Dreams come true for Ciara Austin

By Kevin Herron 

TG4 All-Ireland final preview 

Ciara Austin was facing the prospect of losing out on a year of county football when lockdown restrictions were eased back in April. 

Uncertainty surrounded whether or not there would be an Ulster Minor Championship and the Minor panellists faced the prospect of having no county football in 2021. 

Although they were encouraged to trial for the senior set-up and Austin as well as Duana Coleman, Thresea Mellon, Ellie Murphy, Mary Mitchell and more recently Maria O’Neill have all joined the senior set-up this season. 

Austin is relishing being involved in a squad that is Croke Park bound on Sunday and can’t wait for it to arrive. 

“I can’t wait for Sunday,” said Ciara. 

“It’s very, very exciting and the nerves are just building up but its more excitement than nerves. It’s one of those things- when you’re a child you dream of it happening, but it almost seems out of reach. When it comes into reach you go and grab it, which we did against Carlow. It is a dream come true I suppose in a way, you never think you are going to get to that stage at Croke Park and the All-Ireland final – you can’t really get better than that. It’s just really, really exciting”. 

Austin has experienced the highs and lows this year from winning the Ulster Championship only to lose their first All-Ireland outing two weeks later but acknowledges it can’t always be highs in sport. 

“It’s not all highs the whole time,” admits Austin. 

“Every team has bad matches but that drives you to work harder for the later matches which are more important- Sunday for example. It’s all part of the sport, it can’t always be highs – we’re lucky we got matches at the right time and got the chance to improve on that before the later matches and the semi-finals”. 

Austin insists it is brilliant to be part of the squad and has been a real eye opener- explaining her journey into the panel this year. 

Ciara Austin in action in the Minor A final against Monaghan in Corrigan Park earlier his year.

“It’s brilliant to be part of the squad this year,” Austin insists. 

“I’m still minor, a few of us have been brought up to the squad and it’s a big change from minor. But it’s definitely something that has been very enjoyable and an eye-opener as well. The commitment is very good and it’s just a great, great experience as well. The opportunities we’ve had this year can only stand by us going forward”. 

“I was more thinking about trying to break in this year or next year, if possible, the minor championship wasn’t going to happen, and we were all told to go forward to the senior trials to see what came of it and a lot of us progressed- which is good. But then the minor championship ended up happening, so we had that as well. it was unexpected but we’re all enjoying it so much”. 

Ciara (2nd right) arrives for training at Davitt’s on Thursday evening

Nerves don’t go away for experienced Carey

TG4 All-Ireland Junior final preview

By Kevin Herron 

For Cathy Carey Sunday’s All-Ireland final is her fourth outing on the big stage at Croke Park. The St Ergnat’s native was part of the 2009 and 2012 winning sides and experienced the downside in losing a final back in 2016. 

Despite going through it all on three occasions she admits that the nerves don’t go away in the build-up but feels that the experience does help. 

“I don’t think your ever past the nerves because you need a wee bit of nerves to get you up for the day” she explains. 

“I suppose in the lead-up you don’t get as into it as such, and you don’t let it take over what the focus is as the game and you kind of learn that a wee bit as you get older, I suppose. It’s great to have a buzz- training is going really well, everyone is getting on really well and we’ve a full bill of health”. 

“It’s great but I’m sure if you ask me the same question on Sunday morning- will I be nervous? It will be a different answer, but hopefully it will be all under control- a wee bit of experience helps!”. 

Final opponents Wicklow are no strangers to the Saffrons- meeting in last year’s semi-final and again in a five-team group stage this season. 

Carey acknowledges that familiarity can be a positive and a negative but is a big believer that anything can happen on any given day. 

“With five teams in Junior you do get very familiar with each other” believes Carey. 

“Sometimes that familiarity can be a good thing or a bad thing because you kind of know what’s coming – but anybody can pull anything out of the bag on the day. They [Wicklow] are sharp, they’re going in as favourites so all we have to do it stick to the game plan and hope that, that works. We’ve to bring our work-rate and drive on the day and hopefully we won’t be far away”. 

Having won the TG4 Ulster title with a win over Derry back in June- defeat to the same opponents two-weeks later threatened their hopes of a top-four finish- though Carey was adamant that they learnt from that defeat when there was the potential for it to derail their aspirations.  

“Derry set-up very differently on the second day and they probably learnt a lot from the first two games” reflected Carey. 

“We could have went into the next game and lost that and fell apart for the rest of the Championship and lost a bit of confidence. But it probably wasn’t a bad thing- it picked us up and we thought- right we’ve an All-Ireland to contend for here”. 

“They say you learn more from getting beat sometimes than you do a win. That was probably our steppingstone to a decent run in the group stages, sometimes you have to take a hit to move forward and that was probably it for us”. 

