Experienced Glenravel forward McAleenan soaking up long-awaited Ulster championship glory
EIMHEAR McAleenan has seen it all.
Brídíní Óga camogie club began life in Glenravel two decades ago with teams entered in the Antrim U12 and u10 leagues. She played on both those teams and on Saturday scored nine points as the north Antrim club beat Granemore from Armagh to win the AIB Ulster Junior club title for the first time.
“Of all recent campaigns, this one was probably the one we had least expectation of winning. Since we won the Bridie McMenamin Shield six or seven years ago, our aim was to win the Antrim Intermediate and get another run in Ulster.
“For the first three years we got to the Antrim final, but were beaten by Loughgiel. We just didn't play well in each of the finals and that isn't taking anything from Loughgiel. We played well each year to get into the final, but I don't know what happened when we got there.
“Then we lost a semi-final to Rossa and last year we got knocked out in the first round by Cargin,” continues the primary school teacher in St Bridget's, Ballymena.
“The way the leagues were run in Antrim this year didn't help us either as a camogie team. There was just one league game between April and the 31st July. Luckily a lot of the younger girls were eligible to play in Division Three. We had Laoise (McKenna) with the county and three or four others in the county football team.”
The football leagues continued however and Eimhear and plenty of the senior camogie team played football right through the summer. Indeed just 24 hours after the camogie team got their revenge on Cargin in the semi-final of the championship, 12 of that team started the Antrim Intermediate football final against St Gall's. They won it as well.
“It was hard keeping the momentum going for camogie. But the management team got players back in the middle of August and we started to get a run through the championship.”
McAleenan though remembers the days when it was hard to field an adult team.
“We had a senior team for about eight or nine years before we won a single game in the Junior championship. One day we had just 12 players against Gort na Móna, others on the panel went to the Lammas Fair instead. But we got through that.
“When we won the Antrim junior and the Bridie McMenamin, we expected to kick on. There were some very good teams coming through underage at the time and the senior panel was getting stronger. Just we couldn't get it right in the Antrim championship.
“This year we have more young players like Erin (Coulter), Aisling (Mulholland) and Clodagh McPeake coming out of under 16 and playing well in the team. Clodagh is actually injured at the minute, but Aisling and Erin would have been close to Player of the Match today against Granemore.
“Between football and camogie, county minors in one or other, schools' camogie, those girls have had a lot of games this year and a lot of success as well. They are winners though and that drives us older players on.
“Did I ever think during the year that we would win Ulster? Honestly, no. But after every game we have felt that we are good enough to beat the next team we are playing and you could see that in the increased intensity at training.
“Now we play Adare next Sunday in the All-Ireland semi-final. Their quarter-final in London last week was streamed live and I know the management team watched it. We will find out what they think at our next training session.
“At the minute, it is just great to be Ulster champions.”