The early months of 2011 hinted at an abrupt demise for ladies G.A.A in Longford but signs of a revival are creeping to the surface. It has been confirmed that former Dublin, Laois, Interprovincial and U.C.D manager Gerry McGill has agreed to take on the role of Longford Ladies GAA Coach. He has a six week block before the Leinster final against Westmeath to turn things around but three time All-Star winner Fiona Gettings is confident that it can be done.
“There is a wealth of talent in the county so bringing in an experienced manager will be of huge benefit in motivating girls again,” she told the Leader.
Those who monitored the progress of the Longford Ladies in the golden days were shocked to discover that Longford had retreated from participation this season. However, Longford has been done this road before.
“After we won the Junior All-Ireland in ’97, we failed to match the Senior standard. After that things just started to die away,” she said.
A bleak and dismal atmosphere was descending on the Longford camp just as Fiona was starting college. The unlikely prospect of achievement at senior level coupled with a growing sense of fatigue triggered Fiona’s decision to depart from football and concentrate on college.
“The commute made it difficult to play football and I think symptoms of burnout were beginning to show. I just felt it was time to leave”.
It took a six year sabbatical along with some gentle persuasion for Fiona to realise that she had unfinished business in the county jersey.
“When I left in 2003, I had no intention of going back but then Michelle Hannify and Mary Kiernan told me about the progress that Longford were making. I didn’t even have boots for the first session, I had to borrow Michelle’s and I’d say it took about six weeks for my body to readapt.”
That year, 2009 saw the Longford Ladies repeat their championship form of 2008 and return to the All-Ireland semi final stage only to be out mastered by a superior Fermanagh outfit. Fiona, who occupied the centre forward position that day, remembers the bitter devastation of that loss but enduring defeat on big occasions is a feeling Fiona has endured before. At fifteen, Fiona was a central cog in the Longford Ladies panel that reached their first ever All-Ireland final in 1996 only to be dispatched by a stronger Clare side. They rewrote their fate the following year and despite stiff Tyrone opposition, they vanquished their demons and claimed the honours.
“We needed to lose the All-Ireland before we could appreciate the value of winning at the second attempt. We were all practically minors but our manager Martin Reilly was a great inspiration. Youth is a powerful asset in any team and when it’s well balanced with experience, that’s what makes a great team.”
Fiona’s place on that those great teams was recognised when she picked up All-Star awards in ’97, ’99 and ’00.
She is effusive in her praise of Enda Williams, former Team Manager of Longford Ladies.
“Enda Williams has been unrecognised for the professionalism he brought to Ladies football within the county. He built the foundation that we as players should develop”.
Older brother David is one of earliest influences which lead to her stellar career but others have been added to the list. Fellow team mates Michelle Hannify and Mary Kiernan, husband of five years Micheal and parents Settie and Michael Blessingtom have also held important motivational roles in her life.
As is gender inequality in sports, ladies football is still running a distant second to the male sport despite obvious improvements. According to Fiona, media coverage of matches continues to disappoint. Attendance levels are a fraction of the numbers that flock to see a men’s game even though the quality levels of Ladies matches have gravitated to new heights in recent decades. Fiona’s suggests integrating clubs in order to generate interest in going to games, “If clubs are encouraged to go to games I think that will make a huge difference and TG4 are taking huge steps to promote the game”.
A stream of ladies wearing the blue and gold lined the steps of the Cusack Stand after their victory in ’97 and who is to say that the glory can’t be repeated?