31-year-old Carey is amongst the senior players in the squad and has enjoyed the buzz this season and especially the run up to Sunday’s decider.

“It’s a good team with plenty of youth” acknowledges Carey. 

“It’s great whenever there is support around the county and a lot of clubs are getting involved in supporting and everything is great for the ladies to be recognised that much. The work the LGFA do to try and fill Croke Park- as much as they can this year given Covid- can only be a good thing that there are so many people going and so many people interested in it. It’s good to come to training and we’re enjoying it, if you’re still training at this time of year then it’s always a good sign. On fine evenings like this it’s a great buzz”.

Cathy Carey lays the ball off to a team mate during Antrim’s league game with Leitrim at the Dub in 2019

Carey missed the beginning of the 2020 National League campaign- however returned to action after the first lockdown and was part of the Antrim panel who reached the semi-final last season. 

Carey opened up on the struggles that came with a routine change during the COVID-19 lockdowns and is glad they have managed to kick on since returning in May.  

“You just have to be very aware of what you are doing outside of the training and matches” said Carey. 

“I know the argument is that we’re amateurs and stuff like that, but we still have to take it very seriously and you would never want to miss a game- if you’d miss Sunday because of isolating- it would be a nightmare”.

“The girls looked after themselves and everyone that was doing work over lockdown- it is probably standing by them at this stage. There have been a few unfortunate injuries throughout all the clubs and men’s teams and everything- but it’s a good thing that we’ve a good panel”. 

“Everybody has been pushing each other on and you know that there is someone coming up behind to take your place if you aren’t performing in matches or at training. Players have rehabbed and been smart about knocks and niggles – so it’s just been about using our heads as well”. 

“I didn’t play in the National League last year and came back for Championship. Once everything was locked down, it was like – right what do we do now apart from sit in the house five nights a week? You do complain whenever you’re out every day or all-day Sunday but when it’s not there – it’s like what do we do now? 

“It was probably a break that some people wanted at certain stages or needed but we’ve been able to kick on from there. I suppose every cloud has a silver lining and all that and we can’t wait for Sunday to come”. 

Aislinn plays her club football in Down but is captain of Antrim…..how does that work?

TG4 All Ireland LGFA Junior final – Antrim v Wicklow

Antrim captain Aislinn McFarland speaks to Paul McIntyre

It’s been quite the year for the Antrim Senior Ladies team. This Sunday they will take to the field of Croke Park on All-Ireland final day for the fourth time in twelve years, but back at the start of the season few would’ve predicted such a fixture being pencilled in for the Saffron’s.

Damien McConville’s unexpected departure on the eve of the 2021 season saw the Antrim Ladies board turn to senior player Emma Kelly who didn’t have to think twice when offered the post and team captain Aislinn McFarland spoke of the importance of an appointment from within.  

Antrim team manager Emma Kelly

Absolute credit to Emma (Kelly) and Kayla (Trainor).

Emma’s been someone who has been around Antrim for years. I think the only person she hasn’t coached in this team is Cathy (Carey), so it’s been good in that sense, she knows everybody she knew what she was coming into, she knew what was going wrong in a sense as she was involved in the panel as a player last year, so her coming in as a manager has actually been a blessing in that she knew what we wanted to change and she knew where we wanted to go and the results kind of say everything that we actually got there and I think we are putting a wee bit of pride back into the Antrim Ladies football jersey which has been a long time coming” added the Saffron full back.

This will be the skipper’s second All-Ireland final appearance. McFarland is one of five survivors from the 2016 defeat to Longford and despite playing her club football in Down with Bredagh, McFarland sees this as an advantage and enjoys the cross-county element part of her game.

“I personally really enjoy it and I think Michelle (Magee) obviously she’s the same, she’s Caryduff. I think you know it allows you to play with different players. You know it allows you to play with different players and you can play against all the Down girls you want, and you know there are seven or eight Bredagh girls on the Down team so I know what sort of football they play so playing in Antrim gives me a new experience,” said McFarland.

But despite playing her club football in Down, playing for county for Antrim was a topic that was never up for debate and she explains.

“We were brought up as Antrim kids. My Daddy is North Antrim, Mummy is Ballycastle so it was never a question for me.”

Another key factor in the run to the final is the togetherness of the squad. Any lingering club rivalries have been left at the door and McFarland feels that new found team spirit has helped to contribute to the feel-good factor that currently exists in the squad.  

