By Kieran Lynch
BRÍDÍNÍ Óga, Glenravel are hoping to claim a first-ever All-Ireland title, when they travel to Kinnegad to take on Wicklow side Knockananna.
The Antrim champions knocked down An Riocht and Granemore to win Ulster, before they squeezed past Limerick’s Adare in a nail-biting semi-final. Now, with the decider just days away, wing half-forward Eimhear McAleenan feels as though there is a real sense of excitement in the air.
“It’s the first time that the club has ever gotten this far, and the excitement is definitely building,” she said.
“We have a great amount of support behind us, there is a bit of a buzz around the parish, and the momentum we have had behind us has been great.”
“At the start of the year we had a slow enough start, as we had a couple of girls down in Galway, and girls over in Liverpool and Newcastle, so we didn’t have our full team. But once we got into the championship, we started to build and go from strength to strength from there. Once we got a bit of success we just kept pushing on and driving ourselves on, and we got the sense that we could really do something special this year.
“We’ve been so close to success for so many years but have never managed to get over that line, so I think we have had that passion and hunger this year which has helped drive us on.”
McAleenan’s use of the word ‘momentum’ is certainly fitting, as they have seen off all comers in the last few months, and after they won their county title, belief that they could have an unforgettable year started to set in, before they claimed a first-ever Ulster title.
“Winning the county final was the first hurdle, because we had lost a few in previous years, and when we did that, we gained real belief in ourselves,” explained McAleenan.
“We started to realise that we are good enough, and that we can push on. With great training sessions, and the management and supporters pushing us on, we felt as though we could really shape up to do something this year.”
As previously mentioned, it wasn’t plain-sailing for Brídíní Óga in the semi-final, as they went blow-for-blow with Adare, but Shauna McDonnell was the match-winner with a 57th minute point, securing a victory which showed the character that the team possesses.
“It was tit for tat the whole way through; they were a very physically strong team, and we brought everything that we had to the game, to match their intensity,” said McAleenan.
“Once again it comes back to believing that we’re just as good as anybody. We can take scores from wherever and get them when they’re needed.”
In any final, it is important for players not to let nerves get the better of them, and that rings even more true for McAleenan, as the 30-year-old is tasked with keeping her cool, as the team’s free-taker.
But instead of feeling nervous, McAleenan said that excitement is the overriding emotion at the moment, as the team look to the final as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’.
“To me, I don’t feel nervous at the minute, because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it’s just about going and giving it everything you have,” she said.
“It’s just one game, and if we win it, then that’s brilliant of course, but to have gotten this far is an unreal achievement for all of us in itself. Now that we are so close, we just want to get over the line.
“As a group, the nerves maybe haven’t set in just yet, because we’re just excited and imagining what could be. The closer we get to throw-in there may be nerves, but as long as we can channel it the right way, hopefully we will be able to stay grounded.”
Brídíní Óga’s opponents in the final, Knockananna, won’t be underestimated, but for the players McAleenan stressed that they need to believe in their own abilities, instead of worrying about the opposition.
“The management have been doing their research on them, and I know that we have had access to a few of their games which were streamed online, but I haven’t tried to get caught up with any of that at all to be honest,” she said.
“As a player, yes we will have to watch out for their strengths and weaknesses, but I think for the girls it’s key to realise that we’re just as good, and important not to let the opposition get into our heads.
“It’s up to the management in terms of setting us up for success, and for us, we just have to focus on our own abilities.”