Hurling and camogie

Liatroim's long-serving Karen McMullan thrilled to be back with Down camogie

Down camogie's joint-captain Karen McMullan in action against Derry's Aoife Ni Chaiside.
Picture Seamus Loughran
Seamas McAleenan

Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Intermediate final

Saturday 5th December 3.45pm in Kingspan Breffni : Down v Antrim

THE joint-captains of the Down team that will this weekend contest their second Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Intermediate final in three seasons are long-serving defenders Fionnuala Carr and Karen McMullan.

But Karen missed the 2018 defeat to Cork in Croke Park.

“Well, I didn’t totally miss it. I watched it from more than 10,000 miles away. It was about 1am or 2am in Sydney and I was screaming and shouting at the TV,” claims the Liatroim Fontenoys player.

“I went out to Australia at the end of 2015 and was planning to come home in the spring of 2019. Watching that final made me really want to get back playing for Down.”

McMullan arrived back in Ireland around Easter last year and was soon out at club training.

“I was then called into county training a couple of weeks before the Ulster semi-final against Derry. Although I had been busy playing football and camogie for Michael Cusack’s over in Sydney all the time I was out there, I didn’t really know what shape I would be for competing for a place in a squad that had reached the All-Ireland final six months earlier.”

The dual star, who had won All-Ireland Junior medals in both codes in the space of a fortnight in September 2014, was drafted into the team that beat Derry in the Athletic Grounds and then went on to beat Antrim in Clones to retain their Ulster crown.

“That was a big deal for me. I had been playing for Down for a dozen years before I left for Sydney and couldn’t get my hands on an Ulster medal. So I really treasure it.”

However Clones was also where the Down ladies fell by a single point to Westmeath later in the summer of 2019.

“In sport, you either win games or learn from them. It didn’t make it any easier to accept when Westmeath went on to win in Croke Park. But we are making up for it with the run to this year’s final,” says the PE teacher based in St Mary’s Glasnevin in Dublin for the past 15 months.

“There were four of us travelling last year – Derek (Dunne, the manager), Fionnuala (Carr) and Aimee McAleenan. But the others have all got closer to home. Derek and Fionnuala are now in Newry and Aimee has gone back to uni. So I am travelling on my own now.

“I don’t mind it, but it tires you when you have to get into a car and drive back to Dublin after a midweek training session at this time of year. Winning the games in recent weeks makes it all worthwhile however.”

Although McMullan returned from sunny Sydney where there would be 35 degrees at this time of year, she was used to training, playing and winning games in wet and windy Irish Novembers during the early part of her career.

“That was the weather we had when I was breaking into the club team. Back then Liatroim was winning the county title every year, doing well in Ulster and the All-Ireland semis and finals would follow in November.”

The Fontenoys won back to back All-Ireland Intermediate club titles in 2004-2005.

“We had great leaders in our team at that time – Mo Mac (Máirín McAleenan), Nuala Magee – and we were a really committed group.

“Mo Mac used to give me lifts to county training and matches before I could drive. There are still a few of the players around from that time, like Fionnuala (Carr) and Catherine McGourty.

“But you have Nuala’s daughter Dearbhla Magee playing behind me now for club and county and a lot of younger players that have come in, even from that All-Ireland final two years ago. There is a great buzz with the team and that has possibly come from not having to juggle club and county commitment each week.”

The defender believes the two best teams have reached the final.

“We would have been looking at that pairing from the start of the competition – as long as we avoided each other. And I think both Down and Antrim have proven themselves by remaining unbeaten.

“It’s a derby final and anything can happen. Look at the wins for Cavan and Tipperary in football. If a team is up for the game, they can be carried by momentum.

“During lockdown, you wondered if you would ever get a game of camogie in 2020. So you won’t hear any of the Down girls complaining about having to play at this time of the year. We feel privileged to get the chance.

“The only down side of it has been the absence of family and friends at matches. There are women in my club maybe 80 years of age who would never miss a club or county game and you miss seeing them in the stand shouting us on.”

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Hurling and camogie