With Louth LGFA still playing the waiting due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Louth LGFA are contining the series of interviews with PRO Dermot Woods chatting to some of our leading figures.
This week it’s the turn of Louth Under 14 manager Julie Fitzpatrick.
You played for Naomh Mairtin in football and camogie for St. Kevin’s – what were your highlights?
In terms of camogie, I was a late starter in playing and would only have played from I think U16 upwards but we did win at this level. In 1989 I won a Junior Championship and the following year I was part of the team that won the U21 Championship, while 1996 saw us win the Senior Championship.
Although St Kevins football team was only founded in 1993, we won our first Senior Championship against our old foes Cooley in 1995. The following year we represented Louth in the Leinster Club Championship and I had great pleasure captaining the team only to be narrowly beaten by a single score.
With the Mairtins we won the Div 2 Championship against the Pats in the late 90s.
Were you a founding member of St. Kevin’s camogie club?
I wasn’t a founding member of the camogie club but I was a founding member of the football club. A trip with Annemarie King to Cooley, one Sunday evening, too many years ago to remember and it took off from there. One of our first games was against St. Josephs at the time and I lost count after 11/12 goals were put by us and that wasn’t our goalkeeper’s fault. The next time we played the same team in Philipstown and we lost by the narrow margin of one single point.
I would have served as Chairperson of both codes in the Kevins at some point and was also Treasurer at the football end of things, also being Assistant Secretary in the Camogie club.
County wise I was Secretary to none other than Dermot Woods in his first stint as Chairperson of Louth LGFA quite a few years ago.
Most memorable moment representing your county?
Representing your county is in itself very memorable at any time if I’m honest and just being part of that group and the camaraderie under the management of Tony Melia. I recall a game we played against Dublin in Cooley (in those days the likes of Cork and Dublin were in our group) and I had one of my better games so I guess that would be one. I was also a member of the team who got to a Leinster final in 1996 only to be beaten by Longford.
How good a feeling is it to win a Championship title with your club?
Club is absolutely everything. It is where lifelong friends are made and although friends go their separate ways over the years, when we do meet up we can always have a laugh about games we played etc. If I’m right in saying this, we as a club, St Kevins whom I played with at the time were the first Louth club to get to a Leinster club final in football that is. Unfortunately the outcome of the match v Tara Rocks in Wexford did not go our way and we were beaten by a single point.
How many years have you been coaching?
I would have coached many years ago with the Kevins (too many years ago to remember) and then took a sabbatical as they say, only for the spark to be reignited when my nieces and nephews started playing football with Naomh Mairtin. About five years in total.
How much focus do you put into player development vs. winning vs. having fun?
Development is very important for every player. But I see development as a two-way thing between players and coaches etc. The player(s) themselves have to want to be developed. One also has to remember that development of players can be a slow burner for some and while underage a player may not develop in later years this may take a turn.
Bernard Brogan is a particular example. He never played underage football with Dublin yet blossomed and developed in his early twenties only to become one of the best forwards in the country. As coaches/mentors/managers our role is being mere facilitators in the development process. I would say that if we do show the girls how to do things, then the onus is on the player to practise those things and the old cliche of practise makes perfect comes into play.
Development also involves developing players both physically and socially in terms of their abilities and I see a big role in the players themselves making decisions as once the game starts it is the girls on the pitch who have to decide what to do should things go off kilter.
Fun is part of the development process and gone are the days where training is running straight lines, doing the same things in terms of training week in, week out and becoming monotonous. Nowadays the emphasis is on the importance of planning sessions so that they are varied albeit with a session goal in mind. Along with the rest of my backroom team we do try and make the sessions fun.
I purposely have left winning to last to mention purely because I see winning as the consequences of good development. The dichotomy of managing any team as anyone knows is trying to get the balance right between developing the players, by having fun and hopefully winning too but I wouldn’t see winning as the be all and end all. Winning at all cost would not be my mantra and we as a management team with this year’s bunch of girls have genuinely made a conscious effort to involve all the girls in the games we have played so far to date.
