December 7th, 2022


Richard Bullick

Ballyhegan’s Grace Ferguson is the latest of several Armagh players to have had the honour of captaining the Queen’s University ladies gaelic football team since Clann Eireann’s Sinead McCleary led them to that historic O’Connor Cup triumph almost a decade ago.

Like her two most recent predecessors from the Orchard county, Aoife McCoy and Lauren McConville, Ferguson is short of stature but punches above her weight and has shown her worth in the orange jersey since establishing herself in the Armagh team in 2020.

Queen’s were beaten 4-8 to 2-8 by O’Connor Cup holders University of Limerick in their recent HEC League Division One semi-final, with Dublin City University edging University College Cork 0-7 to 0-6 in the other tie.

Armagh had more representatives than any other county in last season’s Queen’s squad and only three of them have moved on – All Star nominee goalkeeper Anna Carr from Carrickcruppen, Cullyhanna’s Frances Keenan and Clann Eireann’s Meabh McCambridge.

Carr’s place between the posts has been taken by fellow Camlough woman Brianna Mathers of Shane O’Neills, while the other seven are still there including Ferguson, who was named in this season’s NFL Team of Division Two.

Skipper Ferguson is joined by fellow Orchard defender Cait Towe, Silverbridge forward Niamh Reel and another two of this past season’s county panel in notable handballer Megan McCann of Clann Eireann and Harps player Megan McShane.

The others are McShane’s Harps clubmate Emily Druse, who stepped back from county football last spring due to the pressures of studying Medicine, and another former Armagh panellist in Carrickcruppen’s Ciara Garvey.

Queen’s have lost their first choice midfield duo from last season, captain Aoibhinn McHugh from Tyrone and Commonwealth Games netballer Keenan, but Fermanagh forward Blaithin Bogue remains a key figure for the Belfast side.

Two more members of the Northern Ireland netball squad, the 6’1” Maria McCann from Carryduff, who like Keenan was at Birmingham 2022, and fresher Ana Mulholland of Glenavy have been paired in midfield for Queen’s Seconds recently.

Although disappointed not to qualify for the league final, captain Ferguson agreed with interviewer Jerome Quinn afterwards that the tough game had been useful for Mark Doran’s team as they build up to the O’Connor Cup campaign in the new year.

“We knew that a good start was going to be important against the reigning O’Connor champions but overall we’re a wee bit disappointed in our performance and feel like at times we left it behind us,” she reflected.

“The fact we were missing a few girls tonight meant there was no pressure on us as such, we just needed to go out and showcase what we could do, and at times we did do that, but there’s definitely a lot to work on.

“It was a good game to help push us on for the championship.  We’ll look back at it and see what we can improve upon, maybe playing with a bit more width, but I don’t think there’s anything that will be too difficult to fix.

“Blathin (Bogue) is class, some of the scores she put over tonight were unreal, we’ve some good first years in from Antrim and there’s plenty of Armagh girls including goalkeeper Brianna (Mathers), who saved a penalty in our last game.

“I think we’ve a strong team this year which can hopefully go far.  This is my favourite level of gaelic, the most enjoyable because I’m playing with my best friends and really love it,” revealed Ferguson, who starred in Ballyhegan’s Armagh Intermediate title win this autumn.