"The defeat in 2017 was one of the hardest to take" - My LGFA Life with Tyrone's Christiane Hunter

Christiane Hunter – Tyrone

Age: 30

Club: Omagh St Enda’s

Occupation: Teacher

County debut: NFL V Kerry 2007

Notable achievements: County – 3 Ulster Intermediate c’ships (2016, 2017, 2018), All Ireland Intermediate c’ship runner up 2017, All Ireland Intermediate c’ship 2018, Ulster Minor c’ship 2007, All Ireland U14 Féile Div 2 2003.

Club – Tyrone Junior c’ship 2010, 2 Tyrone Intermediate c’ships (2011, 2014), Tyrone Intermediate league 2014, Ulster Junior club c’ship 2010, All Ireland Junior club runner up 2010, Ulster Intermediate club runner up 2011, Tyrone Minor league and c’ship 2005.

College – 3 O’Connor Cup runners up UUJ (2010, 2011, 2012)

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

A: I have had so many amazing experiences because of Ladies football and I have made so many lifelong friends playing at school, club, county and at University over the years. I still enjoy training, well most of the time, and more than anything I love playing the game at both club and county. Ladies Football has been my passion for as long as I can remember and it has allowed me to challenge myself and given me some of the best memories, and hopefully there’s still more to come.

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

A: For as long as I can remember I’ve always had a love for sport. I played football at St Conor’s primary school where former Tyrone player Liam Grugan was a big advocate of sport but especially football. I was encouraged to attend club training and I went along with some of my friends to St Enda’s, I loved it and have been there since. I suppose Ciara McElduff (Fox) getting us a free Fruit of the Loom Omagh hoodie (that I wore until it was threadbare) was a big factor in keeping me out too!

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

A: In 2003 at the U14 Division 2 Féile in Mullingar, we reached the final and beat Roscommon. What I remember from the day was that all the other teams looked massive compared to us and it was a scorcher of a day. I was definitely nervous with it being the first time I’d played for Tyrone but I remember feeling so proud to be handed the very oversized Tyrone jersey. I had the best day away with the other girls and I’m fortunate that I played right to senior level with Neamh Woods, Laura McGillion, Lycrecia Donaghey, Aisling O’Kane and Sarah Connolly (who is now our strength and conditioning coach at county level) from that team.

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

A: Without a doubt the best thing about playing Ladies football are the friendships I have made along the way. The memories and laughs I have had I will look back on forever. It has always been so fulfilling for me to be part of a team and I enjoy the togetherness, whether it’s training on a wet night or training in the height of summer. Being a footballer has provided me with so many opportunities such as developing my coaching skills and helping to encourage younger players through both club and county. Before I trained to be a teacher, I worked with Ulster GAA for 5 years as a primary school coach, this without doubt was made all the easier because I had such an interest in the sport.

Q: Who was the biggest influence on your career?

A: When I was starting out my club football at Omagh I looked up to both Michaela Doherty (O’Neill) and Nicola Canavan (Scott), they were seniors and were playing for Tyrone at the time. The girls coached the younger teams, they were great to listen to, excellent leaders at the club and were the sort of players I aspired to be like in the future. My parents have also had such a big influence on my career, they both have taken turns driving me all over the county when I was younger for training and they honestly never miss a match no matter where it is, for club, college or county. You can be sure I’ll hear either of them shouting from the stands no matter if we are winning or losing. They have supported me through the highs and lows and encouraged me to believe in myself.

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

A: One of the biggest challenges I have faced have been some of the big defeats. I am a very competitive person and the losses never get any easier to deal with. The big ones that stick out in my mind are the O’Connor cup defeats, especially 2012 with Jordanstown, the All-Ireland club final defeat in 2010 and the All-Ireland final defeat with Tyrone in 2017. These defeats have always motivated me and have made the victories all the better. Another challenge for me was my knee injury in 2010 during our successful All Ireland run with club, I played on with the niggle until 2012 with club, county and college, having no off-season. It finally got to a stage where I was struggling to walk and taping it just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. I had surgery in February 2012 and my recovery was unfortunately slower than I’d hoped. I’d also say that a challenging part of being an inter-county footballer is that you do have to make a lot of sacrifices. At times you miss certain events, parties and holidays etc. because of games and training. I’m just lucky to have a very supportive boyfriend, family and friends around me who understand the commitments that come with football.

