Hurling and camogie

McNaughton seeking perfect birthday present at Croke Park

Antrim's Lucia McNaughton (right) will be hoping for many happy returns when she takes part in the All-Ireland Intermediate final in Croke on her birthday on Sunday

Picture: INPHO/John McVitty
BY SEAMAS McALEENAN

All-Ireland Intermediate camogie championship final

THERE is only one thing that Antrim camogie captain Lucia McNaughton wants for her 26th birthday on September 12 and she is now just one step away from getting “the best birthday present ever”.

“I looked at the All-Ireland schedule at the start of the season and wondered if we would get to Croke Park for my birthday. Last Saturday we managed it and it took the best team performance we have produced yet.”

Antrim survived a late scare to make the Croke Park date against Kilkenny with a 2-13 to 1-13 win over Galway in a sun-drenched and energy-sapping semi-final in Clones.

“We got our two goals early in the game and they gave us a bit of a cushion. There were always going to be times that Galway would come back at us because they are such a good team. We knew that from the league quarter-final back in June. They are a tough, tough team.

“During any match your opponents can have a purple patch and it is a matter of riding those out. Saturday’s game was very hard work, but we were excellent at tracking the runners and our defence was so good.

“Cáitríona (Graham) was brilliant in goals and everyone right out from her.”

McNaughton’s brother James has been starring for Antrim hurlers over the last few seasons and he got the satisfaction of seeing captain Conor McCann lift the Joe McDonagh Cup in Croke Park last December.

Meanwhile Lucia and her team-mates had to play their All-Ireland Intermediate final against Down in Kingspan Breffni Park a week earlier.

“We missed out on playing the final in Croke Park. It is every player’s dream to play there and if you play camogie that doesn’t happen too often.

“Of course Down beat us in the final in Breffni and that was a disappointment too. As well as all that our parents, family, friends and everyone could not come to Breffni because of the Covid restrictions.

“We got used to that situation in the games before the final, having only your team-mates there to greet you coming off the pitch. But it meant a lot to us this year that the people who really support us whether we win or lose have been getting back to our matches.

“My parents were in Clones for the semi-final and you had the parents and family of other players coming to greet you after the final whistle. To see those smiles and hear their cheers, it has really brought back what was missing last year.”

However, last season also brought innovations that would never have happened only for Covid and the Antrim captain is hopeful that some will remain.

“The streaming of games was a great side effect of Covid last year and it has been fantastic that it is continuing because my grandfather John can’t get to games and it is brilliant that he can see them on stream and feel part of the occasion.”

John McNaughton is also grandfather to corner-back Maria Lynn and the hurl and sliotar run deep in the McNaughton veins with Lucia’s father Seamus a member of the Loughgiel team that won the club All-Ireland hurling title in 1983.

John’s wife Mary (née McGarry) was just 18 years old when she helped Antrim win the All-Ireland senior title in 1947. Like granddaughter Lucia, Mary was a midfielder stuck in the thick of the action.

Lucia’s older sister Úna has also been a winner in Croke Park as a member of the Australian camogie team in the World games a few years ago. And Lucia is hoping to continue a family tradition at Headquarters.

“It would be a great finish to a great season for us – and a great way to celebrate my birthday.”

When Antrim last won the All-Ireland senior title in Croke Park 42 years ago, goalkeeper Carol Blaney was celebrating her 21st birthday and she produced a Player of the Match performance. McNaughton is not setting her sights on that kind of finish however.

“I will be happy enough to get my hands on the Jack McGrath Cup in the Hogan Stand. That will make my birthday just perfect.”

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Hurling and camogie