Cool head Laura Fitzgerald has that winning feeling for Mourneabbey

Cool head Laura Fitzgerald has that winning feeling for Mourneabbey
Laura Fitzgerald of Mourneabbey receives the Player of the Match award from Liam McDonagh, LGFA Vice-President, following the All-Ireland Ladies Senior Club Football Championship Final between Kilkerrin-Clonberne and Mourneabbey, at the LIT Gaelic Grounds, Limerick Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

IT takes a cool head to latch onto a ball into the full-forward line and turn to point with just 16 seconds left on the clock to win an All-Ireland title.

But when you need someone with a cool head they don’t come much cooler than Laura Fitzgerald, because that’s exactly what she did to see Mourneabbey retain the All-Ireland Senior Club ladies football title.

And when interviewed after the game she was able to have a joke over the pass in by Noelle Healy saying what was she doing lobbying in a high ball to one of the smallest players in the full-forward line!

Of course winning matters at this level, but for them it’s all about performance and putting in a top one every game and they know if they do that then more often than not they will emerge as victors of whatever game they are playing in.

To win one club All-Ireland title is a major achievement, but to retain it is extra special. And what’s also extra special about this squad is how humble they all are and quick to point to others rather than themselves when it comes to their wins.

For them, like all top sides, it’s about the squad and winning together, for each other, for their families and for their supporters.

This is a special club and one that Laura is proud to be part of and has played a huge part in their success over the years.

Laura didn’t start her playing career with Mourneabbey and possibly holds a record in GAA that won’t happen again or aside from Laura is something that hasn’t happened too often.

During her underage playing days she captained a boys side to win a North Cork title, when she was the only girl playing with the Ballyclough U14 footballers.

To be the only girl shows the calibre of player she is, but to be captain shows the high esteem that her then selectors and team-mates held her in.

Laura started playing at U8 or so with Ballyclough and continued to play with them up until U14 level.

Mourneabbey manager Shane Ronayne celebrates winning with Laura Fitzgerald of MourneabbeyMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Mourneabbey manager Shane Ronayne celebrates winning with Laura Fitzgerald of MourneabbeyMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

But after that she was no longer allowed to play with the boys’ side. So knowing this in advance she started playing with Mourneabbey Ladies Football Club, the then nearest girls club to her.

It’s not too many players win county medals at U14 level with two different clubs in the same year, as Mourneabbey also won the girls title that year as well.

Since then Laura has gone on to add U16, minor and six senior county titles to her impressive medal haul.

Add in six senior Munster titles and now two All-Ireland titles and you get some idea of the calibre of player that Laura is.

Some of the senior titles came when she was studying Agri-Science at Waterford Institute of Technology, but now the 23-year-old has had a slight career change and is currently a trainee accountant, working with Ifac Accountants in Mallow.

Laughing at the change in career Laura said: “It is a change, but we mostly deal with people working in the area of agriculture so my Agri-Science qualification can be useful there and hopefully will benefit me going forward.”

But it’s for her study of the opposition that Laura is being honoured for today and joining Mourneabbey has proven to be a great move for her and for the club.

“Straight away when I started playing with them you could sense the winning mentality within the club. They enjoy playing, but always strive to put in a performance and play to the best of their ability.”

While underage titles are not easily won it was at senior level that the club was underachieving for a number of years, despite the best efforts of all involved.

But six years ago that changed and Laura says there were a number of key elements to that, including the arrival of Shane Ronayne as senior manager.

“At our first meeting with Shane he wrote the word ‘potential’ on a board. He said we hadn’t fulfilled it and that we were more than capable of winning the county title.

“He brought it to another level, with his game preparation, tactics and targets within games. Every time we go out to play we have a gameplan and within that he will set us targets to meet in each half.

“That could be anything from putting pressure on their kickouts to defensive elements of our play.

“This was a great help going into games ensuring our concentration levels were at their best and also we challenged ourselves to meet those targets and we wouldn’t be happy if we didn’t meet them.

