By Damian Dolan
Despite falling at the semi-final hurdle three years in a row, Naoimhin Daly says London Ladies won’t take any All-Ireland hangover into Saturday’s JFC clash with Fermanagh in Clones (2:45pm).
But she says there’s no physiological barrier for London to get over – no emotional baggage from semi-final heartaches past to burden them.
All of those losses are a “drive to go further” in the All-Ireland.
“At the time it’s very disheartening, but to lose games like that drives you on to get back there, and to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Daly told the Irish World.
“There’s always going to be setbacks, so there’s no point just hanging up the boots. You have to push on.”
For Daly, this is a new group of girls in the midst of their own journey, and those defeats are very much in the past.
“It’s a new team and it’s all about new experiences. For us, losing to Louth was as bad as losing to Fermanagh,” she said.
Indeed, only Fiona Morrissey, Hannah Noonan, Allie Burke, Catriona McGahan, Clodagh Brennan, Noelle Cocoman and Daly survive from that defeat to Fermanagh, and only Morrissey and Noonan featured in the 2016 semi-final loss to Antrim.
Daly’s goal on the cusp of half-time saw the Exiles take a 1-7 to 1-5 lead into the break in their opening JFC group game with Louth in Dundalk.
London led by six points coming down the home straight at Clan na Gael, following Noonan’s second half goal, only for the Leinster champions to snatch victory from their grasp.
That set-up a make-or-break clash with Carlow at McGovern Park, which the Exiles won by 4-12 to 1-11 – a very strong wind making for the proverbial game of two halves. London’s 17-point half-time lead proved enough.
“We managed to get a decent score in the first half, and then didn’t let them away with too much in the second half,” said Daly, who captained Tir Chonaill Gaels to a junior title in 2018.
For Daly, the overriding feeling following the ‘must-win’ game was one of relief.
“As a team we were just glad to be back in an All-Ireland semi-final, which is where we want to be, and thankfully we got the job done,” she added.
“But the game is done, there’s still nothing won and we’ve been in semi-finals before.”
Having broken London hearts in 2017, Fermanagh went on to lift the junior All-Ireland, only to suffer relegation last year.
Losing 14 players from that title winning panel saw the Erne girls end up in a relegation play-off with Longford, and manager Emmet Curry step down after two years in charge.
But they’ve bounced back this year, beating Antrim in the Division 4 final – their first league title since 2007.
Although the Saffrons turned the tables on them in the Ulster final, Fermanagh finished top of their championship group to reach the semi-finals by virtue of wins over Antrim by ten points and Derry by three.
“We’re expecting them to be good and a strong side, but we just need to focus on ourselves and look forward to the challenge,” said Daly, who came off the bench for Fermanagh in their 2014 intermediate final defeat to Down at Croke Park.
It remains her one and only appearance at Croke Park, but a day to forget and she’d love to get back there with London.
Stunning 4th London goal from Fiona Morrissey seals Exiles’ passage into the All Ireland Ladies JFC semi-finals!! @londonladiesgaa @LadiesFootball @LondainGAA @HSukgaa @TirChonailGaels pic.twitter.com/zoWqHHgwHD
— the Irish World (@theirishworld) August 10, 2019
“I’m lucky to have had that experience with Fermanagh and to be in Croke Park – that’s where you want to be,” she said.
“You always take each match as it comes, but at the back of your mind you always have dreams of getting to Croke Park.
“London’s been my county now for the last three years, and it would be fantastic to get back there with them.”
London’s path to Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final couldn’t be in sharper contrast to that of Fermanagh.
Paddy Bowles’ side head to Clones with four games under their belt – one of those a one-sided victory over Warwickshire in the provincial decider. The Erne Girls have played 13.
“Obviously it’s not ideal but every team has its challenges and that’s just ours,” said Daly.
“You just have to get stuck into it. You can’t think about the difference in the amount of game time that the opposition have over you.”
London have made light of it so far on the pitch. Their display against Louth was hugely impressive until the final ten minutes when fatigue and errors crept into their game, and they let slip a six-point lead to lose by 2-12 to 2-11.
They followed it up by racking up 4-12 against Carlow and Daly says there’s “another gear to come”.
Saturday would be a very good time to find it, and get London back to Croke Park for the first time since 2008. No one can say they haven’t paid their semi-final dues.