Down camogie star Maria McNally preparing for tough tests ahead
THIS time last year no one could have foreseen the summer season that Down's camogie team would have – a first Ulster title in 13 years and a run that ended with All-Ireland final defeat to Cork.
Goalkeeper Maria McNally doesn't think it was really as unexpected as others made it out to be.
“No, I think we all knew that the potential was there in the county, that we had some of the top players in Ulster,'' she said.
“It was a case really of harnessing that potential and last year we managed to do that.
“Last year we lost all the league games, some heavily and that meant that we came into games as underdogs and we used that well.
“Martina (Rooney, manager) came in and got us all training and fighting for the same thing, going in the same direction and when you get that it doesn't really matter if you have 30 girls in the panel or just 16 or 17.
“This year our panel if anything is strengthened.
“We had to play the four league games without the Clonduff girls who were winning the All-Ireland club title and new players came in, some of them still minors.
“And a few from last year stood up to lead when the Carrs and Paula (O'Hagan) were away
“Momentum was a huge thing for us. We got the ball rolling in the relegation play-off and then into the Ulster and All-Ireland games.”
The Down minors also impressed in the All-Ireland during the spring after a less than ominous start.
“No they lost the first three games and then took off. Momentum again,'' she added.
“You had Sorcha McCartan scoring 2-8 in the minor semi-final. She played during our league campaign. A brilliant prospect.
“So too Aoibhinn Brentnall, Anna McKee and the Clonduff girls, Beth Fitzpatrick, and others who were minors in the senior panel last year who are coming through a lot stronger this year.”
Apart from younger players coming through, the return from Australia of Karen McMullan and Karen Tinnelly has boosted the squad.
“Yeah, the two Karens played last when we won the All-Ireland Junior four years ago and they are very experienced,'' added McNally. “Karen Tinnelly has been working her way back from a cruciate injury and Karen McMullan only came back in during Easter week.
“It would be great if either or both got back to where they were at before they left and that would really push us on.
It would be great to get back to Croke Park in September but the dental nurse in Newtownards is just waiting for Down to bare their teeth in the Ulster Championship: “Who doesn't want to be in Croke Park in September? But every season is different and I have played long enough with Down not to expect to get to Croke Park.
“Last year we took every game on its own and kept going.
“This year we aren't complacent or cocky or anything, but from last year we know that we have to dig deep.
“It will probably be tougher this year because teams know what we did last year.”
Down play Derry this weekend in the Ulster semi-final and in three weeks' time the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship begins with a game away to Tipperary who won the Division 2 league title at Easter.
McNally said: “Look they are both hard openers, we know that.
“We can only do our best on each day and then see what is ahead of us.”