Q: In 2015, you were named as Tyrone’s Senior Player of the Year. What do you remember of that and how big an honour was it for you?

A: At that time I was coaching the Omagh U12 girls with my younger sister Lauren and we were at youth prize night out at the clubrooms. At the end when all the medals had been given out I was getting everything cleared up on the stage when music started playing and on the big screen were all these action shots of me playing for Tyrone, I was mortified (haven’t seen a good action shot of me yet!) and couldn’t understand what was going on. Next thing I knew Maggie Skelton, the county secretary, walked in the door with flowers and a trophy and informed everyone that I was County Senior Player of the Year. I was so shocked but delighted, and really didn’t expect to ever win it. I suppose it made it all the better receiving it in my club rooms where I started playing my football.

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

A: I’m a PE teacher so it can be difficult to manage the football commitments with the planning and marking that comes hand in hand with the job but I’ve found having a good routine, especially knowing in advance when training days and matches are is vital. It allows me to manage my work around football and our management at county level of Gerry, Barry and Damo have always given us monthly schedules which has been so helpful. Since becoming a teacher, it has definitely changed my bus journeys with the team. Before I’d have been the first person trying to get games going and messing about but now sadly I’ve no choice but to use our away game journeys to do marking along with the other teachers in the team.

Tyrone manager Gerry Moane 

Q: You came on as a late sub in the 2018 TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Final victory over Meath. What was that experience like, to play at Croke Park and win the All-Ireland?

A: To be honest going into the 2018 final I was quite disappointed not to make the starting 15 as I had done so the previous year. The defeat in 2017 was one of the hardest to take for myself and particularly some of the older girls in the team. The day after the defeat to Tipperary, I travelled to Carlisle to start my PGCE which meant that I missed pre-season and the National League. However, when I got the phone call from management to say the door was open for me when I would get home in late March, I continued my training programme from England to prepare for what we hoped would be a return to Croke Park in September again. When I got home, I had several months of intense training behind me and earned my start again through the entire championship campaign right up until the final. While it was disappointing not to have got that starting jersey, myself and the rest of the squad knew this was going to take a team effort to get over the line that day and knew we all had a part to play in order to be on the flip-side of the previous year’s defeat. To play in Croke Park on any day is an honour but to win alongside a group of girls who had given everything working towards this goal for several years was very special. We had wonderful support before, during and after the game from family, friends and particularly clubs within Tyrone and that’s something I will never forget. The attendance that year was record-breaking so the atmosphere coming on was incredible. Playing in Croke Park in Ladies Football is something that doesn’t happen very often and for the squad of 2017 and 2018, we got that chance to play there twice and to win an All-Ireland was an amazing achievement.

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

A: Well firstly I would hope to remain injury free as I continue my career at club and county. On the park I would certainly like some more honours with Tyrone, an Ulster Senior title would be a great achievement. With Omagh I am hopeful that with a lot of talented younger players coming through, that we can start competing for county titles again.

Q: Have you played other sports?

A: I played Camogie, Tennis and Netball through school and really enjoyed them. I tried to continue playing Netball after I left school but I just couldn’t commit to it with football taking up a lot of my time. Looking back, I would have loved to have played Camogie but at the time there were no clubs locally.

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

A: There are countless bad action shots from throughout my career which always come back to haunt me but if I had to pick I’d say it’s a picture of myself and my club team mate Orlagh McNamee after winning the 2018 All Ireland Intermediate final in Croke Park.

Q: Your Dad, Paddy, is well-known in Tyrone GAA circles. How big a supporter has he been for you?

