By Damian Dolan
New London Ladies captain Catriona McGahern admits to being “taken aback” when asked by manager Paddy Bowles to skipper the Exiles in their bid for a first All-Ireland title since 2008.
McGahern, who helped Tyrone to an All-Ireland senior final in 2010, was part of the London team which suffered an agonising extra-time defeat to Fermanagh in last year’s semi-finals.
She takes over the captain’s armband from Helen Hughes, who has not committed to the county team this year, but McGahern says there’s plenty of other leaders and “very strong characters” in this London team.
“For him [Paddy Bowles] to come and say ‘would you take on the captaincy role?’ I was taken aback by it,” McGahern told the Irish World.
“I’ll be taking the role seriously, but with a pinch of salt as well. I want the girls to see me as someone to filter through. If there’s any problems or any difficulties and they want to chat, but don’t want to go to management.”
McGahern’s passion comes through “in the thick of the game” and while she exudes a calmness, she also won’t be shy in dishing out a few stern words if the need arises.
Her style will be to assess the situation the team finds itself in, and respond accordingly.
She added: “But every girl is a leader in some aspect, they’ve all got their traits. It’s [about] everyone just pitching in. I’ll go up and say “heads or tails” and that should be it.”
2017 was McGahern’s first year involved with London Ladies. She’d joined up with Parnells for the “social aspect” and hadn’t been looking to get involved with the county team.
Involved she was, though, as London went down to Carlow at McGovern Park in Round 1, only to bounce back against Kilkenny and Lancashire. Defeat to Fermanagh in the semi-finals, to a last-gasp point was a tough one to take, but for McGahern 2017 remains a “hugely positive experience”.
“You can look back on it and think ‘we could have done this or we could have done that’, but it happened and you have to close the book on it and learn from the experience,” she said.
Not that she’s thinking further than Kilkenny, but to captain London to All-Ireland success at Croke Park would certainly help to make up for some of McGahern’s near-misses in the past.
In 1995 she played for Tyrone in the junior All-Ireland final, only to end up on the end of a “right clipping” from Cork.
They were back in the final two years later, but McGahern missed out with a cruciate ligament injury as Tyrone this time went down to Longford.
She missed out again in 1999 when Tyrone finally won junior at the third time of asking, as she was in Australia.
But by the time 2010 came around, McGahern was back on the panel, only to again taste All-Ireland Croke Park defeat as Dublin saw off Tyrone by 3-16 to 0-9. It was the last time McGahern played in Croke Park.
The chance to get back there again would be a welcome one, but McGahern is acutely aware of the challenges the Exiles face, starting with a tough group containing Antrim and Louth, and London have ground to make up on their opponents.
“We have some players from last year, and new players have come in and they bring new things to the team,” she said.
“It’s all about getting to know each other, how everyone plays and how to get the best out of everyone.
“Our test is going to be the first game, because you can play all the in-house games you want, but it’s the Kilkenny game which will tell us where we stand.
“We can then regroup and see what areas we really need to work hard on, and what needs to be changed.”