By Shaun Casey
FAMILIAR foes Loughgiel Shamrocks and Sleacht Néill lock horns once again this weekend in the Ulster Senior Camogie Championship final and the Derry kingpins are hoping to stretch their winning streak to seven in a row.
Three goals from Olivia Rafferty and Sinead Mellon (2) helped guide Sleacht Néill to a 3-7 to 0-9 victory in January of this season, finishing off the 2021 campaign. The year before it took two games to decide a winner, but Sleacht Néill emerged victorious once again.
The pair renew acquaintances this Saturday as they cross paths in yet another showpiece, and they’ve built up quite a rivalry over the last few years.
Lucia McNaughton, joint captain of the Antrim kingpins along with Amy Boyle, says her side know all they need to know about their opponents this weekend and are well aware of the task ahead of them.
“The rivalry is up into six years now; we’ve built up a pretty big rivalry with Sleacht Néill down through the years,” said McNaughton, who captained her county to an Intermediate All-Ireland title last season. “We know the quality they have in their team, and we know it’s going to be a battle so we’re preparing for that as best we can.
“I suppose we had two runs at it last year pretty close together. Winning the Antrim Championship again this year is great, that was obviously our first goal at the start of the year. Now we’re getting ready for this year’s Ulster final and it’s a great position for our team to be in and we’re definitely looking forward to it.”
The Shamrocks were crowned Saffron champions following a three-point win over Dunloy almost six weeks ago, on October 9, and have been training hard during the long lay-off. Some of that time included training with no opponent in mind as the Derry final took place two weeks later.
“It’ll be six weeks altogether from our county final to the Ulster final which probably is a wee bit of a long wait,” added McNaughton. “I suppose it gives you time to get the celebrations out of the road after the county final and then get back into the hard training in preparation for the Ulster final.
“It’s a bit of a long layoff but we’re looking forward to the final now. Training is going really well, and we’ll just see how we get on.”
That two-week training period before the Derry final, which Sleacht Néill won 3-12 to 2-6 against Swatragh, gave Loughgiel the opportunity to focus solely on themselves and on their own performance.
“We sort of talked about both teams (Sleacht Néill and Swatragh), but it also gave us the opportunity to just focus on ourselves and what tactics that we want to do as a team, and we can discuss the work rate and different things that we’re going to bring to the game.”