What are your expectations of the season?
In terms of this year, I feel with everything as it is with Covid 19, the girls and not just our U14 bunch but every girl playing football in Louth – will lose out in terms of football. The only mitigating factor though in this respect is that it will be the same for other counties. I do feel that this particular age group have been dealt a double whammy in that the Feile too was cancelled.
I am not for one second questioning the reasoning for same as the health and safety of the girls is paramount but I do feel that some girls may not return to play when and if we do get back to kicking ball this year and if not this year then next year. I think down the road we will see the unwanted consequences of not playing/training as a team.
In terms of expectations for the season, we have a very good bunch of girls. I feel we would have went a long way in doing well if I’m honest. We played a blitz competition at the end of February in Kildare and won 4 out of the 5 games and played numerous challenges earlier in the year with the result in most games going our way, so without doubt I see huge potential in our present year squad.
How did your pre-season schedule go?
As a management team we made a deliberate effort to get as many games as possible under our belt before the real football season started. In this regard, I must thank the Mams and Dads etc who travelled far and wide in what were on certain days baltic conditions in support of the girls.
We had 7 challenge matches in total and would have had more only for the poor weather conditions making pitches unplayable in the early months of the year. The emphasis in the matches played was to give all the players an opportunity to wear their county jersey and represent their county which I have to say they they have all done admirably.
We really were on a high after our blitz but unfortunately our bubble was soon bust with the onset of the pandemic.
This your second season with the Louth U14’s, have you many survivors from 2019?
I was last year a small cog in the wheel as regards the U14 team. Mark McNamee asked me early on in the year to get involved and I duly accepted the offer, learning plenty and when the role of U13 Development Manager for the 2019 season came up, I applied for same and was fortunate to get the job.
The big advantage of this being that I would have seen all the present players and their ability over a six/eight month period before we finalised our panel for 2020. From 2019 we have 3 players Mischa Rooney (Hunterstown Rovers), Eili Ryan (Naomh Mairtin) and Nessa Norton from the Geraldines club.
Who is on your on backroom team?
My backroom team is Christine Carolan, who was part of the Management Team at U14 with Mark and was part of the Louth All-Ireland winning squad in 2015, so she brings with her loads of experience having played at every underage level for the County and plays for the Mochtas club at the moment. Although being very quiet, Christine is very astute in her assessment of the game and I don’t feel so alone being the only female as part of the management team.
Gavin White from Cooley has the hardest job of the lot in that he does the bulk of the training with the team. Gavin has plenty of experience with underage teams in the North end of the county, having played county football himself and has been successful with his Cooley squad winning numerous competitions at U12 and U14. Being involved with athletics Gavin brings added benefit to the team.
Peter Bennett from the Mairtins is another one of my team. Peter genuinely has a wealth of knowledge as regards the game and is fantastic at working with the girls on the basics of the game making them aware of what they should be doing.
Having someone like Peter involved is great and the same can be said for Gerry Callan who like Peter has been heavily involved in Louth Ladies football down the years. I finished my football career with Gerry in the Mairtins and can honestly say there are few people who have been involved in a club as long as Gerry has.
Like Peter, I rely on these guys for their guidance and knowledge and so far thankfully we have not gone too far astray. Having some time on my hands of late and logging onto some webinars, it seems that many Managers have mentors to whom they question for some ideas and I am very fortunate to have Peter and Gerry at hand to ask for advice. It truly is invaluable.
You are one of a small number of ex Louth player’s involved with a county team, would you like to see more involved?
In an ideal world I would absolutely say yes that I would love to see more ex Louth players involved. But reality is a different story and for many of our county ex players family/work commitments is priority and one could not question that. I can say this as I am one of those people who fortunately has some time on my hands but let me be honest here and say that the job of manager is very time consuming even at underage level. Like the rest of my backroom team with me we are committed 110% and are by no means half-hearted in what we do.
It is fantastic to see Roisin Hanlon involved with the Senior girls but I am well aware there are numerous females involved at club level giving their time and getting involved and I think this is the starting point for females to get involved in coaching.
