THE Ulster title celebrations were still in full swing when Niall McCormack left to swap comparatively balmy Cushendall for the sub-zero temperatures of the Canadian Rockies in the early hours of Monday morning.
It completed a whirlwind weekend for the roving half-forward, who is currently training to be a ski instructor for the winter season in the Rocky Mountain resort of Jasper.
McCormack swapped Ireland for Canada last month, just days before Cushendall’s heart-stopping Ulster semi-final win over Portaferry, and will be there until May as he fulfils a long-held ambition on the slopes.
Having played such a pivotal part in the club’s first county championship success since 2018 – earning him an Antrim Allstar in the process – McCormack expected that dramatic final victory over Loughgiel to be his last taste of action in maroon this year.
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However, when the Ruairi Ogs eventually saw off Portaferry after extra-time to seal a shot at Slaughtneil, the calls and the texts from home started to land.
“I’ve only been out for just under three weeks, but it’s an unbelievable place,” said McCormack, who finished up a mechanical engineering degree at Queen’s University earlier this year.
“There was never really anything concrete in place until the semi-final was won, then there was a lot of word back home asking me to come back. Of course when everybody’s asking you, you want to show up for the team.
“I’d be chatting to the lads every day anyway, and then management have been keeping in touch as well. I was doing sessions out there to keep my fitness up as well, so I wasn’t too out of the loop.”
And while the physical side of things was ticking over, après ski McCormack made sure his touch remained intact too.
“You can book out squash courts in the activity centre so I was able to do a bit of hurling,” he smiled.
“There’s some lads from home already out there who are teaching me skiing at the minute, so there’s a few spare hurls lying about…”
As a result, when the call came, McCormack got the eight hour flight home, touching down on Friday afternoon before taking to the field at Pairc Esler less than 48 hours later.
Cool and composed under pressure, he picked up where he left off as Cushendall eventually took control against the Derry champions, ensuring the Four Seasons Cup would be headed back to the Glens on Sunday night.
But while pints were being pulled and put away elsewhere, he was packing up, ready to catch a bus to Dublin at 3am before flying back across the Atlantic to resume his intensive training course.
“I’ve been skiing since I was wee - my brother went out to the same place when he finished his A-levels, he absolutely loved it, so it was something I always wanted to do after uni.
“I’m loving it at the minute, I’ve loved the short time I’ve been there already and I can’t wait to go back and finish the season. But just being here now, even though it’s only a short trip, it’s amazing.
“All the travelling, it was well worth it; that’s feeling’s just unreal. You don’t really get it doing anything else I don’t think. There’s so much passion… I’m absolutely chuffed being here for this.”
An All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny kingpins O’Loughlin Gaels awaits in a fortnight’s time – another huge day in the Cushendall calendar as an unforgettable campaign continues towards Christmas.
Could he be tempted to make the trip back again? Only time will tell.
“I’ve no idea to be honest with you.
“It’s all up in the air, I’m not too sure now. I would love to, but I’m obviously committed to going out there as well.”