“They were all about performing to the best of our ability and we knew that if that happened then there was a good chance we would come out on top. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way, but performance is key to us.

“Winning our first senior county title was like throwing off the shackles to us and thankfully from there we have driven on now to make it six in-a-row. That’s not easily achieved as there are some great sides in Cork and you know it’s going to be a battle every year to win the county title.

“But those tough games gave us the confidence going forward into the Munster campaign where we have been lucky enough to win six in-a-row as well.”

But one title, the All-Ireland crown, eluded them until last year when in their fourth final in five years they finally won.

Brid O'Sullivan, left, and Laura Fitzgerald of Mourneabbey with the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup following the All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Club Championship Final match between Mourneabbey and Foxrock-Cabinteely at Parnell Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Brid O'Sullivan, left, and Laura Fitzgerald of Mourneabbey with the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup following the All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Club Championship Final match between Mourneabbey and Foxrock-Cabinteely at Parnell Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

“To win the All-Ireland last year was just an amazing feeling, one that is difficult to describe. Having been so close before and to finally win was a night I will never forget.

“It really was a win for the squad, our families and all our supporters. My mum and dad, Deirdre and Willie, as well as my brothers and sisters and extended family have been all over the country to support us and it was a win for them as much as for the players and management.”

With their dream achieved, Shane wasn’t going to let them rest on their laurels this season. At the start of their campaign this time he wrote the word ‘hunger’.

He wanted to see did they have the raw hunger to retain all three titles and not just be one season wonders at All-Ireland level. They came through Cork and onto Munster where a tremendous battle with Ballymacarbry ensued.

Here Laura played her part, with three vital points in the second-half helping them to reach the All-Ireland semi-final. Another tough game, but with home advantage they came through to take on Kilkerrin/ Clonberne in the final.

For those present at the Gaelic Grounds or watching on TV, they were treated to one of the best football games of the year.

No doubt it was nervewracking for supporters of both sides, but for neutrals it was simply a joy to see.

Both sides gave it everything and it was going to take a moment of magic to separate them.

And that came from Laura, who had no idea exactly what was left on the clock when she scored. With just 16 seconds to go the ball landed over the bar for the winning point to see Mourneabbey win by 2-9 to 0-14.

“When we won the ball back in our defence I was thinking that it was vital we retain possession so they can’t score and that it was most likely going to go to extra-time. I knew there was a minute or so left at that stage.

“We were down to 14 as Ciara (O’Sullivan) was sinbinned late on, so retaining possession was vital.

“Then I saw Noelle bursting forward and make her way past the half-way line. I thought that’s grand she will hold the ball there and run down the clock.

“But Noelle had other ideas and played the ball to Brid (O’Sullivan) and then came around on the loop to pick it up again. Next thing I know I see a high ball in coming towards me.

“My first thought was what is she doing playing a high ball into me, but it quickly changed to making sure they didn’t win clean possession and work it down the pitch.

“But in the tussle for possession it fell nicely for me and it was instinct to just turn and shoot and luckily it went over the bar.

“It was only after that I managed to get a quick glance at the clock and see what was left.

“But it was all about setting up and making sure they didn’t get the chance to work the ball down the pitch to score or get a free in a scoreable position.

“Thankfully, we managed to do that and when the final whistle went it was mayhem. I don’t remember much of what happened afterwards until we were on the team bus and on our way back with the cup. Winning once was unbelievable but to retain the title is beyond our dreams and one we celebrated for some time.”

But a word of warning for Laura as Shane still doesn’t feel they have reached their full potential and is already planning the defence of their three titles.

A wistful look from Laura says it all, as she wonders what word will be on the board at the start of next season from Shane.

Mourneabbey's Laura Fitzgerald kicks to score the winning pointMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
Mourneabbey's Laura Fitzgerald kicks to score the winning pointMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

However, one thing is for sure with the likes of Laura in their side it’s going to take a very good team to beat Mourneabbey and don’t rule out three in-a-row of All-Ireland titles.

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