Aislinn was never in any doubt what county she would play for

“In a way that’s kind of been a good thing about having the captain role this year. It takes the club rivalries out of it because I don’t have anyone to be a rival against apart from Michelle”.  I’ve spoken about this before. This is the first year the club has not been mentioned. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you’re a good enough footballer, if you’re playing well, you’re gonna play. And that’s been a really big thing for us this year and been something that’s changed the last couple of years with clubs kinda getting a little bit too involved in it” continued McFarland.

But Sunday is all about the result and also the positive impact that it could bring.

“It’s not about a one year plan. It’s about bringing a bit of pride back in the Antrim jersey. Getting the girls a bit of confidence. The last couple of years the turnover of managers, turnover of players, it’s been so inconsistent. Emma and Kayla have brought together a really good squad of players and consistency. Emma talks about the 15 players on the pitch at any one time, but there is a panel of 30 girls and that’s the main thing for us. It’s about making sure everyone is getting their fair share and everyone is being involved in it and I think that’s one of the main reasons why we are where we are at the minute” added the 25-year-old school teacher.

Team Coach Kyla Trainor

Antrim Camogs fund raising draw at Team Kit Ballymena

Today (Monday 16th August) the Antrim Camogie team held their fund raising draw at TeamKit Ballymena. The project was the brainchild of Brian Kearney of TeamKit, where his suggested each member of the panel sell tickets for a draw, the prize a Fire Pit Garden Party including all the accessories.

Team captain Lucia McNaughton attended with team members Maria Lynn and Laoise McKenna, team Coach Elaine Dowds and vice-chairperson of Antrim County Board Amelda McCloud.

The number generated by the random number software was 842 which was sold by team member Roisin McCormick to her mum Karen McCormick, so we will all be heading up to Glenbush next weekend for the garden party.

The project was a massive success and raised £11,200 for the Championship Fund.

Antrim play Kerry in the quarter final this Saturday at Bannagher Co Offaly.

Antrim Camogs Lucia McNaughton, Maria Lynn and Laoise McKenna with Brian and Niall Kearney of TeamKit Ballymena

Antrim are in All Ireland semis, despite five point loss to Wicklow

TG4 All Ireland Ladies Junior Football Championship

Wicklow 1-17 Antrim 1-12

Despite losing by five points to Wicklow in Sunday’s Round 4 game at Mullahoran Co Cavan in the All Ireland Junior Championship, Antrim have secured a place in the semi-finals of the All Ireland championship. Last year’s beaten finalists Wicklow looked to be heading for a big win when they moved eight clear early in the second half, but Antrim battled back to cut the gap to just five at the final whistle. 1-17 to 1-12.

Aoife Taggart got Antrim off to a good start with the first point of the game on two minutes but Wicklow came back with points from Marie Keeley and Maebh Deeney to edge ahead by the fourth minute. Antrim were holding their own with last year’s finalists and they got a great boost on nine minutes when a brilliant move from midfield saw Aoife Taggart weave her way through the Wicklow defence and fire the ball to the net to give her team a two point lead.

However Wicklow took control of the game at this stage and during the next ten minutes added a series of excellent points, two from Sarah Delahunt, and one each from Maebh Deeney Catherine Dempsey and Laurie Ahern to move three clear by the 19th minute. Grainne McLaughlin and Caitlin Taggart kept Antrim well on track with two points in the 20th and 25th minutes but Wicklow finished the half strongly and points from Kealy, Dempsey and Ahern had them four ahead at half time. (0-11 to 1-4)

A goal just two minutes after the restart by Wicklow left half forward Clodagh Fox was to prove a bad body blow for the Saffrons, but the fought their way back into the game as Grainne McLaughlin hit two excellent points. Maebh Deeney grabbed two points for Wicklow in the 39th and 40th minutes and the gap was out to eight by the second half water break.

During the final quarter Antrim upped the pace, holding Wicklow to just two more points while up front the forwards set about reducing the gap. Grainne McLaughlin started the fightback with a point on 48 minutes, but it was a further nine minute before Cathy Carey got the next score on 57 minutes. She added another a minute later and when Michelle Magee and Grainne McLaughlin added two more in injury time, the gap was down to just five. However time had run out and Antrim’s brave bid had come up just short, but the management will be pleased with their overall performance

ANTRIM

Julie Curran, Duana Coleman, Orla Corr, Ashling McFadden, Maeve Blaney, Maria Hannah, Aine Tubidy, Emma Ferran, Ciara Brown, Niamh Enright, Cathy Carey, Grainne McLaughlin, Aoife Taggart, Theresa Mellon, Caitlin Taggart.

Subs – Ciara Austin for Orla Corr – 14 Mins

Michelle Magee for Theresa Mellon – Halftime

Niamh Webb for Áine Tubridy – 44 Mins;

Ellie Murphy for Aoife Taggart – 48 Mins;

Rebekah Hemsworth for Caitlin Taggart – 54 Mins