Down camogie star Niamh Mallon is getting back to her best after injury
NIAMH Mallon got Down off to a great start with a goal in the third minute of the show-piece Ulster senior final in Clones on Sunday, but she never felt that the reigning champions were going to get it easy against Antrim.
“Certainly not. After we beat Derry in the semi-final, there was a lot of people blowing up our chances going into the final. But the team never saw it that way.
“Yes it was good to beat Derry, but every game is a different challenge. And Antrim pushed us hard. It was a really tough hard-hitting game.
“We had to show a lot of grit and determination and, against the breeze in the second half, we had a real fight on our hands.”
However the Portaferry ace, who top-scored in the final for the second year running, felt that it wasn’t a great performance overall from the winners.
“We probably switched off for a while after getting the good start and we shot a lot of wides – again.”
That was in reference to the semi-final against Derry when they missed the target on no fewer than 14 occasions and they managed to amass the same total in Clones.
“I have to take responsibility for a good few of those. But Antrim has to take credit for the pressure they put on throughout.
“One thing about us however is that we won’t give up and we kept battling and I think that the goal came from that pressure.”
The goal in question was the second one in the 42nd minute when Mallon continued a move down the left wing involving Fionnuala Carr and Paula O’Hagan. Mallon’s shot from an angle was brilliantly saved by Loughgiel goal-minder Megan Coyles, but Sara Louise Carr followed up to find the net.
That goal gave Down a six points’ cushion and, while the Saffrons came back immediately with two points, Down saw out the game with a bit of a cushion.
“I’m delighted to get another Ulster medal. I’ve been playing for quite a few years and last year’s win was such a relief for us all. I can only imagine what it was like for Fionnuala (Carr), who was in her 17th year with Down before she got that medal.
Mallon missed most of the league campaign with a knee injury, but seems to be back to the level of fitness that took her to last year’s Ulster GAA Writers’ Player of the Year and a Camogie Soaring Star award.
“No, I am not 100% yet, but getting there. The knee is coming on week after week and I am getting more confident with it. Hopefully the injury is behind me and I can enjoy the games coming up.
“We have training again on Tuesday evening and no-one will be taking it easy. We have a real tough opener to the All-Ireland campaign, away to Tipperary the weekend after next.
“This team has ambition and we want to push on and win more medals. Last year we had momentum and we worked hard. Hopefully the past two weekends have given us more momentum for this year.”
So then, not much in the way of celebrations for the Down squad, but given the intensity that they brought to the two Ulster championship games, they can travel with some confidence to play the league champions in Tipperary on Saturday 15th – as long as they can lower their wides’ count.