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Football is all about friendship, say Loreto captains

Story by Paul Fitzpatrick

Friday, 13th April, 2018 10:26am

Football is all about friendship, say Loreto captains

Loreto College, Cavan senior joint-captains, Niamh Keenaghan (left) and Muireann Cusack.

Paul Fitzpatrick

Whether or not Loreto College make even more history by winning the All-Ireland Schools Senior Football final at Kinnegad tomorrow (throw-in, 3pm), their journey has already been a remarkable one.
What's most striking about the team is their maturity, composure and will-to-win.When The Anglo-Celt visited on Monday, teachers spoke about the gritty determination in the squad, about how they won't countenance defeat. 
When the school sportingly posted a good luck card to their opponents, a couple of players signed it, offering their best wishes but referencing their determination to “bring the cup back to Ulster!”.
For joint-captains Niamh Keenaghan and Muireann Cusack, though, it's all about friendship. Everything else just naturally follows on.
“We're like a family, we've been playing since first year and have been together ever since and it's unreal to make it this far. It's amazing,” smiled Cusack, from Crosserlough.
“We're so close and we know how each other plays so that's a big thing going for us. We were confident at the start that we could make it this far.
“A lot of members of our panel are on the county, down to U14, U16 and minor. Everyone is getting a lot of football with their clubs as well so training with the school isn't our main focus, it has all been about getting a closer bond.”
The pair are great friends on and off the pitch. They line out together on the county minor team as well and even play on the same wing. 
“Once Muireann gets the ball, there's no stopping her, she's gone. I get the ball and I give it to her,” laughed Knockbride forward Keenaghan.
“That's the secret I think, 100pc. We are just like a family, we all get on so well.
“Yeah,” agreed Muireann, “that's what we focus on, we want to bring everyone close. Loreto footballers are great friends outside of school as well.”
For Cusack, winning the provincial final against Castleblayney was the highlight so far. Both girls – along with Abbie Sexton and Lauren McVeety – were, as third years, on the team which won the school's first U20A title three years ago and they have been part of an extraordinary transformation in the school. 
“Winning the Ulster title this year was brilliant,” said Cusack.
“It was our last Ulster game for the school and it was brilliant to finish off on such a high. It made it even more special, finishing with a win.” 
From nowhere, Loreto College is now one of the top ladies football nuseries in the country.
“Football in the school has changed masively, everyone has given a lot more commitment and has pushed it on. We have realised how much we can do and what we can achieve,” agreed Keenaghan.

That sense of empowerment, a new-found self-belief, has swept through the corridors. Suddenly, playing football has become cool, for senior students right down to first years. 
“Yeah, it is. When we would have played in U20 about two years ago maybe, we would have been a lot less confident but now we kind of have to be leaders in the team so we have different roles,” said Muireann. “It has grown so much, in U14 trials there were over 100 girls who tried out, it shows how much people in the school really want to be play football and it's unreal that we are the leaders of it.”
Both ladies are studying for their Leaving Certs at present. Their orals are on this week but football and the big game is at the forefront of their thoughts - “it's fairly stressful but our main aim is Saturday!” they chimed.
Next year, they hope to attend UCD, Niamh aiming to study physiotherapy and Muireann hoping to do nursing.
Both captains were also agreed that their management, Aine Shannon and Conor Maguire, deserve huge credit for their success to date.
Said Niamh: “Ms Shannon and Mr Maguire do so much for us, they do so much in the background that no-one knows about. Any time we meet Mr Maguire in the corridor, it's 10 minutes off class sorting something out for the football! They're unbelievable, I don't think we could ask for better managers.
“No,” added Muireann, “you couldn't. Only for them we definitely wouldn't be here.”

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