By Niall Gartland
DERRY ladies champions Steelstown get their provincial campaign underway against Con Magees in a preliminary round clash on home turf this Sunday, and how they’d love to make amends for the heartbreak of last year.
They were left reeling by a suckerpunch goal at the end of the Ulster Intermediate final against Fermanagh club Kinawley – a devastating defeat but one they are determined to recover from.
The Derry City side retained their county title with a one-sided victory over Ballymaguigan, and their manager Thomas Cusack (now in his 11th year in charge), says his team seem to have the knack for saving their best football for the championship arena.
Cusack said: “It’s gone okay so far. We’ve had some good performances, and some not so good. I don’t think we’ve yet reached the levels of last year but hopefully we’re getting there.
“We’re getting better week-on-week and I think the girls are able to subconsciously up the intensity for the championship, both training sessions and the match itself. They know what it’s all about at this stage.”
A number of Steelstown girls have suffered ACL injuries in recent years, and two girls – Leah McMonagle and Rachel Roberts are sidelined as a result.
“Two girls have come back who have had cruciate injuries, but we’ve lost two as well. Megan Devine came back at the end of last year, and Katy Holly returned in June.
“We’ve lost Leah and Rachel, and to be honest, the amount of ACL injuries girls have got in my time involved is shocking. It’s one of those things, cruciate injuries are common in the Ladies game. Leah was just playing a challenge game, she took a girl on and hit the dirt. There was no contact, no nothing. Most of them are like that.”
Cusack is delighted to have been handed home advantage for their Ulster Championship opener against Antrim Intermediate winners Con Magees.
“We’re at home for the opener. There’s something special about an Ulster Championship day in the club, we’ve had a few in the past. An Ulster day in the club is a special feeling, the whole weekend is to be honest.”
On the game itself, he said: “All we try to do is keep on going for another week. The girls have the experience of last year and know every single team is good and presents a tough challenge. All they’re looking for is to be back on the training pitch on the Monday.”
“We’ ll give it a lash, every year we set out to win our county championship and then after that, we just go and see how we get on in Ulster.”
In the weekend’s other Ulster Club match, Lisnaskea have home advantage for their Junior Championship preliminary round clash against Aldergrove.