By Michael McMullan
CIARA McGurk struggled to find the words to describe Steelstown winning their first Ulster Intermediate title but the feeling inside told her enough to know it was a huge moment.
All those feelings of pain, suffering and sacrifice were worth it. Two years ago they could see the cup without being able to touch it after Kinawley edged clear in the final.
There was the 2023 fixture debacle that saw them fail to fulfil their semi-final and the dream was over again.
“When you look back at the last two years, there were tears of pain,” McGurk said. “Now those tears are tears of relief and happiness this year.”
Speaking long enough after their win for the feeling to sink in, it’s a dream come true.
It comes after four Derry titles in a row but McGurk takes herself back to the Ulster Junior title in 2015 as the starting point.
After creeping up the grades to intermediate in Derry, their Ulster success gave them a taste of what could be possible.
“It kicked in with girls and we realised we had a good team and, fast forward those years, now we are Ulster Intermediate champions,” McGurk added.
With “around 10” players being part of both wins, eight years apart, it’s a mixture of the new and old. It was the same in 2015.
“Steelstown don’t do anything easy,” McGurk added of their extra-time win over a Glenavy team who pushed them all the way.
“To get over that line, it is something I will cherish forever. When it went to extra-time, the girls knew we had it in us. We were beat by Kinawley and we knew what that suffering was like. We were not suffering that again or from what happened last year.”
When Orla McGeough fired over a late equaliser to force extra-time, it was time to look deep inside themselves last weekend. It was a path they’d been down before.
“I said to the girls “it’s now or never” because we weren’t going through it again,” McGurk recalls of the messages before extra-time.
“We were going to push on and weren’t leaving the pitch until we won.”
It was a game that could’ve gone any way. A pass here or there, a dropped ball or a referee decision. That’s how close it was.
“You have to believe in the team,” McGurk said, recalling the moment when she looked up at the clock.
“There were three minutes left and we were a point down and I was thinking it can’t be a repeat of Kinawley. Then, we went up and Orla got the equaliser.”
They can understand Glenavy’s pain. Steelstown had walked that path and it has pushed them on.
“I still don’t think we played like we can play, but in the first 10 minutes of extra-time showed us what we can do, we just left it a bit late,” McGurk added. The Derry and Ulster champions were back in training last night (Wednesday) ahead of the All-Ireland series.
In the long-term, their Ulster success should plant the seed for more.
“We had to work on it and work on it, so it will show the young girls they can achieve what we are achieving,” she concluded.