By Niall Gartland
WINNING the All-Ireland Junior final replay on a sun-splashed day at the Athletic Grounds.
It was certainly an occasion to savour for the Antrim ladies, who more than proved a point with a resounding victory over Fermanagh, but for stalwart Áine Tubridy, it’s just another step on the journey to even better things.
While she’s been playing for Antrim for more than a decade – she was one of only two present players who were involved in their last All-Ireland Junior success in 2012 – she’s still as hungry as ever and is fiercely determined to achieve promotion from Division Four next season.
Reflecting on her team’s convincing 13-point victory over Fermanagh, she quickly turns her attention to 2023 and beyond.
Tubridy said: “It was a great day for us all. We felt we didn’t really show up on the first day so it was about going out and finishing a job and the girls really believed we could do it. It didn’t really feel at any stage that they were going to come back into it.
“It was mainly a sense of relief for myself after the team. To be honest my goal for this year is to get out of Division Four, so winning the All-Ireland should set us in good stead.”
Elaborating on her determination to move up the ranks in the league, she said: “I feel like Division Four is actually one of the hardest divisions to get out of, but we probably left a few games behind us this year. We lost to Fermanagh and that one hit us hard and after that we’d a disappointing draw against Leitrim.
“We definitely know we can get out of that division. Last year our momentum was stopped in its tracks when we got hammered in the All-Ireland final but we’ve made amends for that and we’ll have a lot more belief heading into next year.”
Tubridy is confident about the future of Antrim football, and with good reason. They’ve heading in the right direction at senior level, and the amount of youngsters who attend their All-Ireland final clashes against Fermanagh also bodes well for the future.
“I think that’s why a lot of the girls were so emotional on Sunday. We’d amazing support especially considering everyone had to buy tickets again.
“It was amazing and I think there’s a good buzz around Antrim ladies football at the moment, especially with Gaelfast. Everyone’s pushing in the one direction and I think there’s better days ahead for Antrim football.
“I don’t see us competing in Division Four forever. I know Emma Kelly [Antrim manager] has made statements saying we could be the next Meath but I think it’s just about taking one step at a time. I believe with the girls coming through, we won’t be back playing Junior football and that we can push on with the talent coming through.”
During a stern half-time team-talk on Sunday, manager Kelly told Grainne McLaughlin that she’d be coming off if she didn’t up her game.
McLaughlin ended up in contention for the Player of the Match award – Cathy Carey claiming it – with a sensational second-half display, and Tubridy says the players actually appreciate the no-nonsense approach from their management team.
McLaughlin was by no means the only one who impressed as they had starring performances in every sector and also managed to largely curtail Blaithin Bogue, who scored seven from play in the drawn encounter.
“There’s no beating around the bush with Emma, and she’s very similar to our coach Kyla Trainor. Both of them have played football at a high level and they’re not asking us to do anything they haven’t done in the past. Emma’s always believed in Antrim football, and she’s encouraged girls to come into the squad who might’ve been reluctant, like the Con Magees (Glenravel) girls.
“Emma realises the potential we have and just says it how she sees it, and Kyla’s the same. Sometimes they tell us we have five minutes to prove ourselves in a match, whereas in the past I think male coaches don’t feel like they’re able to say things like that. We all respect them, Emma’s played for Derry and Antrim, Kyla’s played for Down, they know what it’s about and they’re trying to drive us on.”
Kelly is actually a clubmate of Tubridy’s (they both play for St Paul’s) so that brings an interesting dynamic to their relationship. Things couldn’t have gone much better this season, however, and they’re thoroughly deserving All-Ireland Junior champions for 2022.
“It’s funny in a way as I train with Emma with the club on Mondays and then on Tuesdays she’s my manager. Sometimes I say things and have to remind myself she’s my manager. It’s nice as well as we all look up to her.”