"I felt so overwhelmed with such joy and happiness" - My LGFA Life with Meath's Monica McGuirk

My LGFA Life – Meath goalkeeper Monica McGuirk

Age: 29

Club: Duleek Bellewstown

Occupation: Operations Manager (Aura Drogheda Leisure centre)

County Debut: 2010

Notable Achievements: TG4 2019 All star winner, 2019 Lidl Division 3 National League winner, 2019 Meath Senior Ladies Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year.

Q: Monica, thanks for chatting to us. How have you found your experience of playing ladies football?

A: It definitely has been a whirlwind experience for me, especially over these past couple of years. Playing Ladies Football has helped me become the player I am today but also helped me become the person I am today. If it wasn’t for playing football I wouldn’t have got to meet as many people as I have, who now are my best friends and also wouldn’t have been so many places I have been because of playing football. I have a massive passion for the game and always will, it is a massive part of my life and I look forward to nothing more than training nights and game days. My experiences to date have been nothing but the best, you win and you lose games but it makes you stronger and makes you fight more for what you want.

Q: What was it that sparked your interest in the sport from a young age?

A: Funnily enough I started my sporting career as an outfield soccer player when I was only 11, with my local club Duleek. One day at training the coach asked me to go into goals for a while. When we were that young the whole team would take turns in goals. So, naturally it was my turn eventually. I vaguely remember going in goals and thinking to myself ‘I will be no good in here’. From that day to this I never looked back. Throughout this time, I played with a lot of other girls that went to different schools in the parish some of which played Gaelic. One day I was asked if I had an interest in attending some Gaelic training and I guess the rest explains itself!

Q: When did you pull on the Meath Jersey for the first time, and how big a thrill was that?

A: The first time I ever went to Meath trials was back when I was 13/14 years of age. I remember trying out for the Meath U14 squad, there was two or three try-outs and I got called back each time. I remember when I received the texts about getting through to the next session, I was delighted and somewhat proud of myself as I never thought I could do it. I then managed to get picked for the U14s squad! Our home games were played in Ratoath’s GAA grounds; games I remember well as the atmosphere was electric and I guess I was just filled with pure excitement! There a specific feeling you get when you run onto your home pitch wearing a Meath jersey, I felt a sense of achievement and pride knowing that I was going to be playing for my county. And still to this day when I walk out on to any pitch, I get that same sense of pride and passion for the game.

Q: What is the best thing for you about playing Ladies Football?

A: For me, the best thing about playing Ladies Football would have to be the friendships I have made and the people I have met along the way. I often think to myself where or what would I be doing if I never took up playing football. I am blessed to have made so many great friends from playing football down through the years. The women I play with on the county team and the club team are equally as passionate about the game as I am, it’s a fantastic feeling to be able to share sporting experiences with them.

Q: Who was the biggest influence on your career?

A: I have had a couple of people over the years that have influenced me a great deal in my sporting career, all of whom know who they are. My family and friends are always so very supportive of me. Gaelic Football ran in my family and my Grandad Sean Ludlow played for Meath many years ago. It’s him I think about when I look at my Gaelic Football career to date.

Q: What are the main challenges that you have faced in you career so far?

A: Throughout my sporting career I’ve experienced many challenges, beginning with the injury I suffered to my left knee. I was 17 years of age when I injured my cruciate ligament. I was still at school at the time and heavily involved in basketball, Gaelic and soccer! Also, when I suffered this injury I wasn’t aware of the potential pitfalls of such an injury, seeking advice on it was quite difficult at the time, so you can imagine panic began to set in as I didn’t know when I was going to be back playing. When I got an MRI, I was told it was only partially torn therefore I didn’t need an operation, but I did have to take time out and gradually build the muscles back up in my leg. For me, this was extremely difficult, and I feel like it set me back big time for a number of years not just the time I was recovering. In recent years, the injury has become more common and is dealt with in a significantly different way now, especially in the women’s game. There is a lot more structure to the recovery plan needed, as I went to 3 physios, none of which could give me a straight answer as to where to go or what to do.

Q: What do you do for a living, and how do you manage the work-life-sport balance?

A: Currently, I am working for the Aura Holohan Group, and have been since 2012. Recently, I was appointed the new Operation Manager of Aura in Drogheda. Before being appointed to this role, I was the Operations Manager of Aura in Tullamore. As you can imagine, trying to strike a balance between my professional career and my sporting career was difficult at first. However, doing so was only a minor challenge that I have overcome. As you can imagine, there were obvious difficulties with commuting back and forth from Tullamore for matches and training, but being honest it probably demonstrates my resilience more than anything. I’ve always loved playing sport and I am always willing to do what’s needed so I wasn’t long getting into a routine with both work and sport. Training was usually on Tuesday and Friday nights, which was made things that bit more manageable as I worked Monday to Friday, therefore I never missed games. I am also very lucky in the sense that my role allows some degree of flexibility within reason. Probably the most difficult thing I encountered outside of this routine was having that bit of extra sociable time with family or friends outside of playing Gaelic, but it wasn’t always impossible and I was lucky in the sense that I have very understanding friends!!

Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for the rest of your career?

A: Personally, it’s to see Meath ladies’ football back up where it belongs, at senior level. But, at the moment, it would have to be winning that TG4 All Ireland intermediate championship. We have come so close in these past two years, that we are fighting even harder to get over that line.

