty as he is known, managed the Meath Senior Footballers and before that his home county of Monaghan.

Does the McEnaney tag add any pressure on this young second year student’s shoulders?

“No, I don’t feel there’s any pressure like that put on me”, she insists. “Certainly Dad himself wouldn’t put any kind of pressure like that on me. My father has always played a major role in my life. I try to get to as many games of his as I can and he would try to do likewise. This year he’s taken a year out of management so hopefully he will be able to make a few more games which would be great.”

She says she would often speak to her father before a game for a few last-minute words of advice. And while there are many positives to being so close to someone who has spent so much time studying the game, it must be difficult when things aren’t going to plan, as was the case during a particularly tumultuous time when he was at the helm in Meath.

“I wouldn’t take too much notice of what is said in papers, and I don’t think Dad would either. Everyone is allowed to voice their own opinion. Dad isn’t going to get every call right and whenever it goes wrong you just have to take note and move on and get over it.”

Clearly, the GAA starlet has a very positive approach towards the sport. That attitude will be severely tested in the coming weeks and months. Despite what has already been a gruelling pre-season, the championship opener against UL is still a fortnight away after being postponed for two weeks. The challenge now for McEnaney and co is to continue their momentum from the first half of the year having won their league in impressive fashion.

These are far from uncharted waters for the DCU Ladies side. They won the league last year as well before the wheels came off their championship aspirations at the semi-final stage. The pain of that defeat is still fresh in the forward’s mind and this is something she is desperate to avoid this year.

“The feeling in the dressing room after that game was awful. I remember going in after the game and burying my head in my jumper and literally bawling crying. It’s a feeling I never want to experience again.

“We only lost four players from last year so we have 14 or 15 players who have experience the pain of losing that game so it’s going to be inside in each and every one of them and is something that will definitely drive us all on.”

It’s clear motivation is not something that will be lacking in McEnaney and DCU’s quest for Championship glory in 2013. As Ladies football continues to develop and prosper, it is abundantly clear this rising star will be at the core of any success the DCU Ladies footballers enjoy in the coming months and years.

Smiling, working hard, continuing a tradition.

Sam Griffin

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