Having soldiered in a maroon jersey for 15 years, Westmeath’s Martin Flanagan hadn’t long hung up his boots before donning a bainisteoir’s bib.
He now patrols the lines for the county’s ladies football side and his first year has gone well so far with the Lake County meeting Leitrim in the Bord Gáis Energy Ladies NFL Division 3 final at Parnell Park on Saturday (1.15pm).
Flanagan admitted the change has given him a new appreciation of the role of a manager.
“I suppose I wasn’t the best trainer in the world or anything like that, and I had to be persuaded!” he laughed.
“When you’re trying to get people fit you can see where the manager was coming from. I’ve seen both sides of it now at this stage, I’m getting wiser.”
Westmeath won last year’s All-Ireland intermediate title and compete at senior championship level this year, so it’s vital, in Flanagan’s eyes, they play Division 2 football for 2013.
“With only one going up, we need to win the final. That’s where you want to be, playing the top teams.
“We were late back training, most of the teams had a head start on us, so we didn’t know what to expect at the start. A few games in we were expecting to get through, at least to a league semi-final.”
The Division 3 decider forms the first part of a triple-header on Saturday, with the Division 1 final, a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland senior final, between Cork and Monaghan taking centre stage.
Cork, who have won six of the last seven All-Ireland titles, are going for a fifth consecutive league win, and Elaine Harte says the desire for success remains as strong as ever.
“It’s never tough to motivate yourself for a league final,” the goalkeeper said, “especially against a team as good as Monaghan. There has never been much between the sides, including in last year’s All-Ireland.
“It looks like the hunger is still there, training is going well, we’re trying to up the ante now and this will be a great match for us to make sure that we’re still there or thereabouts.”
Aiming to deny Cork are the Farney County, whose only league loss was to the Rebels but their captain Sharon Courtney maintains that revenge is not a motivating factor.
“I don’t think it is,” she said. “Yeah, grand, Cork beat us last year, but we’ve put in work this year and done well and the final is the reward, the focus is all on this year.
“We’re still in the league and you don’t get properly ticking over until the championship, but girls are either playing the same as they are last year or better.”
The Division 2 final is an all-Connacht affair between Galway and Mayo. Having won four All-Ireland finals in five years at the turn of the millennium, Mayo now find themselves aiming to return to the top flight.
“We were disappointed that we got knocked out of Division 1,” said Leona Ryder. “It’s vital to be back up there playing Cork and Monaghan and the top teams so hopefully we can do the business.”
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