Geraldine McLaughlin thought she was on cloud nine when herself and two Termon teammates marked their club’s sensational year by bringing six trophies to the top of Donegal’s highest peak last Christmas.

Geraldine2In 2014 they were kings of women’s club football, winning everything before them, including the All-Ireland club title.

But, in football terms, McLaughlin and Donegal’s ladies footballers, have conquered an even higher summit since.

Last year they couldn’t win a match – literally.

They didn’t win one game in their whole league and championship season and switched managers mid-season to try to stop the rot after getting relegated from Division One.

Today they are the TG4 Ulster senior champions and, like their male counterparts, serious contenders for All-Ireland glory.

McLaughlin and Termon have been at the heart of the Tir Chonail’s success.

When local man Francie Friel took over managing the club he suggested McLaughlin should improve her left foot.

When they beat Mourneabbey in last year’s All-Ireland club final she scored 3-8. The eight points were scored with her right, the three goals with her left.

When Donegal shocked Monaghan in the recent Ulster senior final – their first in 10 years – she scored 2-7 of their 2-12 and her two second-half goals proved the difference.

Her first – caught and instinctively chipped over the goalkeeper in one swift movement – was a ‘Stephanie Roche’ and YouTube moment. Once again it came off McLaughlin’s left boot.

And yet all the 22-year-old does is deflect the glory.

“I meant to go bottom corner,” she says self-deprecatingly. “I knew I had to hit it quick because I saw a defender coming so I just got it and kicked it. It was a great pass from Yvonne (McMonagle) as well.”

Donegal’s success, she also insists, is down to the management and the way they’ve got the team to gell together.

“At the start of last year Donegal (women’s) football couldn’t have been any lower and it’s all down to Davy (McLaughlin) and Sean (O’Kane),” she says of their manager (father of teammate Niamh McLaughlin) and Tyrone coach respectively.

“Davy knew Donegal players and what we could do, he had most of us underage, he knew there was a lot of players still missing and he got involved and started right back with the basics.”

Players’ age profile in ladies football means that teams often lose players who start young and chose to travel abroad in their mid-20s.

“A lot of players go to Australia or America and sometimes all go the same time. That’s kind of what happened us but we’ve a lot of players back now, ” McLaughlin says and McMonagle, Niamh Hegarty and Aoife McDonnell are notable returnees.

“Davy and Sean provided a professional set-up too and where we were a team of good individuals before they’ve made us into a great team.”Geraldine1

Yet every great team needs a marquee forward and in McLaughlin Donegal have a scoring machine.

She scored 25 goals and 35 points in Termon’s seven-game run last year and it’s no surprise to hear that she played right wing for Ireland’s women’s soccer team in the World Student Games in Kazan, Russia two years ago.

Most of the Termon team played soccer for local club Kilmacrennan when they were younger but now it is all GAA.

“The only thing to do in Termon is football,” McLaughlin laughs. “We kind of got lucky because a lot of us grew up together. We were all in primary school together and in 2010 our average age was 18 which is really young for a ladies’ team.”

Their All-Ireland winning club team included her sister Sharon (26) and Nicole (20) and the latter is one of seven Termon women on the county squad.

The McLaughlin women are even trailblazers within their own family.

Geraldine is second youngest of a large family (eight girls and three boys) “but it was only us younger ones got competitive. There wasn’t much football at all before that, none of the boys played nor our parents,” she explains.

McLaughlin won an All-Ireland minor medal in 2009 and was only 17 when she won an All-Ireland intermediate medal a year later.

Termon also reached but lost an All-Ireland club semi-final to Inch Rovers in 2010 and there have been some tough times for herself and Donegal since.

The county team fragmented so badly in the late Noughties that Cork demolished them 8-27 to 0-2 in the Qualifiers in 2012 and even this historic season hasn’t been without its setbacks.

Their delight at reaching the Division Two final was mitigated by a 12-point drubbing by Armagh.

“We were knocked back and none of us wanted to see a football the week afterwards,” she confesses. But we just had to forget about that game. The more we trained together the more we got to know each other and started doing it for the team.”

They responded by beating Down, Tyrone and Monaghan and McLaughlin has shone after recovering from the latest of her knee cartilage problems which flared up again during last year’s All-Ireland club campaign and kept her out until the league semi-finals this year.

She had an operation in 2011 and another one in May 2014. Three weeks after her return it went again but she kept playing on it right through Termon’s glory run and eventually had another operation last March.

She’s back to her best now as many heartbroken defenders can attest this summer.

Donegal play Armagh or Westmeath in the All-Ireland quarter-finals on August 22 and McLaughlin believes that Termon’s success has been a factor.

“That win has brought us on 100 per cent,” she says.”We believe in ourselves. I think that was the problem the other years. When we got close to a team before we were happy enough, instead of pushing on and trying to beat them.”

When she’s not kicking football she loves to conquer mountains and has climbed Croagh Patrick since that famous Ulster victory.

Yout get the sense that McLaughlin and Donegal could scale a few more peaks yet before summer is out.

Written byt Cliona Foley, this article first appeared in the Irish Independent on 7th August 2015, as part of our Behind The Player campaign.