They might be their nearest neighbours and biggest rivals from a sporting perspective, but that hasn’t stopped Aoife Halligan and her Louth team-mates taking inspiration from the recent achievements of the Meath Ladies footballers.
Back in May 2019 at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, Meath were crowned Lidl National Football League Division 3 champions with a 4-11 to 1-7 final victory over Sligo. A TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship success followed in December 2020, before the Royals pushed on to claim the Division 2 and Division 1 leagues in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
Meath were also crowned TG4 All-Ireland senior champions in these latter years and will be looking to pick up the Brendan Martin Cup for a third consecutive season in 2023.
It is Division 3 that Louth currently find themselves in, with four wins from as many games to date, and the Wee County have their sights on the same piece of silverware that sparked Meath’s remarkable run of success in the modern age.
“It was their mindset that really carried them through those years. After failing, they just got themselves back up. Trained even harder and got even fitter. More physically stronger. They went and did that. They’re our neighbours and there are girls that would be very familiar faces around us being in college at the same time as those girls,” Halligan explained.
“It just makes it all seem a bit more real to us and that we could possibly do that as well. They’re a huge inspiration to many of us on our team and obviously what they’ve done is amazing. It’s just such a success story and especially being intermediate one year and then the next year winning senior. It’s just amazing.”
In fact, there is a strong Meath connection within the Louth backroom team at the moment, with team manager Kit Henry and mentor Dudley Farrell both hailing from the county. Henry is certainly getting a tune out of his charges thus far this year with victories against Longford, Offaly, Sligo and Kildare having them at the Division 3 summit heading into tomorrow’s home showdown with Wexford.
Having spent much of the past decade in Division 4 of the NFL, Halligan acknowledged Louth are now a more assured side than they may have been in previous campaigns.
“I feel like it’s just building on from the last couple of years. It’s more so the belief now. Over the past number of years we’ve developed really well as players and we’ve such a high standard of players in our team. People would tell us and our managers would tell us how good we are.
“It’s just down to us to believe and I feel like this year we’re really starting to believe in ourselves. Obviously we’ve always been a bunch of hard workers, but now we’re just playing with confidence in ourselves. I think that’s the main thing, the belief.”
From the Roche Emmet’s club just outside of Dundalk, Halligan was joined by her club colleague Abi Keenan in the matchday squad for last weekend’s 1-5 to 0-7 win over Kildare in Hawkfield.
Halligan also played alongside her sister Seona during the 2022 inter-county season, but college commitments means she will be missing from the Louth set-up this year. Nevertheless, Aoife fully expects her younger sibling to make a return to the fold in 2024.
“She’s not involved this year, being away at college and everything. She still comes to support all our games. It was lovely having her on the squad. Obviously we play side-by-side in club and we have done so for the past number of years, but last year was different.
“Once she started getting on in our county matches. Just huge pride and she got brought on in the last few minutes of most games as an impact and by God does she make an impact to any game! I know we’ll have her back up in the next few years. It will be brilliant to play with her again at a county level.”
One player who is very much on board with Louth this year, however, is influential St Patrick’s attacker Kate Flood. A gifted soccer player who was capped for the Republic of Ireland at U19 level, Flood also had a stint playing Australian rules football with Fremantle in the 2020 AFL Women’s season.
She was a key figure before her time in the southern hemisphere and has helped to bring a professional approach to the Louth team since her return.
“She’s such a calming presence on the pitch and even at training. You just see the work that she puts in and the physical condition that she’s in having come from playing professionally. I feel like it has rubbed off on a lot of us. There’s a lot of us now who look up to her and we’re putting in that work that obviously she had put in.
“We’re treating ourselves as professional athletes as well. I know we’re not, it’s an amateur sport, but the work that we put in obviously on training night and then on our own, we want to match her standards. Because we see how much it pays off for her.”
A panel member for Louth’s TG4 All-Ireland junior championship successes in 2015 and 2019, Halligan is now hoping to challenge for national intermediate honours later on this summer. Having already accounted for three of the teams that will be competing in the second-tier championship during their ongoing Division 3 League campaign, Halligan, a primary school teacher in Dundalk, believes this is a realistic target for 2023.
“We’ve made the quarter-finals of intermediate the last two years in-a-row. We want to go one if not two steps further than that this year. We want to be there and that is what we’re training for and what we’re putting in all the work for.
“We know we’re well capable, it’s well within our reach. We’ve gotten to the last stages last year and the year before. We can definitely see it now within our reach,” Halligan added.