Sarah McLoughlinTHE next 48 hours are pretty hectic for Leitrim footballer Sarah McLoughlin. The former All-Star returns to work as a primary teacher in St Paul’s, Navan today and tomorrow she’ll be in Limerick, captaining her county against Waterford in a TG4 All-Ireland intermediate semi-final, a curtain-raiser for the huge Cork/Kerry senior clash.

Yet such a schedule will hardly stretch the 29-year-old from Ballinamore, given the number of things she usually juggles. She has spent a lot of the summer on the set of RTE’s big commemorative 1916 TV drama after enlisting as a movie extra for the first time.

“I’m fascinated by the arts scene and music and drama,” she says, explaining how she got a taste of the big-time by ‘doubling up’ for Northern Ireland’s ‘Game of Thrones’ actor Michelle Fairley on the set of ‘Rebellion’. “I was so thrilled to be in a scene standing right next to her because I’m a ‘Game of Thrones’ fanatic and she plays Ned Stark’s mother in it. Straight afterwards she had to jet off to London for some other work and the director needed a stand-in.

“Apparently I was most like her in height and build so I had to dress up as her and carry out some of her scenes with the camera on my shoulder. I’m like her ‘shoulder double!'” McLoughlin laughs. She’ll have to wait until next Easter’s release to see if she makes the series’ final cut but combining filming with gaelic football wasn’t always easy.

“They call you each week by text and you usually have to sign up for three days in-a-row but I had Leitrim training at 7pm every Wednesday. They can’t promise when you’ll finish each day because filming can run very late so there was a few days I was seriously worried but thankfully I always got home in time.”

However McLoughlin’s GAA commitments – specifically the day Leitrim played Roscommon in championship – did cause her to miss the most exciting day of filming when O’Connell St was closed off for the series’ climactic scene. Exercising her creativity alongside sport is not unusual for McLoughlin who is an exceptional multi-tasker.

Teaching and football are juggled year round with heavy music commitments as she is in not one but two bands. She gigs throughout Meath – singing and playing guitar – in a ‘cover’ band called ‘Cherry Blossoms’ with her mate Ruth Cantwell and is also in a band called ‘Supertide’ with a gang of lads from Leitrim, Longford and Cavan.

“Supertide has been on the back burner this summer for a number of reasons but will soon be back up and running. When we were in the recording studio last March/April doing an EP it was absolute mayhem,” she confesses.”My days can consist of work, then straight to practise with Ruth or the band, and then driving to training or gigs. I haven’t got my car long and there’s already 25,000 kilometres on it! “But football and music are the two passions in my life,”she stresses. “I don’t want to give up either, it’d be too hard to choose.”

McLoughlin, Mairead Stenson, Lorraine Brennan and Anna Conlon are the only Leitrim players still involved who won the All-Ireland intermediate in 2007, a year after losing the junior final. That landmark had special meaning for the county as the intermediate trophy is dedicated to the late Mary Quinn whose family “pretty much founded Leitrim ladies'” she says.

It was actually one of Mary’s daughters, Maeve, who first introduced McLoughlin and many more to the joys of the game.

“Mary and her husband Frank were huge figures in the Community Games and their daughters (Mary, Maeve and Deirdre) played when Leitrim won the Junior All-Ireland in 1988 and are huge driving forces in the county.”Maeve used to take a bunch of us for training when we were in sixth class. I remember her telling us how her mum used to particularly make a point of going to support the girls because she reckoned there’d be plenty of people going to watch the boys.”

McLoughlin first played with Aughawillan but the county now has 15 ladies’ teams and she is playing with Oughteragh Gaels, a combination of Ballinamore and Aughnasheelin who have thrived since their amalgamation and now play at senior level. Leitrim has had some success since 2007 (when McLoughlin won an All-Star at wing-forward),  including a league title yet lost several All-Ireland semi-finals, including an extra-time defeat to eventual champions Down last year.

But after losing three times to Sligo this season, including a Division Three semi-final, they beat them in the provincial decider to retain their Connacht crown and victory over Clare has earned them their latest shot at the big-time. Full-forward star Aine Tighe, goalkeeper Michelle Guckian and Aine Heslin are key players in a particularly young team that includes Aileen Maguire, Dearbhaile Byrne (who plays U19 soccer with Ireland) and Carla LeGuen whose mum Pauline Gilheany was part of Leitrim’s groundbreaking junior winners in 1988.

“Sometimes I think it’s nearly better not to get to a provincial final because, with the back-door system, you get constant games every second or third weekend,” McLoughlin observes. “We’d no games for about seven weeks as provincial finalists while Sligo and Roscommon had games but thankfully we got through and beating Sligo was massive for us.”

Tighe’s goalscoring heroics proved the difference last time out and now just one game stands between Leitrim’s women and another historic day in Croke Park.