When Amanda McLoone first developed an interest in Gaelic football, she just wanted to impress her father. But for all her enthusiasm, she struggled to match it with proficiency. Her underage days were largely spent confined to the sidelines and she can even recall lending a playing team-mate a pair of her boots while she remained on the line. But that was back in a time when managers were only willing to extend her options to goalkeeper and nothing more.
She dabbled with other sports in her youth, including athletics and basketball, but when the outlets for those sports ran dry after primary school, she pursued her unfinished business with GAA.
Now, at 25, she has matured into a seasoned inter-county player for Roscommon. She plays a commanding role between the half-back and midfield lines, all the while religiously wearing a headband.
Fitness is her weapon of choice on the pitch but it wasn’t until she reached fourth year in Roscommon Convent that she really began to flourish in the sport by combining a competency in the basic skills with her impressive engine. She was surrounded by other talented athletes in her class and they went on to claim an All-Ireland Senior ‘A’ title in her Leaving Cert year.
Now she has provincial and All-Ireland ambitions with Roscommon. But already, John Benton’s side have encountered obstacles which could make the journey more difficult.
Roscommon began their 2016 Connacht Intermediate campaign with a win over Sligo at the end of April. Six days later they lost to Leitrim. All three teams finished on equal points, meaning that a draw was required to determine the layout of the rest of competition. Sligo were given a bye into the final on July 3rd, while Leitrim and Roscommon were paired off to play a semi-final match which is due to take place this weekend, two months ahead of the final.
This weekend was intended to facilitate club activity in Roscommon, and according to McLoone, the Roscommon camp were informed about their semi-final date last Sunday night.
“We are absolutely fuming about it,” she says. “There was not supposed to be any fixtures this weekend. This is the second time this year that we have gotten six days’ notice for a Connacht championship game. This wouldn’t be done at junior club level in the men’s and it’s absolutely disgraceful.
“This means that Leitrim will be playing three strenuous games three weeks in a row. They should be even more annoyed about this. But I imagine it’s going to go ahead. It’s bad enough that we have little enough lives as it is, let alone the weekends that we’re supposed to have off. I’ve been playing since I was 15 or 16 and this seems like the worst year we’ve had so far because of all this,” she says.
In 2014, McLoone suffered a torn cruciate injury in Roscommon’s All-Ireland quarter-final win over Longford. Among the spectators that day was her father, Denis, who had been discharged from hospital to watch his daughter play. Over the previous months, he was regularly admitted with what doctors believed to be pancreatitis. He was later diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died last year.
“He was sick for 18 months before he passed away,” says Amanda, “and was in and out of hospital a lot. The day I hurt my knee, he had just come out of hospital so he shouldn’t have been there, but he didn’t miss anything. Another day, my sister was playing an under-21 game and I took him out on day release to see her play.”
McLoone always cherished her father’s support in sport. He was a keen runner and she still has the first pair of spikes he bought her. Another key dynamic of their sporting relationship was the post-match analysis he routinely delivered. And even if the report was a critical one, she “always wanted to hear what he had to say”.
The discovery of his terminal condition was a "surreal" moment for McLoone, her sister Laura and their mother Carmel. They savoured every moment with him until he died and even as his condition deteriorated, he was consistently positive.
“He never complained. We went down to
before he passed away and he was in bits the whole trip but he never complained. The months coming up to it were so much harder. Knowing that he was going was that bit easier because we could spend every minute with him. He didn’t want people to know he was terminal so I couldn’t tell my friends and that was hard because I’m a talker.”
He was buried beside a club pitch in south Longford, which is incidentally where McLoone played her first game after he passed away. It seemed a strange quirk of fate.
“We were playing Offaly and there was no reason to play them there but it was very nice. I found it very hard to get into football this year. I’ve played some of my worst games this year and I don’t think it’s injuries, I think it’s a mental thing. Not being able to ring him after a match is tough. It probably wasn’t until the game against Sligo that I got back into it.”
From the St Fathleach's club, McLoone is a qualified nutritionist who conducts fitness classes in the Sheraton Hotel in Athlone. She operates a successful blog entitled "Clean and Lean Sporty Girl", which has accumulated almost 5,000 Facebook followers since its inception in 2014. She regularly receives a deluge of messages asking for advice and takes the time to plan her posts.
“It was really to keep me on the straight and narrow to start off with. I got great feedback. Health and fitness is really in now and, in the last year, it has been a huge topic but I think I got in there just before it got really big. I think the fact that I’m a GAA player helps as well and that I’m not just in the gym. Some bloggers are mainly gym-goers whereas I think I have a different angle on it.”
McLoone is in the gym most days. While recovering from a cruciate tear, she refocused her workouts to improve her upper body strength. And within two weeks of undergoing surgery for a broken wrist last year, she resumed her trips to the gym. And the cast on her arm became an added accessory to incorporate in her routine, simply because “there’s no excuse”.