Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Ulster University star Laura Garland targeting All-Ireland Final return for Monaghan ahead of Tyrone clash

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Thanks to a 3-18 to 0-6 victory at the expense of Laois in Smithborough on March 24 — a game in which Ulster University student Garland scored two points from right corner-forward — Monaghan safely secured sixth spot in the NFL’s second-tier table.

Three of the five teams that finished ahead of them in the spring will be kick-starting their TG4 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship campaigns in the coming weeks and it is in this grade that the Farney outfit are hoping to compete in 2025.

Relegated from the Brendan Martin Cup after a 30-year stay in 2022, Monaghan will begin their second attempt at claiming promotion back to the big time when the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Football Championship gets underway in early June.

Having watched several of her Donaghmoyne Fontenoys team-mates featuring for the county in the All-Ireland SFC deciders of 2011 and 2013 in Croke Park (both of them ending in narrow defeats to Cork), Garland has aspirations for both a top-flight return and a day out in GAA HQ with Monaghan.

“I would have gone to a couple of those games, but I also would have had conversations with those girls of how it all felt back then. All they can say is it was a great experience. Getting to Croke Park and All-Ireland Finals, getting to experience that. They all talk about how they wish they could do it all over again,” Garland said.

“It’s great to hear what they have to say about it. That’s all I want for Monaghan ladies, is to get back there. That is the goal, that is the top goal for us. To be able to say we reached an All-Ireland Final.”

Before then, however, there is another potential shot at silverware for Monaghan in the form of the TG4 Ulster Intermediate Football Championship.

Lidl NFL Division Two finalists Tyrone provide the opposition to Monaghan in a provincial Semi-Final encounter at Smithborough on Sunday (throw-in 2.00pm) and while the Red Hands recorded a 3-12 to 2-8 League victory against the Farney women back on February 4, Garland is looking forward to a return to competitive action.

“The last game we had was Laois and that was probably about four or five weeks ago. Everyone wants to win their provincial title. I don’t think I have at senior level won an Ulster. Even for a couple of girls that are new to the panel, getting one provincial title under your belt is a good way to start the All-Ireland series and that is what we’re planning to do.”

Lauren Garland playing for Ulster University

Yet Garland has enjoyed considerable provincial success at club level, winning an Ulster Senior title with Donaghmoyne on no fewer than five occasions. In fact, she experienced a whirlwind introduction to senior football at the tender age of 15 with the south Monaghan side in 2016.

In addition to winning maiden county and provincial honours, she also appeared as a second half substitute when Donaghmoyne claimed their fifth All-Ireland Senior Club Championship crown with a 2-9 to 0-8 showpiece win against Dublin’s Foxrock/Cabinteely at Parnell Park.

“That year seems like so many years ago. It was definitely a whirlwind. I wish I had taken it in a lot more back then. I was very young. I was very new coming into a very experienced panel. Linda Martin and all were in there,” Garland recalled.

“They had retired out of the county before I got to play with them at the county level, but I’m hugely grateful to be able to play with a couple of those players.

“The All-Ireland, that is where everyone wants to be and I’m absolutely privileged to be able to say that I was on that panel in that year.” Since that triumph over Fox/Cab, Garland has gone on to feature for Donaghmoyne in another All-Ireland senior club decider — their defeat to Kilkerrin-Clonberne of Galway at Croke Park in December 2022.

Lauren Garland’s twin sister Amy playing for Donaghmoyne

Joining her on that team was her twin sister Amy, who has also established herself as a regular with Monaghan since they were both called up to the senior panel in 2020. Although they are in different campuses — Lauren is in Derry, while Amy is in Belfast — the gifted siblings are currently students at Ulster University.

Whereas Lauren is in the second year of a course in adult nursing, Amy is studying sport science. The latter was the captain of the college’s ladies team this season and with an appearance in a Division Two League showpiece against UCD last December being followed up by a march to the HEC O’Connor Cup Semi-Finals, it was an eventful third-level campaign for Garland and her sister.

“This was just meeting players from all other counties and getting to play with them,” said Garland. “We knitted well as a group this year and it’s the first time we’ve gotten back to a Semi-Final in the O’Connor Cup in a couple of years. We were well proud of ourselves that we were able to do that.”

Given her current base for college, Garland — whose brother David plays for the Monaghan men’s footballers — does have a significant commute to and from inter-county training on a weekly basis.

However, thanks to a clear line of communication with Monaghan manager Darren Greenan and the Ulster University faculty, she is making it work at the moment.

“There is a good bit of travelling, but at the start of the year, whenever Donaghmoyne finished up, I was obviously having a couple of conversations with the new county manager,” she said.

“We just laid everything that I knew on the table. I was ‘look, I am nursing and I’ll be having a placement’.

“Obviously he was well accepting of it, that I either had to miss a training session or not be able to make it on time.

“He was like ‘look, if you work with us’ and we kept that going. It has worked really well for me anyway.

“Then on the other side of it, my lecturers, they know what’s going on. When I have to make training and they’re well supportive of me too.”

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