Q: Have you played other sports?

A: Yes. It is only in the last 3 years that I have focused solely on playing Gaelic football. Throughout my sporting career, my initial focus was on soccer, and as I have already mentioned, I started playing soccer at quite a young age. The team I originally started playing with and the friends I made are the reason I started playing Gaelic in the first place. Over the years I never gave Gaelic my full focus because I was playing soccer. I played for teams like Duleek, Albion Rovers, Peamount and UCD Waves. As you can imagine, I have had my highs and lows while playing this sport. I felt like I was never pushed to my limits or given the chance to reach my full potential as a goalkeeper. It was then at the age of 26, I decided that committing to another year of playing soccer wasn’t the right thing to do and it was at that time I got called back to play with the Meath ladies and I never looked back.

Q: Do you have a favourite photograph from your career?

A: Yes – Would have to be the group photo of the Meath ladies with the Division 3 League Cup after we won in 2019. After losing the finally in 2018, to come back a year later and get out of Division 3 football was our ultimate goal and we did it. A lot of hard work, determination and a never give up attitude got us over the line in that game – a day and a game I will never forget.

Q: Who is your goalkeeping coach and what drills do you work on?

A: Since starting back with the Meath squad, I have had the same goalkeeping coach, Paddy Dowling. Paddy and I work on all aspects of my game; whether it’s shot-stopping, kick-outs, speed work, agility etc its always planned and ready to go. Over the years, when I was in and out of the county set up we never really had a set goalkeeping coach, it was a position that you could say was maybe overlooked a little bit. There were times that the other goalkeepers and I would have to put together our own training and set out our own drills. With now having Paddy, we are able to use our training sessions in a more focused manner as he spends up to an hour or an hour and a half each night solely on goalkeeping drills, which has helped me immensely on my game. One of Paddy’s favourite sayings is ‘you can lie down, when you go home’, so that will tell you how much recovery we get at every session!

Q: You are renowned as a superb shot-stopper, but what do you think are the main strengths of your overall game?

A: I would have to say as well I feel my shot-stopping has to be one my best assets as a goalkeeper. But over these past couple of years playing with Meath I have improved a lot on my kick-outs, which is probably one of my main strengths now. As a goalkeeper, I was always taught to kick the ball into space and away from the middle of the field, as I am sure a lot of goalkeepers have been told before. But now since playing at this level I have been shown this is not the case and that in fact I can start an attack form the back.

Q: What’s your career highlight?

A: To date my career highlight would have to be running out onto Croke Park on All Ireland final day for the first time in 2018. I know that day did not got well for us and it was a hard defeat. But nothing beats running up the steps and taking those first steps out into Croke Park surrounded by all family, friends, and Meath supporters. It truly was a spine-tingling moment.

Q: How confident are you that Meath can make the breakthrough and return to senior championship football? You have been so close in recent times.

A: I have full confidence in this team to make that breakthrough and get back up to senior football. Our target this year was to get back to another All Ireland final and hopefully go all the way, but with the way we are at the moment that may have to wait until next year. The Meath ladies’ squad has changed greatly over the past number of years, we have a very young squad now at the moment and a huge amount of talent. Some of the best players in the country on our squad that are more than well able to hold their own in senior level when we get up there.

Q: What piece of advice would you offer to up and coming players.

A: Never give up. As a player I had many knock-backs through injury, not getting picked for various squads, sitting on the bench because I was told I wasn’t good enough or not being ready yet. Yes, these knock-backs did affect me at the time but only made me stronger and fight even harder to get where I am today. I was 27 years old before I stepped out onto Croke Park, I was 28 before I won my very first National League title and 28 before I won my very first All-star. Things might not happen for you at a young age but just believe they can happen at some stage, if you never give up.

Q: What hobbies do you enjoy?

A: I have worked in the leisure industry quite a bit now and have fallen in love with swimming. Swimming would be one of my other hobbies I like to do outside of playing football. I also like to listen to music quite a bit and going for walks.

Q: You are hosting a dinner party and you can invite 5 people. Who’s on the list and what are you rustling up for your guests to eat?

A: I would probably have two options either my home-made chicken curry or a BBQ.

I could probably say 5 very famous people here but I think the best dinner parties are usually the ones with your closest family and friends, therefore it would be very hard for me just to pick just 5, as I’m sure I wouldn’t hear the end of it.

Q: Who is your all time sporting idol?

When I was young this changed all time, I followed so many sporting idols. But throughout this time, I have always had one person I always admired which was Michael Jordan. His work ethic was like something I had never seen before and his determination was incredible.

Q: What was the feeling like to win a TG4 All star award last year?

A: I remember going up to the awards night that day and thinking to myself I was just honoured to be nominated and be amongst the best players in the country. I knew I had some tough competition being up against the Dublin and Galway keepers, both senior goalkeepers, and I was intermediate. The support I received from all over the county was overwhelming in the lead-up to it and I felt honoured to be representing the Meath ladies. I remember when they started calling out the 3 goalkeepers’ names and the pause, I think I stopped breathing for a second. Then when I heard my name being called out, I felt so overwhelmed with such joy and happiness. It even made it more special having my family and some of my best friends there on the night. It’s a night I will never forget and cherish forever. It’s a huge honour to be nominated but then to go on and win it was even more special.



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