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McGovern in top form after the 'year from hell' in 2016

Fermanagh v Derry, All-Ireland Ladies Junior Football Final: Croke Park, Sunday, 11.45am

By Declan Bogue

Tuesday morning at the captain's call ahead of the ladies' All-Ireland finals and Fermanagh's Aine McGovern sits perched on a picnic bench in an unseasonal sun, under the gaze of the Michael Cusack statue at the back of the stand named in his honour.

She can't believe her luck, to be in this position, 12 months after what she describes as the 'year from hell'.

In 2016, struggling at Intermediate level since the spine of the team left during the previous years' campaign, they found themselves at their lowest ebb. The new management team of Paddy Fox and Malachy Coyle wasn't a great fit for the panel.

Things went from bad to worse. They were destroyed by almost 50 points in a match against Leitrim in Templeport. In the end, even though 15 ladies were willing to travel in their own cars to fulfil a game against Offaly, the management called it off. They soon made an exit to be replaced by current manager Emmett Curry.

There was always going to be a painful transition after a mass walkout of experienced players in 2015, but Curry, along with Mickey Cadden, has managed it.

"We were struggling to get players out even to make up a panel, whereas this year we have a panel of 33, 34," explains McGovern, who's employed as an Outreach worker connected with the South West Acute Hospital.

"We will build it up again. For so many years we relied on the older ones from Fermanagh and we didn't get in fresh blood, whereas this year there is."

There is significant interest in this group. McGovern now lives in Corlough, Co Cavan, but she is only seven miles from her club in Kinawley, who are running two buses to Croke Park this Sunday.

Last year, 34,445 attended ladies' finals day, which by way of comparison, beat the attendance of the ladies' FA Cup final in England. Another way of looking at it: the biggest ladies' sporting event in Europe that weekend.

"I know it is early and it is hard for some people to come, but there is a good bit of buzz about. It's an All-Ireland final at the end of the day and we have got there, when you consider where we were coming from last year, the year from hell!" she jokes.

Fermanagh's problem is to guard against complacency. They have faced Derry four times already this season, winning all four with an average winning margin of 12 points.

"Each time we have beat them they have closed the gap. And they have improved.

"They are going to improve for an All-Ireland final too so you can never be sure what way it is going to go," adds McGovern.

But the Manor House on the shores of Lough Erne is already booked for a banquet. There's a good chance a cup will be there to celebrate.

Belfast Telegraph

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