From mascot to key player: Mo Nerney hoping for another Croke Park day to remember for Laois

'I was seven years old... my Mam had died earlier that year. On a personal level, it was really tough and the Laois ladies became a second family to me'
From mascot to key player: Mo Nerney hoping for another Croke Park day to remember for Laois

Mo Nerney of Laois shoots to score her side's first goal, under pressure from Laoise Lenehan of Kildare. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Twenty years after she proved a lucky mascot for Laois in the TG4 All-Ireland senior final, Mo Nerney is again to the forefront as the O’Moore County bid for a national crown — only this time she is one of the key players.

Countless small children grow up all across Ireland dreaming of the same thing – to emulate their local inter-county stars. Whether it’s Joe Canning, Denise Gaule, David Clifford or Aimee Macken, every child has their own hero that they imagine togging out alongside for a big game at Croke Park.

In some cases, however, the connection goes even deeper than that – and that’s certainly the case for Mo Nerney, who has become an increasingly significant player for Laois since making her debut in 2013.

Last weekend she was Player of the Match as they beat Roscommon by three points in a thrilling Lidl National Football League Division 3 semi-final, to set up Sunday week's decider with Kildare.

It was all the way back in 2001, when she was just seven years of age, that Mo made her first big stage appearance in a Laois jersey. She had the honour of togging out as mascot for their memorable 2-14 to 1-16 All-Ireland final victory over Mayo at Croke Park, a famously auspicious day for the O’Moore County.

Having lost their previous seven final appearances, they finally got over the line, Mary Kirwan pointing a late free to confirm a landmark win.

“I still remember so much of it. I can remember driving up, stopping in the Red Cow with all the team where they had a fry up for breakfast, you’d certainly never do that now!” says Mo.

“Then the team went to a club ground to do their warm-up and got a Garda escort into the ground, I got to shake hands with President Mary McAleese, and you had the incredible scenes at the end when Mayo messed up a short kickout and Mary got that free to win it.

Then seven-year-old Laois mascot Mo Nerney meets president Mary McAleese prior to the start of the All-Ireland Ladies Football final between Laois and Mayo. Picture: Aoife Rice.
Then seven-year-old Laois mascot Mo Nerney meets president Mary McAleese prior to the start of the All-Ireland Ladies Football final between Laois and Mayo. Picture: Aoife Rice.

“We were in the dressing rooms on the Cusack Stand side of the ground and I went to give back my jersey as if I was playing, and everyone told me to keep it. Then there was the open top bus celebration in Portlaoise after, it was all incredible.” Happy memories, a famous and historic win, it’s everything a child could dream of – but for Mo, it meant even more as it had been an incredibly tough year for their family.

“I was seven years old, the youngest of five in the family, and my Mam had died earlier that year. On a personal level, it was really tough and the Laois ladies became a second family to me. Lulu Carroll and Mary Ramsbottom were in our local club, they brought me to all the training and the matches. It felt like such a close group, and even as a child I felt part of it, and it’s a feeling I’ll always remember.

“From the age of three or four, I just wanted to play football, but from that year on I was determined that I was going to play for Laois one day and be part of that group.” Moving up the ranks won’t be easy. Laois have beaten Kildare already this year, but there was a significant gap between the Lilywhites’ form in the group stages, where they scraped over the line against Longford and Wicklow and were well-beaten by Laois, and how they performed in the semi-final against Sligo, when they were hugely impressive against the previously unbeaten Yeats County.

“That looked a lot more like the Kildare team of 2020,” says Mo, who adds that being drawn in the same group as their Leinster rivals in the TG4 Championship won’t have any bearing on the league decider on Sunday week.

“There won’t be anyone keeping anything in reserve, or not showing their hand. If you want to win an intermediate championship and get back up to playing senior football, which we definitely do and I’m sure Kildare do too, getting up to Division 2 is very important."

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