Ulster Senior Championship Camogie final
Down v Antrim
Sunday, Clones, 2pm
By Niall Gartland
THE Ulster Camogie championship may slip out of view almost as soon as it’s arrived, but Pat Ryan believes winning this Sunday’s final would be a major shot in the arm for the Antrim GAA family.
His team received a bye into the final, but that wouldn’t diminish the sense of achievement if they do the business against reigning champions Down in the famous old stadium at Clones.
The Antrim team last won the provincial title in 2016, ending four years of Derry dominance with a dramatic one-point victory, but it goes without saying that success is fairly sparse across the board at senior intercounty level in Antrim.
So with that in mind, their manager Pat Ryan says they’re desperate to pick up some silverware this Sunday, and it would also give the side momentum heading into the imminent All-Ireland Intermediate Championship.
“It’d be a great boost to us ahead of the championship, but it’d also be great for Antrim camogie. Antrim as a county needs a title of some sorts, it really could do with a lift.”
Ryan was part of the Antrim backroom team last summer and his admiration for the camogie team was such that he decided that coming on board as manager was an opportunity not to be missed.
The Limerick native doesn’t have far to travel as he’s actually moved up here, and he’s done the rounds at local club matches in the lengthy break between their league campaign and this Sunday’s Ulster final.
“With all the club activity in Antrim it’s hard to get the squad together, but it’s still great to be in the final nonetheless.
“The way I looked at it, if I pushed against the structures in place in Antrim, that wouldn’t work for anyone. I saw a lot of club matches and was driving around places like Cushendall. There isn’t really a template there for the intercounty team like there is in some other counties, but instead of arguing against it, I just decided to go to as many matches as possible.”
Ryan has drafted into two new faces into the panel ahead of Sunday’s game, and while they’re still extremely young, they need no introduction in Antrim camogie circles.
The Saffrons’ underage scene is in rude health at the minute and Loughiel’s Maeve Kelly and Ballycastle’s Roisin McCormick starred as Antrim retained their All-Ireland Minor ‘B’ Championship last season.
On the flip-side, Pat Ryan doesn’t have access to his Cushendall contingent this weekend as they are off to the United States (the Ulster final was initially pencilled in for June 9), while team-captain Katie McAleese is still recovering a rib injury.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s battle for provincial glory, Ryan said he was keen to emphasis his admiration for each and every member of his panel.
“There’s never any problem with the girls, they’re driven and determined. They drive from Belfast to the Glens, and from the Glens to Belfast and they don’t get expenses for doing it.
“They do it for the love of Antrim and the love of camogie. It’s just difficult to play together as a group due to club matches – I can see a good player here and there looking at club matches but the only worry is that we haven’t been together.”
Antrim played a recent challenge match against Down, but Ryan recognises that Sunday’s final will be a very different sort of contest with so much at stake.
The Mourne County won last year’s Ulster title and clinched an impressive five-point win over Derry in this year’s semi-final, so they’ll go in as favourites on Sunday.
“Their forwards are very lively and they’re as good as anyone in the country as far as I’m concerned. We played them in a recent challenge match and both teams were missing a few players.
“Their manager Martina Rooney is very easy to get on with and we said we’d try to help each other because we weren’t on the same side of the draw.”