By Michael McMullan
IF Steelstown were to smash the glass ceiling and conquer Ulster this weekend it would be a dream come true for Aoife McGough.
After four Derry titles in succession and an Ulster final defeat after the fixture debacle of last year, Steelstown’s final showdown with Glenavy in Carrickmore on Sunday presents another opportunity.
McGough was part of the Steelstown Ulster junior winning team of eight years ago and felt it was the start of something special.
“I was 19 at the time and you think after winning Ulster, it’s “let’s go again” but you realise over the years these things don’t come along all that often and they are big deal,” she said.
Now, training in the freezing cold, the buzz is back in Steelstown. It means the chance of success is around the corner.
McGough looks back on how Kinawley turned years of near glories to edge Steelstown out in the 2021 final.
“It gives us the inspiration that they kept digging at it and they got there,” she said.
There was also the wake up call of losing to Glen in the group stages of the championship after a 16-game run to the league title.
An element of “going through the motions” was a factor. Complacency didn’t help after not losing a game within the county since the 2019 semi-final defeat at the hands of Ballymaguigan.
“Down in Glen that night, it was like something needs to change here,” McGough recalled.
“I told the girls it was going to be the best thing that happened to us this year.
“We used it to our advantage and it drove us on big time and we haven’t looked back since.”
There is the enjoyment factor of Ulster. It’s fresh teams, pitches and the shackles are off.
“The scorelines don’t reflect the challenges we’ve had in the games but I think the girls have been playing with a bit more freedom,” McGough said of their wins over Omagh and Castleblayney.
“A team at this stage of the competition is going to be a good one so we’ll have our work cut out for us,” she added of Sunday’s opponents Glenavy.
“We’ll get the homework and prep done. I just like to turn up to training, work hard and it’s better that way.”
There is an appreciation of having another shot at glory. Last year, they looked on as Derrygonnelly went on to win Ulster.
The Steelstown team bus turned on the way to a refixed game with Denn/Castlerahan after the saga that ended with a decision not to play on an 3G pitch with footwear only packed for grass.
“I am proud how we handled it, such an unfortunate situation,” McGough said.
“When the bus turned around last year, the hunger everyone felt to do better.
“The next day, there were girls in the gym and was a case of “work starts now” and that was the mind-set of the girls is mental as a unit.”
Steelstown didn’t dwell on it. The word ‘Ulster’ wasn’t allowed to be mentioned until the Derry title was retained.
Two steps later, Steelstown are faced with another challenge. If they can do the business against Glenavy, it will be a dream come true. Sunday will write the final chapter.