A: Daddy has been a massive supporter throughout my career. He is a sports journalist and when I was younger, I spent every weekend tripping the country going to matches with him, to be his ‘assistant’ when he was commentating for the radio, I would keep the stats for him during a game and this really cemented my love for Gaelic football. We would talk about the matches the whole way home, what had gone well and not so well for each team. This then transferred to my own playing career where there will always be a good post mortem after every club or county game. Both my parents have travelled the country to support me and Daddy has always encouraged me to play as much football and sport as possible. Daddy also plays a huge role in the administration side of Ladies Football at both my club, Omagh and at county level in Tyrone. I have seen first hand the lengths he goes to, from ensuring every game is advertised to try and draw in crowds, doing write ups for all club games in the county, designing and making programmes for all championship and league finals etc. Let’s just say his work is never done. He has always made sure that no matter what team he gets involved with, that they are well looked after and everything is in place for players to just focus on playing. In recent years he has played a major role behind the scenes for Tyrone Senior Ladies, securing sponsorship, booking buses/pitches, organising food and travel arrangements and pushing for ladies to be treated the same as the men. I have no doubt that his determination and hard work behind closed doors has played a part in the success we have had in recent times.

Q: You play your club football with Omagh. What has that experience of club football been like for you?

A: For the past decade we had some great days with the likes of Vinny McCullagh, “Beefy” McNamee and Brendan Moynagh managing. We won our first adult title in 2010 that we followed up with a couple more. We won in Ulster, reached another provincial final and an All-Ireland club final, we had a great bunch of players. However, a lot of the girls moved away for work and study and some retired. So, I suppose in the last couple of years we have been a team in transition but we are moving in the right direction, there is a real buzz in the squad at the minute and I’m looking forward to getting back out with the team again. I have made some of my best friends through club football and when I think back to some of the stories and the craic we’ve had, I have made some of my best memories there also.

Q: What’s your career highlight?

A: There have been three. Reaching the 2010 All Ireland Junior club final, which went to a replay that wasn’t played until the following year, sadly we lost in the end. Then playing and eventually winning the All-Ireland title with Tyrone, those two All-Ireland Intermediate finals were such an incredible experience.

Q: How confident are you that Tyrone can hold their own at Senior level, on the back of an encouraging 2019 campaign?

A: We have been going well under Gerry over the past couple of years, we showed what we are capable of last year and despite the loss to Cork it was another learning curve for us. We have exciting young players coming through alongside some of us “older” girls and we are very focused and determined, although this year will be strange for us with the massive delay.

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

A: When I was younger, I regret not practicing more with my left foot, so I would say focus on your weaknesses and it will always make you a better player.

Q: And who’s given you the best piece of advice during your career?

A: I could say some insightful quotes from Vinny McCullagh but they definitely wouldn’t be very PC, in saying that though himself and “Beefy” McNamee would have had you ready to run through walls before big club games. Liam Sheedy came to Garvaghey before our All Ireland final in 2018 to speak to us and some of the things he said were really inspiring. He said, ‘we needed to get the overalls on and choose to be the hardest working team on the day’, he also told us ‘there was one ball and you have to want it more because inside that ball there’s 38 All Ireland medals and you must fight for that’. He spoke with so much passion and I know we all came away feeling even more motivated.

Q: What hobbies do you enjoy?

A: I still try to play Netball when I can, I like to keep active even in the off-season. I enjoy traveling when I can, seeing new places and socialising with my friends. I love relaxing with a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

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: I wouldn’t be the best cook so I’d invite Gino D’Acampo to do that for me, Lewis Capaldi in the hope he’d sing a few songs and Gemma Collins, Joe Lycett and Katherine Ryan for the laughs.

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

A: Conor Gormley, the Tyrone defender was a player who maybe never got the credit he deserved. Of course, he made the great block near the end of the 2003 All Ireland final but he was a brilliant overall player too, a talented defender who seemed to always be in the right place. I think because he was a defender like myself, I looked up to him.A: I still try to play Netball when I can, I like to keep active even in the off season. I enjoy traveling when I can, seeing new places and socialising with my friends. I love relaxing with a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

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