By Niall Gartland
LOUGHGIEL buried the ghosts of seasons past when they overcame their nemesis Sleacht Néill in the Ulster Senior Championship Camogie final, but that doesn’t mean that they’re no longer mindful of the exploits of their fiercest provincial rivals.
Captain Úna McNaughton doesn’t need reminded that Sleacht Néill have won three All-Ireland Camogie titles in recent seasons, and she now hopes that it’s Loughgiel’s time to shine on the provincial stage.
This weekend’s clash against Drom and Inch from Tipperary will be her fifth All-Ireland semi-final in a long and distinguished career. They’ve never broken through the semi-final barrier, but it obviously hasn’t escaped their notice that Sleacht Néill have climbed to the very top of the tree on multiple occasions in recent years – so why not Loughgiel?
“It does hard not to take belief from the fact we’ve managed to finally beat them. Sleacht Néil have been at the very top for the last six years, and we’re turning that into a positive – we beat them by five points in the Ulster final so we can’t be very far away when it comes to the All-Ireland.
“Obviously this is only words, and unless you translate it onto the pitch it counts for nothing. We’ve been in this position before, we beat Rossa after they won the All-Ireland in 2008 and it didn’t work out for us.
“I think there was a bit of a psychological block when we played the top teams in Ireland in the past but I think that’s gone now as we have young girls who have no fear, and no memories of losing All-Ireland semi-finals.”
Loughgiel’s victory over Sleacht Néill was a truly special day for the club as they’d fallen at the same hurdle to the same opponents every year since 2016. It’ll be remembered no matter what happens this weekend.
“We hadn’t won since 2015 so it definitely stung and there was possibly a bit of a mental block. It was only a few years that we weren’t very competitive against them, and that’s what probably made it more frustrating. They’re an incredible team to be fair.
“It was so nice to show that we’re at the top table. It meant so much to players and managers, and the supporters as well, I saw some of them crying on the pitch after the game. It was great to see that emotion and to finally get over the line in Ulster.”
While Úna says that the previous management team has laid the groundwork for their success this year, there’s no doubt that their new management, led by Brendan Dillon, has had a major impact in its most positive sense.
“The new management brought in new ideas and we changed our style of play at the beginning of the year, and you could see the fruits of that in the Ulster final. A change is as good as a rest sometimes, and that’s not to take away from previous management teams, who were perhaps unlucky to come up against as great a side as Sleacht Néill.”