"You always have to have a high goal and want to reach it" - Claire Dunne

June 22, 2024

Claire Dunne of Sligo with the West County Hotel Cup ©Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

By Daire Walsh  

When Claire Dunne first came into the Sligo set-up back in 2018, she found herself thrown ‘right in the mix’ with a side that were regularly challenging at the business end of a host of competitions. 

Still a member of the underage ranks within the Yeats County back then, Dunne started at left corner-back on June 24 of that year as Sligo lost out to Roscommon in a TG4 Connacht Intermediate Football Championship decider held at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park in Castlebar. She also played a significant part in their march to the semi-final stage of the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Football Championship in 2018 and was a regular fixture in defence when Sligo also reached the penultimate round of the second-tier competition 12 months later. 

2019 also saw Dunne and the Yeats women making it all the way to the Lidl National Football League Division 3 final. That particular game ended in a 4-11 to 1-7 reversal at the hands of Meath, who fielded 14 players that saw action in the Royal County’s breakthrough TG4 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship showpiece success just two years later. 

“You were right in the mix of it then coming in. I only came into the championship in 2018, but we made it to the Division Three league final against Meath the following year just before they got on their road for winning. There was a good couple of years there where you were getting to All-Ireland semis against teams like Tipp,” Dunne said. 

“It was such an experience to be thrown in at the deep end. Getting bits of game time as well and playing alongside all those players that are just great to have there coming in as a young girl. Looking up to them and then playing with them. Trying to develop into a player like them as you go on.” 

Fast forward to 2024 and Dunne — a member of the St Farnan’s club that are based in her home parish of Templeboy — is now in the middle of her second season as captain of a Sligo team that are aiming to get back to the level they were at when she first made her debut as an adult inter-county footballer. 

In the TG4 All-Ireland Junior Football Championship for the second year in succession, the Connacht outfit also suffered relegation to Division Four of the Lidl NFL following a difficult run of results this spring. There have certainly been set-backs for the team in recent times, but with the county currently competing to a high standard at underage level in the province, Dunne is confident league and championship promotion is within their grasp over the next few years. 

“You always have to have a high goal and want to reach it. It’s just a case of building now up through junior and hopefully getting that title at some stage and into Division Four next year, just go from there. Definitely it would be nice to get back to that position and further if we can push it. 

“All the underage in Sligo are doing so good. When I was underage, it was quite different. We were competing in ‘C’ and maybe ‘B’, but now the last couple of years, the U16s and minors are competing in ‘A’ and putting it up to those teams like Galway and Mayo.” 

While consecutive Group A defeats against Carlow and Fermanagh puts them in a precarious position, Sligo aren’t necessarily out of contention for a spot in the knockout rounds of the All-Ireland junior championship. If Cormac Reape’s side manage to overcome London later on today at McGovern Park in Ruislip (throw-in 7pm), it would put them level on points with the group’s respective second and third place teams Derry and Fermanagh - albeit the former will have a game in hand and the latter pay a visit to table-toppers Carlow tomorrow afternoon. 

Despite the result going against them, Dunne saw plenty of positives in Sligo’s one-point loss (2-10 to 3-6) away to Fermanagh last Sunday and feels the team are now primed for two big performances in their upcoming clashes with London and Derry. 

“I was delighted with our performance against Fermanagh. We really worked for it, we really improved on the things we needed to improve on since the Carlow game. Putting in a performance like that against Fermanagh definitely has boosted us. Hopefully it stands to us going into these last two games against London and Derry.” 

2024 has also already been a big year for Dunne, who recently completed a four-year course in athletic therapy and training at DCU. 

Currently doing some work at a clinic close to her home in Sligo, she has also expressed an interest in being a sideline presence for sporting teams now that she is fully qualified as an athletic therapist. 

Of course, Dunne will continue to be an active presence within the white lines of a football pitch and left an indelible mark on the colleges football scene during her time in DCU. 

After starting at right corner-back when the Metropolitans defeated UL in the O’Connor Cup final in 2023, she was in the same position when a star-studded DCU side defended their third-level title with an extra-time victory over UCC at MTU Cork in March of this year. 

Thanks to her excellent performances over the course of these campaigns, Dunne was honoured with back-to-back Ladies HEC All-Stars for 2023 and 2024. The likes of Niamh Crowley (Dublin), Emma Duggan (Meath) and Kate Kenny (Offaly) joined her in being honoured for their displays in the DCU colours this year and Dunne took great confidence from lining out alongside a host of established inter-county figures. 

“I was lucky enough to get that position in corner-back for the last two years or so. You learn so much from other players, especially them being the top players in their county. It was an amazing experience to be part of that,” Dunne added. 

“It is nice to be recognised as well. Especially when you’re coming from a smaller county. It wouldn’t have been possible without the team doing as well as it did. There was a lot of individuals that I couldn’t even pick out. Everyone was deserving of them.” 

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