"It can only mean good things for the future" - My LGFA Life with Galway's Sarah Conneally

Sarah Conneally – Galway Footballer

Age: 29

Club: Dunmore MacHales

Occupation: Post-Primary Teacher

County debut: 2009 v Sligo

Notable achievements: Connacht titles ’09, ’10,’12,’14 ’15, ’17,’18,’19.

Q: Sarah, thanks for chatting to us. How have you found your experience of playing Ladies Football?

A: It has been an invaluable experience for me, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I have made some greats friends along the way from school, club, county, college, and during my time playing in Chicago on my J1. From playing Ladies Football, I have challenged myself and pushed myself to unlock levels within me that I never knew I had.

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

A:  I was immersed in sport from a very young age. I am the youngest of six and we all loved playing Gaelic Football. I would have been out in the back garden kicking a size 5 at the age of 7 with my brothers and sisters!!!

A: When did you pull on the Galway jersey for the first time, and how big a thrill was that?

A:  In 2002, the U12 Connacht championship was rolled out for the first time. I remember we had our first game and I was so excited to make the team. I did not want to take the jersey off after the game!!!

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

A: The friendships that you make is the best thing about playing the game and just having the craic during training and travelling to matches. Being a part of a team is something special and it is nice to work together to achieve the same goal.

Q: Who was the biggest influence on your career?

A: My sister Geraldine has been the biggest influence on my career.  I was eleven when they won the 2004 All-Ireland final. It was an amazing experience watching my sister play in Croke Park. I witnessed firsthand the hard work and dedication that it took to get there and that made the win even more special. I saw the enjoyment and success she got out of it and I wanted to experience it for myself.

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

A: I would have had my fair share of niggly injuries earlier on in my career, especially before S&C (Strength and Conditioning) became a key part of our training schedule. Recovering from any injury is a challenge, so those times were tough, when all you want to do is play. A good challenge that I have enjoyed in recent years has been my transition from playing in the backs to the forwards. I would have played in the backs since I was u12! It has been a huge learning experience for me and one that I have really enjoyed. The game is evolving all the time, so it is important to be versatile and adaptable.

Q: Galway contested both the Lidl NFL Division 1 and TG4 All-Ireland Finals last year – but unfortunately came up short in both. How long does it take to recover from those defeats, and how did they affect you? 

A: You play in finals to win at the end of the day so to lose both finals was very disappointing. The defeat to Dublin is probably still a bitter pill to swallow and the lockdown does not help when we all have more time to think! The league campaign was going well for us this year and it was unfortunate that it was all cut short. I suppose it is important to use the hurt generated by those defeats as fuel to drive us on next season.

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

A: I am a post-primary school teacher at Coláiste Bhaile Chláir. Planning out my week is hugely important so that allows me to get the balance right. I try and get my work done at school particularly on evenings that I would be training.

Q: Coláiste Bhaile Chláir is a school that has enjoyed considerable success in recent times. You also have some people helping you out on the coaching side there? 

On the sideline with Coláiste Bhaile Chláir 

A: There is a huge interest in Ladies Football in our school and we have a very talented bunch of girls coming from surrounding clubs. We have 5 teams involved in 5 different competitions from U14 up to senior so it’s quite busy. Fabienne Cooney and I look after the Junior and Senior teams. We share the workload and we take ideas from our own experiences of playing county and bring that to our role as managers. We reached the Lidl Senior A All-Ireland semi-final this year but lost. Unfortunately because of the lockdown we did not get to play the Junior A All-Ireland semi-final so that was a little disappointing for all involved. Ellie O’Gorman and Karen Kerrigan managed the two U14 teams this year. Ellie is the captain of the Clare Ladies this year, so it is brilliant to have her involved along with Karen, who plays with her local club Kilconly. Both have done great work managing two U14 teams this year for the first time in the school’s history.

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

A: It’s hard to know what way this year will pan out as a result of the pandemic but hopefully there will be some form of a championship played this year. I hope to keep playing and to win some silverware along the way!

Q: Have you played other sports?

A: I have thrown my hand at a few different sports such as basketball and soccer during my teenage years. I also played a bit of tag rugby a few years back but when you are committed to playing for your county, the stakes are too high to be dabbling in other sports. Also, between completing your training schedule and getting your recovery in, you just don’t have the time.

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

A:  This picture was taken after winning the Connacht final in 2017. It’s a special one because it is the last time that both Geraldine (far right) and I wore the Galway Jersey together. Playing with my sister was always special and unfortunately her season was cut short that year. She tore her cruciate in a challenge game against Cork before the Connacht final.

Q: Galway, at schools and underage levels, have been hugely successful over the last few years. How hopeful are you that underage success can result in senior glory in the years to come?

A: It is brilliant to see such success across school teams and our county underage teams. It can only mean good things for the future of Galway Ladies Football but I suppose it’s about nurturing all that talent, so that it transitions up to senior level. We know that young girls, particularly after playing minor, can lose focus and interest a little, so it is all about keeping that conveyor belt going and developing those players. It is great to see players like Andrea Trill and Ciara McCarthy, who myself and Fabienne would have coached at school level, playing on the senior team.

Andrea Trill in action against Dublin during the 2020 Lidl National League.

Q: You’re renowned as an excellent finisher in front of goal. What do you regard as the strongest aspects of your game? 

A: You have to take your chances when they come!  Probably my physical strength would be one of the strongest aspects of my game. Winning your own ball in the full forward line is crucial so I used my strength to help me with that!

Q: What’s your career highlight?

A: Reaching the All-Ireland final in 2019 and getting to play in Croke Park for the first time in my career was special, even though the result did not go our way.

Q: How confident are you that Galway can get back up there when play resumes and compete for the highest honours?

A: Every year is different, and I suppose the shutdown has given every team time to reset. We have new girls on the panel this year so it is important that we develop as a team and our aim will be to go one step further than last year.

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

A: Every time you train or play a game go out with the mindset that you are going to work as hard as you can, the rest will take care of itself.

Q: What hobbies do you enjoy?

A: I like cooking, cycling and reading when I get the chance!

Q: You’re 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: James Cordon, Adele, Graham Norton, Niall Horan, Michael D. Higgins. I’d keep it traditional so probably Bacon and Cabbage!

Q: And finally, who’s your all-time sporting idol?

A: Michael Jordan

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