By Michael McMullan
THE excitement in Ciara Brown’s voice is real. Refreshing. A player absolutely buzzing with her team’s progress.
The Antrim story is picking up momentum and the Saffrons welcome Longford to Cargin (Sunday 2pm) for their final game of the All-Ireland Intermediate group stages.
Antrim have been on some journey. It took a late free and a replay to see off Fermanagh to land last summer’s All-Ireland Junior title.
They regrouped and came back stronger. They eventually said goodbye to the fourth tier of the league. Promotion fed into turning over Tyrone in the Ulster Intermediate decider before hitting 2-17 in Westmeath to start the All-Ireland series with a win.
“We are on the way up,” Brown said with total enthusiasm.
On those days in Croke Park, they’d watch the intermediate final action after their own game and wonder was it out of reach.
Initially there was a sense of 2023 being a building year and zoning in on retaining their status.
Now there is a belief of going a step further. Brown hails the input of management duo Emma Kelly and Kyla Trainor.
“Watching the intermediate, we always thought that was such a big step up and obviously that was our goal to reach, that was what we wanted to push for,” said Brown of her previous school of thought.
Now she has fully bought into where Trainor and Kelly feel they can go. On reflection, it was those on the outside that almost subconsciously hamstrung Antrim’s belief in branching beyond Division Four and Junior Championship football.
“Everybody saying “it’s just Antrim” and “they are in the lower division” and “they can’t make it out of Division Four” and things like that,” Brown said.
“For so long, it has always been “it’s only Antrim” and everybody always said that and I think it got in our heads over the years.
“We wanted to get out of Division Four. We should’ve been out a long time ago so getting out of it was such a big step up for us,” Brown added.
“A big reason was Emma and Kyla coming in. They have the county background and they know how hard it is and how much of a want it is to get that medal and get out of Division Four.”
Since that, the wheels of progress have continued to turn. The togetherness forged over the last two seasons has cemented their belief. In the past, when the going got tough the easy way out was always within reach. Not now. Antrim just keep trucking on.
“Ever since Emma and Kyla came in…they knew for a fact, especially Emma from playing for Antrim, that it wasn’t where we should be in Division Four or pushing out of it and even in Junior as well.
“We do have the ability and the players, put that together and we should be pushing up into intermediate. The girls have clicked and have gelled together very well in the last two years and it is a very collective panel.”
Friendships formed as opposed to cliques. And when the chips are down, it’s all about helping each other and the Saffron jersey.
“You have to be willing to put yourselves on the line for each other and we have done that this year,” Brown added.
“We will push to the very last minute of the game, whereas in the past people would’ve thrown up the head and dropped the intensity.”
Cargin will host Sunday’s game. Home advantage counts, but Antrim’s focus is on one thing – tasting more of that winning feeling.