Last Tuesday night, Emma Connolly was on hand to collect her Gaelic Life Ulster Club Camogie Player of the Year award. This weekend, she returns to on-field action as she bids to help her side to what would be a remarkable victory over Oulart-the-Ballagh and book Loughgiel’s passage to the All-Ireland Senior Club final.
Connolly received the accolade for her captivating displays at the heart of the Loughgiel defence as they marched to Antrim and Ulster honours. They gained their revenge on Rossa in the semi-finals, before a commanding county final win over Portglenone ensured that they would fly the flag for Ulster in the All-Ireland stages.
Central to it all was Connolly, a fantastic reader of the game who was the starting point of so many of her side’s attacking moves with her excellent long-range distribution up-field. Never will those qualities be needed more than this weekend when they welcome the Wexford and Leinster champions to Casement Park for what is set to be a thrilling battle.
Parochial bragging rights in Ulster have already been secured, but now is the opportunity to go up against some of the best in the business, with the prize of a Croke Park All-Ireland final appearance on the line.
“There’s no doubt about it, they’re a quality side. You only have to run through the names on their team-sheet and realise how many of them have won All-Irelands at various levels, year in year out. But that’s the standard you want to be up against.
“Come Sunday at 2.30 it’s game on. We’ll show them the respect that they deserve, but not too much. There’ll be no red carpet at Casement for them, not when there’s a place in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park at stake.”
The task facing them may be a big one, but Loughgiel are where they want to be. They reaped their revenge by reclaiming those Antrim and Ulster titles, and have bounced back stronger than ever. Rather than settle for what they have achieved to date though, Connolly reveals that those provincial honours were only the first step, and their journey continues.
“After losing the title last year, you definitely do come back more determined. There’s been a tremendous drive and hunger in all of the girls right from the word go, and that carried on throughout the season.
“We took two or three weeks off after the Ulster Championship, because we needed the break, but after that we got right back into it. We had one week off over Christmas, but other than that it’s been training three times a week, and challenge matches the past three weeks, so it’s been very busy, but we feel that we’re in a good place.”
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