THERE’S never any shortage of drama when it comes to Derry full-back, Ciara McGurk and the Ulster Ladies Football Championship, with either club or county.
The 26 year-old Creggan girl is one of nine Steelstown Brian Og’s representatives on the Derry panel who take on Fermanagh at Clones on Sunday in the Ulster Ladies Junior Football Championship Final. (Throw-in 1.45 p.m.)
The Oak Leaf Ladies have lost twice to the ‘Ernesiders’ this season in both league and Championship, but having shocked Antrim in the semi-final, McGurk reckons they now possess the necessary belief to go and win their first Ulster title since 2009.
And she’s hoping the build-up to Sunday’s final goes a little more smoothly and without any of the now expected drama she’s experienced of late when it comes to crunch Championship football matches.
In 2015 Steelstown were vying for an historic Ulster Junior B Championship triumph and Ciara kept the fact she was five months pregnant with her son Conlaodh, a secret from most of her teammates in case it jeopardised her involvement in the encounter.
And what a part she played as she went on to register the all-important decisive goal in the Ballyarnett club’s famous victory over Monaghan club, Erin O’Neill’s in Killyclogher!
More recently, after a ‘disastrous’ return trip from the USA where she missed her flight, lost her luggage before her bus blew a tyre on the motorway as she desperately made her way to Derry’s Ulster semi-final clash against Antrim, she eventually turned up 10 minutes after throw-in and came on to help secure a dramatic 5-15 to 5-9 extra-time win against the defending Ulster champions.
So it’ll make a nice change should everything go to plan and the Oak Leafers defy the odds and lift the Ulster title on Sunday.
“You couldn’t write it but hopefully everything is plain-sailing this time,” she laughed. “But we’ve had our heartbreak in the Championship over the years so let’s hope this is our year.
“We deserve it more than ever. I’ve been playing with the county for the last six or seven years and this is the first year I’ve felt we can go on and do it. The talent is there and everyone is working hard and we all want it. So there’s no reason why not.
It’s a long time coming and the talent is in the county. It’s just about getting the players out and believing in themselves.Ciara McGurk
“It’s a long time coming and the talent is in the county,” she added. “It’s just about getting the players out and believing in themselves.”
It’s testament to the hard work and superb coaching at Steelstown that there’s now nine members in the county panel including Brian Og’s skipper, Emma Doherty who has been nominated for women’s GPA ‘player of the month’ for June. And Ciara insists it’s no fluke!
“Steelstown is a brilliant club and I’d never be where I am without the coaching down there. We all play well together and are a tight-knit squad so we’ve taken that into the county team.”
So will it be third time lucky against a tough Fermanagh outfit?
“Yes, we’re underdogs given they’ve beaten us twice this year. I’d say they got a bit of a shock when we beat Antrim as they thought they would have a walkover against us. We proved we’ve got the hunger and we’re going to fight for it. I’d like to think it’s third time lucky for us against Fermanagh.”
Ciara paid tribute to the Derry management for their efforts in getting the ladies to the provincial final. And given they were struggling to get a team and manager in place at the start of the season, it’s an incredible feat to get to Sunday’s showpiece.
“We weren’t fit enough at the start of the year but now it’s all going well for us. At the start of the year, it’s the same every year, we think we’ll not have a team, nobody wants to play and we don’t have a manager. And then the three boys came in, Paul Hasson, Paul Crozier and Sean Lavery and they believed in us from the very start.
“They asked us want we wanted out of it and they worked their backsides off to get us where we are today. If it wasn’t for the three of them we wouldn’t be where we are.”