Hurling and camogie

Dual star Eimhear McAleenan keeps on playing and dancing

Eimhear McAleenan (left) with her sisters Caoimhe and Úna after the Antrim final win over St Paul's.
Louise Gunn

"I didn’t want it to define me and I hope to keep going as long as I can and for me to be the one to decide when the time is to stop.”

Eimhear McAleenan was 19 when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2012. Put on the highest dosage of treatment to help her manage and control the condition, the Con Magee's and Brídíní Óga dual player was adamant it was not going to stop her playing sport or dancing with the Loughgiel School of Irish Dance.

Crohn’s disease is one type of a condition called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and although there is no cure, treatment can help reduce or control your symptoms. Living with Crohn's disease can be difficult at times with unpredictable flare-ups and the need for regular check-ups, but as Eimhear shows, if symptoms are well controlled, you can live a normal life with the condition.

The only time it stopped her from doing anything was that year she was diagnosed but since then she has been able to pursue what she loves.

“For the last seven years I have been managing and controlling it with treatment and have been able to get on with things and not let it stop me from playing my sport,” said McAleenan.

“In 2012 though I didn’t play any sport, but I didn’t want having the condition to define me and I wanted to keep doing what I loved and bit by bit I build myself back up again. I didn’t want the reason to stop doing things that I love and want to do to be Crohn’s.”

The 26-year-old is a relative latecomer to ladies football but no doubt her athleticism on the camogie pitch for Brídíní Óga, the camogie wing of the Con Magees Glenravel club, and on the Irish dancing stage, has helped her make the smooth transition. She only started playing a few years back when Glenravel, nestled between Martinstown and Cargan, first fielded a senior team in 2017, and won the Antrim junior title and followed that up an intermediate county title this year defeating St Paul’s II, with McAleenan playing in the heart of the Glenravel defence.

Now the primary school teacher and her team-mates are preparing for an Ulster Junior Club Championship semi-final against Donegal champions Naomh Mhuire tomorrow week. Already in Ulster they have defeated Armagh and Derry champions Granemore and Claudy and are now just one step away from a first ever provincial final.

Glenravel’s exceptional run of form this year is all the more sweet for McAleenan who at the beginning of the year underwent surgery to have part of her colon removed.

“I had surgery in January of this year to remove part of my colon. I was off school for six weeks and after about 10 weeks I was back exercising. Since then I haven’t much bother and I have been able to get back to full fitness,” explained McAleenan who teaches in St Brigid’s Primary School, Ballymena.

“I was on the highest dosage of treatment that I could have been on and after months and years it stops having the desired effect so surgery was my next option. I had part of my colon removed in Antrim Area Hospital. They have got to know me well in there over the last few years,” she laughs.

Juggling camogie, of which she is the team captain, although that season is now over, having lost for a third time to Loughgiel in the Antrim intermediate final, and her busy Irish dancing regime, which saw her travel to Wales in July for the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod with the school where they won four competitions including World Traditional Dance and Overall Dance champions, as well as football, is exhausting enough for anyone but when managing her condition as well, it means she has to be extra vigilant to what her body is trying to tell her.

“There are times when I know I am maybe not in the best of form. But learning how to manage and control it, I know when my body needs to take notice and listen to it and make adjustments. Like in September I knew I was run down and tired. It had been hectic with football and camogie and Irish dancing, going back to school and when I feel like that I know I have to manage my well being and that is what I do now.

“I just ease back a little and look after myself. My managers are very understanding. They trust that I know my body and and that I know what to do and they let me ease off when I have to.”

It is very much new territory for McAleenan and her team-mates as they prepare for next week’s semi-final but just as she has taken everything in her stride over the past seven years, this is no different.

“It is very different playing Ulster football compared to your county. It really is stepping into the unknown and you have just got to trust your own team performance and trust your team-mates. It has worked well for us so far and we are really looking forward to the semi-final. We have a great chance here and we will give it everything”.

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