The two soon-to-be AFLW stars going head-to-head to lift an All-Ireland crown

“IT’S MAD,” LOUTH captain Kate Flood smiles at the All-Ireland ladies football finals media day in Croke Park. “You couldn’t really write it; the two of us meeting in America and then the two of us here today as captains and then the two of us going to Australia.”

She nods over to her Fermanagh counterpart, Joanne Doonan, who’ll also lead her side out in the All-Ireland junior decider tomorrow [throw-in 11.45am, live on TG4].

In May, Flood put pen to paper and signed a professional AFLW contract with Fremantle for next season, while Doonan this month became the latest — and 15th — Irish player confirmed for the 2020 season Down Under after signing for Carlton Blues.

Of course, Oz is at the back of both of their minds and their focus is fully on Sunday, and the 60 minutes of football between them and the West County Hotel Cup. It’s just a question of who’ll sign off here on a high, though.

To understand the fascinating journey fully, one must go back to when these two stars aligned Stateside.

“Me and Kate would have been friends for years,” Doonan tells The42. “We played in America together as well, in San Francisco with Fog City Harps in the summer of 2015.”

That feels like a long time ago now, the 25-year-old laughs. 

“Obviously we know each other from that. It’s good. There’s a lot of respect as well. It’s good to play against her, and they have a good strong team as well.”

“Joanne, I suppose, I know her a long time,” Flood echoes her words. “She’s a brilliant player, a good captain and she’ll definitely add a lot to the AFL game as well as here.

From San Francisco to Croke Park, former Fog City Harps team-mates will be rival captains in Sunday's TG4 All Ireland JFC Final.. @LadiesFootball @GAA_USA @SFFogCityHarps @fermanaghladies @LouthLGFA #properfan @SportTG4

— Jerome Quinn (@JeromeQuinn) September 11, 2019

“It’s going to be a journey for the both of us that we can share together. It’s mad, that. We’re both really looking forward to it.

Both CrossCoders graduates, they agree that they’re fairly living the dream at the minute but it’s all about going out in just over 24 hours time and focusing on the job at hand. 

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Doonan, who captained her county to the Division Four league title earlier this year, says. “The build-up and everything has been great, especially being up here [in Croke Park] too, it just makes it real. You just want to take it all in and embrace it.”

2018 LGFA Junior Player of the Year Flood adds ahead of her fifth All-Ireland final: “Everything is just go. You’re either between Gaelic or [have] the AFL ones on to you, it’s mad.

“I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to it all being over, but just to be able to concentrate on one thing so you’re not trying to concentrate on the AFL side of things because you have this to prepare for first. It’s exciting times ahead of us, I’m really looking forward to it.

“We’re concentrating on the game ahead of us, we’ve had a good campaign all year and worked really hard. We’re keeping ourselves focused on Sunday and hopefully we can do a lot better than we did last year, and get the win.”

2018 finalists, Louth were put to the sword by Limerick 12 months ago, that game finishing on a scoreline of 5-6 to 0-8.

Flood was captain for last year’s final too.

Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

That said, it was an extremely difficult year for the Wee county after their manager Mícheál McKeown passed away following a short illness in June. They battled hard, showing true character and resolve to bounce back and play in his memory under Darren Bishop, but Flood admits the occasion may have got to them, all things considered.

“Last year was a tough year for us after Mícheál passing away,” the St Patrick’s star concedes. “It was a very emotional day for everyone, we have young players and that.

“Playing in Croke Park as well, I think it got to us all in the end. There was a lot of focus and pressure on us to see would we actually win it. Hopefully this year we’ll be able to go that step further. We’re in a better place anyway to do a bit better for ourselves.”

26-year-old Flood spoke eloquently about the impact of McKeown’s passing with The42 last year, and about his wife, Mary, who stayed with the team every step of the way after asking Bishop to “continue on his legacy.”

So a word must go to the woman herself. She’s in great spirits, Flood assures, and away in America at the minute. 

“She sent us a card before she left just to wish us all the best,” she smiles. “She’ll try and get it over there and watch it. She’s an amazing woman.

“We all went to his mass, even the girls that didn’t know him and weren’t on the panel last year. We all went to the house and had a catch-up with her.

Louth celebrating their 2018 Leinster junior title win with Mary McKeown.

“She seems to be doing very well, which we’re all pleased about and she still keeps in touch with us which is good.”

A talented soccer player too, Flood has had to call time on that for now with enough on her plate, but it’s something she misses. For now, it’s all eyes on All-Ireland final number five, and doubling up on the 2015 win.

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“Five times in Croke Park and only won it once, hopefully we can get a second one,” she grins, before commenting on the small changes in the set-up since last year.

“When Darren came in he didn’t want to take full ownership of it because Mícheál was there. This year he’s been there from the very start, and he was able to put his own stamp on it. He brought in a lot of new, fresh faces. We have a few girls back, and with underage coming through, it’s all looking very positive so we’re looking forward to it.”

Likewise, for Fermanagh, the mood is overwhelmingly positive. 

The Ulster side were crowned All-Ireland champions in 2017, but that came after a draw at HQ and a replay in Clones.

“Fermanagh has never won in Croke Park before so it would be unreal to do that for the first time,” Doonan beams. “Hopefully, we can push and get over the line on the day, with no replay this time.

Doonan at Tuesday’s captain’s day.

Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

“A lot of clubs and all have the banners and that up, all the papers are trying to do as much coverage as possible. There’s a brilliant buzz. Even at training, everyone’s excited and companies are giving us meals. It’s great to see, and embrace it all. I’m really excited, just can’t wait now.”

Her side have counted about 18 survivors from the 2017 panel, but there are a lot of new starters who weren’t there for that big victory.

“It’s a relatively new team but we still have a lot of experienced finishers on the bench,” she adds. “Anyone who wasn’t there two years ago or in 2014, we’re trying to tell them what’s to be expected, to not let the occasion get the better of them.”

Doonan concludes: “Louth obviously beat Antrim very well and we would have played them a lot this year. We know they’re a very strong team.

“We haven’t played Louth since the league and at that stage we were both through to the semi-finals so it didn’t matter too much to us. Really looking forward to it, and just glad it’s a new team and we’re not coming up against Antrim again!”

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