Big week for Antrim and Armagh
LAST Sunday proved to be a proud one for Ulster as both Antrim and Armagh laid claim to All-Ireland titles at Croke Park.
First up were Antrim, who won their high noon showdown against Louth by 3-9 to 1-7 to make them All-Ireland Intermediate champions. Following hot on their heels were Armagh, who proved that they too were up to the challenge as they saw off Waterford by 1-12 to 1-5 to be crowned All-Ireland Intermediate Championship winners.
The honour of climbing the Croke Park steps as Saffrons captain fell to Claire Timoney, who admits that she had not dared to allow herself to dream of their possible success until it became a reality.
“It was incredible, one of those things that you always dream about. I hadn’t thought about it, I didn’t want to allow myself to believe that it could actually happen. I was scared to think about it in case it didn’t happen.
“I wrote a speech on Saturday afternoon. I had given it to Áine [McElroy, Antrim selector] so she was running up and down the sideline afraid of losing it. I’m just so happy that not only did we win it, but that we went out and performed to the level we were capable of.”
The Saffrons attended a function inside the Hogan Stand before returning to Bewley’s Hotel, where they had stayed the previous night, for a meal before heading northwards to Antrim. The Tumbledown Inn in Moneyglass was their destination where they partied with friends and family, before their celebrations moved to Belfast on Monday.
It was a few days in her footballing career and indeed in her life which Timoney insists will live long in the memory, and the knowledge that she will forever be known as an All-Ireland winning captain is something that she will always be grateful for.
“I got up on Monday morning and watched it all through again, because you’re so wrapped up in the moment that you don’t really see what is happening around you. It sounded on the TV like I was shouting, but at the time it was because there was so much noise all around me that I felt I had to talk louder for everyone to hear me.
“A lot of my family were down for it, and they were absolutely delighted. My granny was crying, everyone was just so happy and it was such a great occasion to be part of, one I know I certainly won’t forget.”
They may not have been aware of it, but as well as delivering their own glory, Antrim were also inspiring their Ulster colleagues Armagh to All-Ireland success.
Orchard captain Mags McAlinden reveals that her side were well aware of Antrim’s exploits out on the Croke Park field as they watched from inside the bowels of the Cusack Stand going through their own pre-match preparations.
“When we arrived at Croke Park, we went out and watched a bit of the game. Then when we went back inside, we were watching it on the screens. I was delighted to see Claire Timoney, someone who I played alongside for Jordanstown, having the chance to go up there and lift the cup. It was definitely a big boost for us, and gave us that little bit of extra motivation to make it two wins for Ulster.”
The Clann Éireann player admits that such was her euphoria at the final whistle that she actually forgot her captain’s duties, needing a prompting from Armagh boss James Daly to remind her that she had to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand to accept the cup.
“When the hooter went, I was so busy celebrating. I was with my sister Catherine and we were just so emotional. It was only whenever the manager came over and said ‘Mags, you’ve to go up there and lift the cup’ that reality set in. There was definitely a case of jelly legs… and a jelly voice when I was given the microphone.
“There was so much noise, the Armagh supporters were great and really came out in their numbers for us. When Waterford were putting the pressure on in the last ten minutes they really kept us going and helped to get us over the line.
“Someone said to me after the match that I could now be put in the same bracket as Kieran McGeeney, and I told them that wasn’t a bad thing and that I’d take that any day! In fairness though I’m just so happy that we did it. Sunday was just the best feeling ever, one that you dream about from when you start playing football. It was amazing from start to finish.”
Mags reveals that her father Brian was a proud man on Sunday afternoon. He enjoyed many big days out as both a player and manager with the Orchard county, but watching his two daughters claim All-Ireland glory at Croke Park perhaps surpassed them all.
Goalkeeper Catherine was central to their success, saving a second-half penalty to keep her side in front. As she stood between the posts at the Davin Stand end of the ground, no doubt her father’s advice was still ringing in her ears.
“He was a very proud man. He was speaking to Catherine before she left, and told her that if she faced a penalty, to take two steps to the left and she’d have it covered. So it proved to be the case. He has a very big influence on both myself and Catherine, he always has advice or guidance for us whenever we look for it, and I know that he was a very proud man and it was great to see him after the final whistle.”
Armagh’s team bus made its way from Jones’ Road up the M1 to the Carrickdale Hotel, sponsors of the team, where McAlinden reveals that the Orchard county had turned out in force to help them celebrate their remarkable success.
“We got back to the Carrickdale and everyone was outside to meet us. There was a guard of honour the whole way into the Carrickdale, it was just a sea of orange and white everywhere. Carrying the cup in there was something very special. All of our families and friends were there, as well as the likes of Paul McGrane and Aidan O’Rourke who were in at times helping us over the course of the season, so it meant a lot to see them there showing their support for us as well.”