Katie McAleese: still full of optimism and sees Antrim camogie fortunes changing
WHEN Katie McAleese first joined the Antrim senior panel while still a minor, the competition for starting places was intense, but she revelled in that competitive environment.
“Yeah, it was unbelievable. Rossa won an All-Ireland club title around that time, there were a couple of great minor teams coming through for us, and we had some players winning All-Ireland schools' titles with St Mary's Magherafelt.
“You really had to work hard to stay on the panel never mind get into the starting team and I just thought this is great, this is for me,” enthused the Coleraine-based Primary school teacher.
Antrim won the All-Ireland Junior title after a replay with Waterford in 2010 and the young Portglenone forward made a substitute appearance during the drawn game in Croke Park and scored a point.
“I got starting the replay in Ashbourne. We won and then the following year we reached the Intermediate All-Ireland final. But Wexford beat us 2-12 to 0-15.” she added.
“In hindsight that was an opportunity missed. I was disappointed after it, but I was young, playing in the forward line beside Jane Adams and I thought that another final would be coming up fairly soon.”
However that was seven years ago and the current Antrim captain didn't experience too many good days in the interim. Indeed it has been very frustrating for her in many ways.
“It is amazing how quickly the county team changed in personnel and suddenly you look around the changing room and discover that you are the most senior player there.
“It can be frustrating when you want to push on and win something to show for your time at county level.
“Some players retired, some couldn't give the extra commitment because of family or jobs, some emigrated, a few others got married and had children. So circumstances changed fairly quickly for what was really a young enough panel of players.”
However Katie is still full of optimism that Antrim's fortunes can change over the next few years on the back of significant under-age success for the Saffrons.
“Antrim has taken the Ulster and All-Ireland minor titles for the past three seasons now and some of those players are already well established in the senior team with more to come through.
“We older players have to keep encouraging them, the same way that Jane Adams and the more experienced players ten years ago took us under their wing.”
In comparison to recent campaigns, the 2018 season has gone pretty well for Antrim – although there have been a couple of disappointing results along the way and the team captain immediately points to the trip to Kilkenny a fortnight ago for the opening round of the championship.
“Kilkenny was always going to be a very tough opener, and then away from home as well.
“We tried to get it moved to earlier than a 5pm throw-in, but that didn't happen and then they got two goals in the opening ten minutes. I would say that we didn't really waken up until 20 minutes in. No, overall it was a disappointing start.
“But we went to Cork for the second match in the league and took a real hammering down there, but bounced back to stay unbeaten for the rest of the campaign. Hopefully we can do the same again in the championship.”
The Saffrons are at home today to Galway with another 5pm throw-in, and the game is in Portglenone, the captain's home club.
“I am really looking forward to that, captaining the county team in Portglenone,” she said.
“It will be a special day for me and for the club. It would be fantastic to finish it off with a win.
“There are a lot of very dedicated workers in our club – we have just opened a new pitch a couple of months ago – and it is an honour for them to host the game.
“In reality though we have to win all our remaining games in the championship after losing in Kilkenny. Wouldn't it be great if our All-Ireland campaign really got off the ground in Portglenone?”
Liberty Insurance Senior Camogie Championship Group 1
Saturday, 5pm: Walsh Park, Waterford v Kilkenny; Bruff : Limerick v Galway
Walsh Park: Waterford v Kilkenny
Difficult to see anything other than an away win in this tie as league champions Kilkenny impressed in their one outing, at home to a Limerick team that had beaten them in the league earlier in the season.
Waterford also had just the one outing, but it was a comprehensive defeat to Galway. Home venue may help them a little but a victory would be a big ask.
Bruff: Limerick v Galway
Galway have had two impressive wins already under their new management – and, representing Connacht, they breezed through the Gael Linn Inter-provincial competition last month.
They have a lot of quality in their team, particularly in the forward line where recent All-Ireland winning minors are starting to press for inclusion.
Niamh Mulcahy is still Limerick's leading lady – after a decade and a half of service to the team. She scored six of the eight points in a low-scoring draw with Clare last time out and is the only threat to Galway's 100% winning start to the championship.
Verdict: Galway with a bit to spare
Group 1 Results to date
June 9: Galway 1-16 Clare 0-9, Kilkenny 2-18 Limerick 0-11
June 16: Galway 4-12 Waterford 0-8, Clare 0-8 Limerick 0-8
Liberty Insurance Intermediate Camogie Championship Group 2
Saturday, 5pm: Portglenone: Antrim v Galway; The Ragg: Tipperary v Westmeath; Hawksfield centre: Kildare v Kilkenny
Portglenone: Antrim v Galway
Antrim would have liked to have opened their campaign with this home game against a team not expected to figure in the knock-out stages. Instead they travelled to Kilkenny and were well beaten.
It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, that has on their morale going into this game. I understand they will have a stronger panel than a fortnight ago with a few more players from Loughgiel joining up recently, after some of the league panel dropped away with increased commitments.
Galway came back from a half-time deficit in their opening game to earn a draw with Tipperary and that will have encouraged them. This is a game they can win of course and all will depend on how the opening half develops.
Verdict: A hesitant vote that Portglenone will prove advantageous for the Saffrons
The Ragg: Tipperary v Westmeath
Westmeath had a very strong league campaign which ended in a narrow defeat in the final to Cork. They also lost out to an injury-time goal in the Minor championship final to Antrim.
There is a lot of talent coming through at the minute and, even though this is their first season in the Intermediate championship, they are expected to make the semi-finals.
Their 6-13 to 2-5 eclipse of lowly Kildare was expected, but it was very clinical in execution and Tipperary will be on their guard.
Tipp for their part had a draw with Galway in their opening game, 3-11 to 2-14. They did reasonably well in the league, finishing third in their section, but then Westmeath comfortably defeated Section winners Kilkenny in the semi-finals.
Verdict: Westmeath to keep their run going for another week.
Hawksfield centre: Kildare v Kilkenny
Kildare are at home, but they need a lot more than home advantage to beat Kilkenny
Group 2 results to date:
June 16: Kilkenny 3-14 Antrim 0-6, Galway 3-11 Tipperary 2-14, Westmeath 6-13 Kildare 2-5