FIONA Keating has suffered more than her fair share of All-Ireland football final pain.
At U14, U16 and minor levels with Cork, she’s finished on the losing side on the big days. In 2015 Cavan struck twice in injury-time to beat Cork 0-17 to 4-4 in the All-Ireland U14 final. Two years later, Galway defeated Keating and Co by 3-15 to 2-11 in the All-Ireland U16 decider. Then last year the Rebels were nudged into the runners-up spot again, losing 5-7 to 2-15 against Galway in the All-Ireland minor final.
It’s little wonder that the Ballinspittle teenager (18) is so determined to finish off her minor inter-county football days on a high on Monday when Cork play Monaghan in this year’s All-Ireland minor A football final.
‘It would mean so much to win this one. When you lose three All-Ireland finals, two of them by one point, and you have been through the upset, you appreciate the wins even more,’ Keating explained after she was presented with a Celtic Ross West Cork Youth Sports Star quarterly award to recognise her exploits with the All-Ireland minor A winning Cork camogie team.
‘After winning the camogie I’d love to do a double and win the football in my last year as minor. It would mean the world to me.’
Dual star Keating was at her brilliant best when the Cork footballers beat Galway in the recent All-Ireland semi-final. This was a rematch of last year’s final that the Tribeswomen won. But Cork stood up to the challenge. They won 3-13 to 1-3. Keating was player of the match and scored 1-4. Her superb solo goal in the second half gave Cork belief. They kicked on from there.
‘The goal was all a bit of a blur,’ Keating admits.
‘I just kept going and going, and the ball slipped from my hands at the end but I got a foot to it, and thank God it went in. It gave us the boost we needed.’
There’s a real belief and hunger in John Cleary’s minor football team this season, the Courcey Rovers dual player says.
‘This year we have that extra bit of bite,’ Keating points out.
‘Some of us have lost three All-Ireland finals and that’s not easy. For some of us too it’s our last year as minors so we want to finish with an All-Ireland. We came so close last year.
‘I look at some of those girls as my best friends. I see them nearly more than my school friends. We’ve been training three times a week for the past five years and it would mean the world if we can come out the right side of the the final and, finally, win a football All-Ireland.’
Monaghan stand in their way on Monday, but Keating is confident that Cork will reap the benefits of their hard work.
‘The runs we were doing in Cloughduv and Delaneys in those winter months, you wouldn’t put cats and dogs out in it, but we had the All-Ireland final day in mind and we all put our heads down and worked hard. It’s gone from asking how many runs have we left to asking can we do more! We want an All-Ireland medal and we know we have to work hard to get that,’ she says.
‘We have so much fitness work done and against Galway in the semi-final we always felt that if it came down to the last ten minutes that we could take them, and that’s what happened.’
Working hard is something this dual player knows all about. She’s non-stop. The night after Keating accepted her West Cork Sports Star Youth award she scored 4-4 for Courcey Rovers in their senior camogie championship thrashing of Milford.
‘An incredible talent,’ is how Cork minor selector Anne O’Grady describes Keating, ‘and refreshingly modest.’
And as well as Courceys, Keating is also on the West Cork senior football team – and she played in senior county finals with both last season too. That’s on top of all her minor activity.
‘I would be out five, six nights a week,’ admits Keating who balances sport with school (she’s heading into sixth year at Kinsale Community School) and work during the summer at Centra in Ballinspittle.
But she wouldn’t want it any other way, even though she’ll admit that breaking her thumb just before her summer exams wasn’t ideal.
‘I learned my lesson there and won’t play too much before my Leaving Cert next year,’ she laughs.
‘You have to find a balance between school and sport, and sport is important because it gives you that break from the books and study. I have my last year of minor before I head into sixth year so I’ll have a quieter year.’
The hope now is that she can follow up her camogie heroics with an All-Ireland title to match. Keating was player of the match in the All-Ireland minor A camogie final against Clare in April when she scored five points. In the semi-final win over Kilkenny she hit 1-5.
‘Last year when we won the All-Ireland camogie title it was the first time in history Cork won this competition so to go on and win it again this year was fantastic,’ she says.
‘Again, like the football, I have grown up with a lot of those girls, playing camogie all the way up. We treasure those All-Ireland medals because we realise that it doesn’t happen too often.’
Not only is Keating one of three dual minor players chasing success – along with Cliona Dooley (Ballinora) and Isobelle Sheehan (Eire Óg) – but she is also a twin. Actually there are two sets of twins in her family. There’s Fiona and Daniel (18) and Sinead and Timothy (22), as well as the oldest of the five, Aoife (23), who plays football with Kinsale.
The youngest of the five, by only five minutes she points out, is targeting lots more medals and success this season but first up is Monday and the All-Ireland minor A football final. That’s her priority now. And she’s primed to deliver.