ANTRIM’S Ciara Brown says the team’s appearance in this weekend’s Ulster Intermediate Championship final is testament to how far the county has come over the past few years.
The Saffrons, who won last year’s All-Ireland Junior title, find themselves 60 minutes from a first intermediate crown, but standing in their way are defending champions Tyrone (Sunday, Owenbeg, 1.30pm).
Understandably, it’s a big day for Antrim but it’s not one that seems to faze them.
“It’s a big occasion for Antrim and it is new territory for us. I feel as though it is a statement of how far we have come. I am always excited to play in any final and with this being my first Intermediate Ulster final I can’t wait,” said Brown.
The St Paul’s player missed out on playing last year after having her baby son, Currágh, almost a year ago, although she did join up with the panel towards.
She was straight back in when pre-season got underway to play her part in their Division Four league success, following that up with a first provincial championship win at intermediate level over Monaghan to secure their place in this weekend’s final.
“Having played senior county for six years, missing out on last year was tough especially with all the success but it pushed me to get back to be a part of it this year. Being a part of the panel again surrounded by the best bunch of girls and management pushing on with our success, lifting the Division Four national league trophy and making our way to an Ulster final is exactly what I worked hard for, and I am loving being back,” she enthuses.
Brown certainly has her hands full balancing being a parent, working, university and playing football for club and county, but she is spurred on by doing her best to make baby Currágh proud.
“It can be a lot sometimes and can be overwhelming,” she says.
“I feel guilty for being out a lot at night during the week because county training can be quite late. However, I make up for it.
“Having Currágh makes football more enjoyable because now I have my own mini supporter there with me for all my matches and he reminds me of how hard I’ve work,” said the 21-year-old.
There is no doubt Antrim are on an upward curve and are enjoying great success at the minute, something that has been boosted by having the management team of Emma Kelly and Kyla Trainor, two former inter-county players
“Coming in from a county players background themselves they understand what has to be done. They have lifted our work rate and intensity (Kyla loves her sprints) and have encouraged us to play smart football which I think Antrim had lacked for some time.
“With Emma already having friendships with most girls on the panel from playing with them previously it is also very easy to approach and address anything. They have also brought in Oisin who is our psychologist which has been very beneficial he helps out girls who need to talk.
“They have filled the county with hope again and showed us that we are not “only Antrim” and have worked tirelessly to get us up and out of Div 4 and Junior and up where we should be.”
Their victory then over Monaghan in their first round robin game of this championship did not come as a shock to Brown and her team-mates.
“I think it was a shock to a lot of people, but for us it was definitely a realisation as we went out believing we had a chance but knew it would be a tough game and could go either way. It gave us a boost in confidence and now we know we deserve to be where we are.
“For Antrim it would be an amazing achievement.
“To finally get out of Junior and go straight through to win an intermediate Ulster final will make history as it has never been done before and it is exactly what we deserve.
“We are on our way up and it shows we aren’t ready to stop at intermediate.”