St Louis making the most of second bite

By Michael McMullan

THE last time St Louis Ballymena were vying for an All-Ireland senior B title, Chloe Drain played on a team that were within touching distance of glory.

Leading by two points, all they had to do was see it out. Grennan College had other ideas and their late, late goal left the Ballymena girls facing an afternoon of hurt.

Twelve years on and she’s at the forefront of an All-Ireland tilt. Along with Eimear Doherty and Denise Loughlin, she coaches the current team who are hoping to go one step further against Gorey Community School in Saturday’s refixed final (St Peregrine’s, Dublin 1.30pm).

It wasn’t the prize they’d set out for. It was the Ulster A title that was at the forefront of their thoughts until a semi-final exit at the hands of Saturday’s All-Ireland A finalists St Patrick’s Maghera.

Both losing semi-finalists – St Louis and Cross and Passion Ballymena – faced off in a play-off to see who would advance from Ulster to the All-Ireland B championship.

“I think it shows how the sport has come on here in the school,” Drain begins. “When we were playing, in my days in the school, we were just happy to be playing at B level and we just accepted it.”

St Louis were a whisker away from winning a first Ulster senior A camogie championship last season. With seconds to go Maria Gatley flicked Ciara O’Boyle’s cross to the back of the Cross and Passion net. The joy was short-lived, with the goal ruled out for a square ball and the Ballycastle side went on to take the title after extra time.

“It was a sore one,” Drain said, of an off season where the disallowed goal cut deep. “We wanted to get back again challenging and we knew we had a special group.”

It wasn’t to be. On a frosty January night in Ahoghill, Maghera were 2-8 to 1-4 winners and while the St Louis management were aware of their second chance via the All-Ireland B, the players didn’t know.

“The girls were gutted…we were gutted. For a few days we didn’t even want to think about it,” admitted Drain.

“The girls had given everything to try and win it (Ulster A) and there was no point in asking them to go through it all again if they didn’t want to,” Drain admits. “We felt it would be a good move, but the players had to want it for themselves.”

The players chose to throw everything at the remainder of the season. A win over Cross and Passion set up an All-Ireland quarter-final with Coláiste Na Phiarsaigh of Ennis.

A comfortable win was backed up with a semi-final win over St Joseph’s Lucan, with the St Louis defence coughing up just four points in each game.

“We are playing with a bit more freedom now,” said Drain of their performances. “In Ulster, teams know each other inside out. The players nearly know what side their opponent is going to turn to.

“This is totally different and they’ve expressed themselves well. We haven’t got the same level of information on the teams.

“The Gorey team we play this weekend, we only know a few things about them, so we’ll go out and play our own game.”

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