If I think in terms of Louth alone at club level very few females are for want of a better expression ‘head coaches’. Apologies to the guys here but as females we were once teenagers too and I think presently there are numerous females involved in clubs who would have played football to a high level so why not give it a go. We tend to be in the backseat when it comes to being involved and I genuinely don’t see why we don’t have a more prominent role.
At county level the Kindlon sisters Niamh and Fiona are involved with this year’s Monaghan U14 panel so I have no reason to doubt that they may follow through at the different age groups to Senior level.
You were appointed in November, and then have to assemble a panel and get a backroom team in place. Would it be better to be in place earlier in the year?
Correct yes. I was appointed in November but due to the fact I was the U13 Development Manager I had the advantage of being there a little earlier.
Certainly going forward and I think in the long term interest of football in the county, I do feel that appointments should be made earlier in the year. Realistically our game season started at the end of February which is very early on in the year. My thoughts would be that you need to have the panel together for at least 6 months to develop cohesion among the group, to lay out a training plan and in essence get as many challenge matches as possible under their belts.
This year we were trying to select our squad over the Christmas period, playing games in what was bad weather conditions and I don’t see this as being ideal.
Who was your toughest opponent and why?
At club level in the Kevins, I would have to say Fiona Sweeney. A tenacious defender at all times. With the Mairtins, it was Karen Connor as Karen had it all – athleticism and skills.
Against other teams Edel and Aine McKeown from the Joe’s let nothing go by them whilst Elaine Rogan and Joan McCarragher from Cooley also spring to mind for the same reason.
Best player you played with and against?
With the Kevins, I would have to say Nicola Wogan was the best player I played with. She had that distinctive prowess of where to be at the right time which only comes naturally to certain players. With the Mairtins, Karen Connor genuinely had it all. Karen could run all day and at primary school I recall she would have put the boys to shame with her football ability.
I did only play a few years with the Mairtins but Meabh O’Hare was also another player who was coming into her own and deservedly went on to play with Louth. The same could be said for Deirdre King.
Biggest influence on your career?
It may sound very cliche and I won’t apologise for that, but my Dad would have been a big influence. Ours was (and still is) most definitely a football household as my Dad was heavily involved with the Mairtins mens teams over the years.
Sundays were spent on the football fields, the length and breadth of the county and the post-match analysis probably went on for the week. As young kids, myself and my sisters would have gone out to kick ball after being at matches and aspire to be like those Senior Mairtins players. History is now repeating itself in the fact that there are now three generations involved in the post-match analysis. Grandad is only too happy to give advice to his grandchildren on how to play the game.
You were a dual player for Louth, how demanding was that?
At the time when I was playing genuinely the pressure of playing both would not have been a huge issue. I do see in the present climate how it would be an issue and we would have a few girls on our panel who would play both but thankfully there not too many clashes with schedules etc.
Camogie in Louth unfortunately wouldn’t be as widely played at present as in times past but nonetheless in my own opinion a great game in the sense that playing with a smaller ball improves focus and reflexes for the football end of things and although some may not agree, it is a tad more physical and this would also be a plus factor.
I do see playing other sports like basketball as a big benefit to Ladies football for the speed of footwork and ball handling ability and sure if players like Kieran Donaghy and Michael Dara Macauley can do it, then why don’t the girls. It is trying to get the balance right in terms of time commitments and at some time it is a case of deciding which sport to focus on.
What could be done to improve Ladies Football in Louth?
One area Dermot I feel where football could be improved could be at the Post Primary school end of things. My sister is coaching in one of the local schools (Drogheda) and the level of interest is huge but it appears that there wouldn’t be too many games between the Louth schools.
With numerous girls schools in Dundalk, Drogheda, Ardee and Dunleer, I do feel this is a missed opportunity for more football for the girls involved and something which possibly could be looked into in the future which no doubt would benefit Louth football. With the ever growing number of clubs starting up, I cannot see why a post primary version of Cumann na Bunscoil couldn’t take place.