By Michael McMullan
THE current wave of success in Liatroim is not just for the players, it’s for every member of the community.
That’s how vice-captain Aislínn Brown sees it as the Down champions prepare for Sunday’s showdown with title holders and last year’s All-Ireland finalists Loughgiel in Armagh.
The club tasted Ulster success with their hurlers last season. The excitement has continued with the camogs and footballers chasing Ulster honours in the weeks ahead.
For Brown, a trainee solicitor, camogie is the perfect mix alongside a busy schedule of exams.
Training in the cold and wet of autumn makes no difference. The mood is upbeat. There is an excitement in her voice words can’t fully paint.
After coming up short in the last two Down finals, there was fresh enthusiasm when training was called in January.
The league title they went on to win was nice without being the full focus. Championship camogie, that’s where it is really at.
By the time the league arrived, county duo Dearbhla Magee and Aimee McAleenan were fully invested in Down with less than a handful of appearances for Liatroim each.
It gave others the chanceto put their hands up as leaders.
“They slipped in for the championship,” Brown said of how their championship puzzle began to assemble.
When the Down league split after the first round of games, Liatroim were in the top four and on their way to the title at the end of phase two.
“We had a pretty good campaign which is different to most years. We started off stronger and kept the momentum going,” she said.
Game by game was the focus. It’s the same for most teams in any walk of sport.
When Liatroim camogs tagged on a fourth win in a row, they aimed for five and so their momentum began to build.
“It wasn’t our goal to win the league, it was to win the championship,” she said.
“With a strong league you are able to play people in different positions and try things out.
“It benefited us this year and a lot of girls played in different positions. I moved from the half-back line to the full-back line.
“With Dearbhla and Aimee not there, it made girls step up and we really went from strength to strength.
“Girls took on more responsibility which I think has benefitted us this year and that’s what got us over the line.”
While their county duo were not regulars in the starting 15, Magee and McAleenan were still present with a welcome nugget of advice here and there. It all helps.
The championship paired them in a group with Portaferry, Ballycran, Ballyholland and An Riocht.
After finishing second, behind 2021 champions Portaferry, Liatroim were quarter-final winners over Ballyholland followed by wins over Clonduff and Ballygalget to land their 28th county title.
“Looking back, it seems like a long shift, but it doesn’t seem to be that long,” said Brown, who points to their Portaferry defeat – in the group stages – as their “big” turning point.
The performance was there in a game that could’ve swung in any direction until Portaferry prevailed by the narrowest of margins.
“That game was the turning point,” she said.
“The way we responded to it was the most important thing.
“We knew we wanted to win the championship, but that was the point when it was amplified, we really wanted to win. We were ready to do what it took to win.”
In a pulsating final, it took a late Aimee McAleenan point to sink Ballygalget and it was celebration time for Liatroim.
“I was afraid to look around at the scoreboard at the end. I think the last 10 minutes were the longest 10 minutes of my life,” Brown said of her joy in victory.
“It was a long time coming. We were beaten in the final the last two years so it was really sweet to win.
“The win wasn’t just for the girls on the panel and the management, it was really for the club.”
Brown highlighted the efforts from their committee, the coaching structures and the excellent facilities – everything that is invested to give their teams a shot at glory.
“It was really great to do it for everybody,” she said, pointing to the success of the hurlers last season.
“The footballers won the championship on the Saturday and we won ours on the Sunday.
“For being such a small club, there has been a lot of silverware coming in across the last few years.
“We have two excellent pitches, a ball wall and a fully loaded gym. They (committee) are giving us everything we need to get to the top and I think they have given us the footing for the success the club has had in the last two years.”
Now it’s time for a shot at Ulster champions Loughgiel. Liatroim have got in a few challenge games and the focus is very much on themselves.
“We have a process we play with and we stick to our strengths,” Brown summed up.
“The most important thing is to focus on us and how we play camogie.
“That’ll be how we can get over the line, by looking after ourselves. This year, we were physically strong but the big thing this year is that we are mentally strong.
“That’s how we learn to overcome things that are unpredictable, as a team. It is going to be a challenge but we are all looking forward to it.”