All-Ireland Ladies Football Intermediate Club Championship Semi-Final
By Fiona O’Brien
Tommie Donohue’s Parnells ladies team are just two games away from repeating their All Ireland win of 2012, and the manager believes that this year he arguably has an even stronger panel to select from.
“It is very hard to speak at all detrimentally about a team who won an All Ireland so convincingly, but I think we have a better balance this year,” he says.
“That year we had Niamh Fahey (Chelsea midfielder and Republic of Ireland international) too, but I think we’ve strengthened all over now and the girls have a great team ethic. There are no stars, they listen to the plans we make and work to them.
“We know how good Hannah Noonan (who played with the Dublin senior team last year) is, but we do not rely on just one like a lot of other teams do. They know that there are another five or six girls who can take scores just as easily.”
This weekend Parnells face Shane O’Neill’s, the Ulster champions and Tommie knows it will be no easy feat to get to the final. They are a very strong side. I would compare them to the team that we beat in the semi-final in 2012, who haven’t been beaten in a championship since then.
“They have about six or seven players involved in the Armagh senior team and everything revolves around them. They got four of the best players from a neighbouring club which disbanded at the start of the year, and they work very well on the break. “Their number 6 controls things in a sweeper role, but she’ll have her work cut out with her with Hannah anyway.
“Their half-back line come back very deep to free up space for their star full-forward and then come very fast forward on the break. But don’t get me wrong they are not unbeatable.
“They are quite gung-ho and we like to keep a bit more control. We have worked on not giving away cheap ball to minimise the damage.”
Parnells have earned plaudits for their work rate and tactics all year which has squeezed the life out of their opposition. They came away with a 14-point win over Leinster champions Naomh Ciaran of Offaly in their quarterfinal, but Tommie still believes they have work to do.
“The past fortnight we’ve just been ironing a few things out. You need to get something out of every possession, you can’t give the ball away. Either score or go wide.
“We’ve looked at where we can be punished and I hope we can build an extra 10 per cent on our last performance.
“Shane O’Neills won with a scoreline of 8-7. But Kinawley scored 6-9 against them and could have maybe got another four. They were 2-2 up at the start and missed a blatant goal chance and two points, and within the space of 90 seconds they conceded 1-1 to let O’Neills back in it.
“You need to keep scoring when you are on top.”
And Tommie has praised the players’ dedication, which has seen them fork out for their own personal costs for their past two trips to Ireland, as well as this forthcoming semi-final. And he also notes a recent training session where the players requested they show up an hour early to get the most out of the bout at 8:30 on a Sunday morning.
“That shows the level of commitment. I’m a bit of a lunatic, I go mad and drive hard but All Irelands don’t come, to win you’ve got to give more than anybody else.
“But we have that winning mentality, and any new players coming in will see that. We have our big bust-ups like anybody else but we sort things out, it’s just football.
“We’re prepared to win and it shows. I don’t see women out there, I see footballers and they give what it takes.”
He is also full of praise for trainer Damien Holland who has brought the best out of the panel since joining. “It’s like good cop bad cop,” he jokes. “I keep my distance from the players, apart from if they have a problem they need sorting. But Damien doesn’t like upsetting anyone, in terms of picking a team or anything but when you have such a good team you’re going to upset six or seven every time! “But he is pure class. I would say he is the top trainer in London across the men’s and ladies’ sport. He is always trying new things to make it enjoyable.
“A new one he tried this year was to balance a cup of water on their head while soloing and it helped get all the mental stuff out of their heads.
“Sport is 80 per cent mental. Everyone has skill but you need mentality in a team sport, to think like a team and the management. It’s good not to give them time to sit and gripe.”
Tommie also notes that his side, who won the GAA World Games at Croke Park this year, as well as impressing in friendly games over there, will be fine playing away from home, saying that they ‘travel well’. So what is the game plan for the weekend?
“We can’t let them get a foothold on the game. A match is never over, I’ve learnt that over the years. Players panic, and anybody can play well when they are on top. “It applies in all sport. You have to keep applying the pressure, get rid of the carelessness and control the situation.
“Our work rate is good, but you have to work when you are not on top too. It is impossible to dominate a match for a full hour, but you need to minimise their production when they have a good spell so they start to doubt what they have been told and suck the life out of them that way.
“I am confident, but I always say you need the negatives in order to be positive. If you put a plug together without any negatives you’d be dead.
“If you don’t have a negative you have nothing to work on to become positive, to find areas to improve on, to work on and to break down.”