Aimee McAleenan: commitment of Down camogs paying dividends
CLONES 10 weeks ago was a test of endurance for Aimee McAleenan.
Four or five minutes into the Ulster final on the first Sunday of June, the Liatroim Fontenoys’ player received a slap across her hand. After a stoppage for treatment, she remained on the pitch and saw out Down’s 2-8 to 0-10 win over Antrim that put together back-to-back titles. But her wrist had already begun to swell.
She had broken it.
“I was told that I would be in a cast for up to six weeks, but I wanted back before that and we looked at ways of speeding it up. The goal from the start was to get game time against Derry on July 20th.
“It didn’t look like happening the week before but I could sense training was getting better and on the Thursday evening I was told to be ready as I was likely to come in as a sub. Then when Sara Louise (Carr) picked up an injury after about 20 minutes I got in and scored a point.”
That return in double-quick time was just another indicator that the Queen’s University student has become a different person over the course of the past twelve months.
“Yeah, that is probably true. This time last year I started my placement year in Scor in Dublin and fitting work from there in with club and county camogie has been a challenge. It is a lot different to student life.
“You have to go in earlier and leave before 4.30pm on training evenings and generally re-organise yourself. Everyone has to make some sacrifices; you have Niamh Mallon travelling from Galway and Fionnuala Carr and I were travelling from Dublin,” maintains Aimee who will begin her final year Finance degree next month.
Her change in life-style came shortly after a gear-change for Down camogie that saw them without a manager in April 2018, yet in an All-Ireland final just over four months later.
“We kind of had a crisis meeting and Fionnuala (Carr) challenged us to turn it around. Martina Rooney came in, she is a very positive person and they brought in Derek (Dunne from Laois) to sort training and we really haven’t looked back. It is a great set-up and I think we are all enjoying it. It is easy to buy into.
“I would say that the players drive it as much as the management. We have an input and the management facilitate that and then set out how we play in a game. We have set up differently in a few games this year and it has worked out well for us.”
The midfielder cum forward admitted that the team was drifting after winning the 2014 All-Ireland Junior.
“I was one of a few very young players coming into the squad around that time – Dearbhla Magee and Deirbhle Savage were like me. We were hoping to push on and win Intermediate as well.
“But some of the more experienced players had different ideas. They had invested a few years in winning the Junior and a couple felt that it was time to retire, others went travelling and some decided to focus on post-grads and other things they had put off. So we never really kicked on until now.”
“Last year showed us what we were capable of and this year we have pushed on again. We had the club championship games last Wednesday and trained Saturday and Sunday and will train twice more this week. We want to get back to Croke Park.”
Westmeath stand between Down and a return to the Dublin 3 venue where they lost to Cork last September. The semi-final is this Saturday in Clones and Aimee believes the venue will help them.
“We played the Ulster final there before the Cavan v Armagh Ulster football championship. So there was a good crowd there. We know the ground alright and would expect to get a decent crowd there to support us.
“I don’t know too much about Westmeath other than that they reached a minor final and Division Two National League final on the same weekend last year. They will be good enough. The management will decide how best to play them and we will work on a few things this week.”
The Finance under-graduate has invested quite a bit of herself in the Down syndicate’s efforts to get back to Croke Park.
So far that investment has been paying dividends and the stock will rise again if they do the business in Clones on Saturday.