IT WAS a busy 2021 for Loughgiel and Antrim star Maeve Shannon (née Connolly) who prepares for another Ulster final clash with champions Sleacht Néill on Saturday (Lavey, 1pm).
After helping Antrim to All-Ireland glory, Maeve tied the knot with husband Ciaran in December and is back bidding for more silverware.
”It has been a long year, but it is not a bad complaint to have because we were so successful,” she recalls of a season that began with county training over Zoom classes last January.
“The All-Ireland was in September so we were flat out and the club only really started after that. It has been long, but it has been very rewarding.”
Maeve was one of the Loughgiel players on the county squad, leaving numbers sparse on the club scene over the summer. The remaining senior players, as well as the club’s reserve the thirds players, kept the flag flying on the local scene.
The reserves take on Ballymacnab in the Ulster Junior B semi-final later this month, while the thirds were hit by a late Hannah McGuigan goal as St John’s stopped their Antrim treble hopes.
“In the summer months the number at (club) training were very poor with 14 of us away, so it suffered in that sense, but in the long run I think it worked out well for us,” Maeve said. “The experience we all gained playing in those matches, I would like to hope that would stand to us and it has brought us on, but it was difficult for the girls not on the county, they were holding the fort at home.”
Camogie is a way of life in Loughgiel and having three teams on the go helps cater for everyone.
“I can remember the junior team being introduced and that is donkey’s years ago,” Shannon said. “It has been going for a decade now and there is good numbers, with 45 or 50 girls training.”
Saturday’s Ulster final is a ninth meeting of Sleacht Néill and Loughgiel, with the Derry side holding sway. Barring Loughgiel’s 2015 success and the 2016 and 2020 drawn finals, the Shamrocks – now managed by former Sleacht Néill manager PJ O’Mullan junior – have come out on the wrong side of the remaining games.
“Yeah, I have played in every single one of them unfortunately, good and bad. At the start we beat Slaughtneil (2015),” Maeve pointed out.
This weekend offers another chance at redemption for Loughgiel and year after year they’ve faced the difficult task of coming back in search of glory that has eluded them.
“It has been hard,” she said. “Circumstances have changed for some of the girls. If I was to compare the team from 2015, it has changed quite dramatically since then.
“A lot of the girls have moved away and the young ones have come through and that has helped, it hasn’t been the same team every year but any matter of means.
“It takes an awful lot on our part to pick ourselves up and go again,” she added, while making reference to the 2020 drawn final and replay being so close to Saturday’s clash.
“I think this one was even tougher because was because it (drawn game) was so close. Last year we missed playing them and because we hadn’t played them in so long it seemed that wee bit fresher in that particular game and everybody was so up for it.
“It doesn’t get any easier and I suppose for Sleacht Néill it doesn’t get any better, winning each one.”