Orlaith Kirk is one of Louth’s greatest ever Ladies Football players. Since making her county debut as a 13-year-old in a National League game against Carlow in 1993, the highly respected ex-Dundalk Gaels and Naomh Malachi star forged a reputation as a hard-working and high-fielding player who rarely missed a game or training session. Fittingly, Orlaith made her final appearance in the red jersey in the 2010 All-Ireland final against Limerick in Croke Park.
Orlaith is a respected analyst of the game and is a regular contributor on LMFM radio. The former midfielder spoke to Louth LGFA PRO Dermot Woods ahead of Sunday’s game against Fermanagh, giving her views on the big match.
The Ladies Junior All-Ireland Final looms large on the horizon for Louth and Fermanagh. An exciting and intriguing game awaits. Both counties had impressive semi final wins albeit in different fashions. Louth clinically dispatched Antrim dominating their game with particular ruthlessness in the second half. After a shaky start Fermanagh staged a boa constrictor like strangulation of London, scoring 14 unanswered points starving their opponents of possession and ultimately outworking them. Two different victories but both offering interesting insights in the respective team’s strengths.
Louth’s full-forward line will be hoping to maintain their second half momentum from the Antrim victory straight into Croke Park. The introduction of Lauren Boyle in the semi-final acted as perfect counter-weight to her Cooley colleague Niamh Rice in the full forward line, which ultimately created more space for captain Kate Flood who, when supplied with quality ball, is unmarkable. The three north Louth girls are potent attackers, with enough creativity and flair to be match winners in their own right. Flood’s free-taking in the semi was impervious and shows no signs of abating.
Louth’s half forward has been industrious throughout the championship, none more so than Aine Breen who is responsible for a lot of the heavy lifting in the middle third. Susan Byrne’s pace is a threat to the opposition and will be an important attribute come the final on Sunday. The link up play between the Byrne sisters, Aoife and Eimear, and the Louth forward line has improved throughout the championship. The semi-final victory saw a lot more early ball played into the full forward line, which reaped reward. The midfield sector has been bolstered through the introduction of Sinead Woods as an impact sub, Woods brings energy, direct running and quality passing and is an excellent asset to have off the bench.
The half-back line is marshalled superbly by Michelle McMahon whose performances have been top class all year. Sarah Quinn was many people’s ‘player of the match’ in the semi-final. Quinn masterfully plays the full-back role, and she will need to be in top form given her likely opposition come Sunday. Shannon McLaughlin demonstrated tremendous energy and workrate in the semi, which will be required in spades in the final. Una Pearson will need to marshall her backline troops, take confidence from her excellent semi-final penalty save and maintain communication with kick-outs.
If the Louth full-forward line is considered dangerous, tribute must also be paid to the Fermanagh inside line. Teenage sensation Emer Smyth could grace any of the 6 teams playing on Sunday, such is her talent and ability. Her interplay with Blathin Bogue in the semi final was joyous and created problems for the London defence. Once settled Smyth was very accurate from free kicks and punished fouls conceded in the scoring zone. Joanne Doonan, when introduced into the half forward line in the Fermanagh semi-final victory, performed as her team’s talisman invigorating the link up play between the Fermanagh half back and half forward lines and ensuring quality ball to the inside forward line.
The Fermanagh midfield pairing of Roisin O’Reilly and Aoife Flanagan really impressed in the semi-final win, their athleticism, speed and work rate underpinning their victory. Erin Murphy excelled at full-back where she contained London’s Avril Kilkelly and ultimately saw her opponent substituted. Fermanagh’s wing half-backs of Molly McLoin and Shannon McQuaid work the channels very well and support their attacks from deep.
The match up between the respective full forwards and their markers (Flood vs Murphy and Smyth vs Quinn), will potentially dictate who wins this final. Given the pedigree of both full-forwards, both teams will be working hard to stop the supply of quality ball into the full-forward lines. Flood and Smyth are excellent free-takers and the concession of frees in the scoring zone will be punished.
Louth have impressed most when they have played direct ball into their full forward line and Fermangh were exposed by London utilising this tactic in the first 10 minutes of their semi-final. This could be an area where Louth could gain the upper hand if the quality of the early ball played to full-forward line is good enough.
It will also be interesting to see whether Louth dedicate a man-marker to Joanne Donnan- given her importance to the Fermanagh because I think it could be worth doing so. It could be a role for Michelle McMahon.
The middle third will be a real pressurised area. Both teams play a similar running, off the shoulder support game, which sets the scene for an attritional show-down. Fermanagh doggedly outworked London in their semi and impressed with their fitness levels, perseverance and work ethic. Louth will need to match their opponents in this facet of the game to remain competitive.
As mentioned earlier, I think this is shaping up to be an intriguing encounter. If Louth match the Fermanagh work rate I think the wee county may prevail. The Louth full-forward line has significant fire power and dynamism, which could be too much for the Fermanagh team to handle. I wouldn’t bet against a draw either – it will be a tense affair at headquarters.
Photos by Warren Matthews.