THERESE Mellon admits Sleacht Néill are in the ‘lucky position’ of not having tasted defeat too often, but the lesson handed out by All-Ireland champions Oulart the Ballagh has left a new benchmark.
Mellon announced herself on the national stage with a breath-taking goal to see off Tipperary’s Burgess-Duharra on their way to the 2017 All-Ireland title.
After defeating Loughgiel to win a fifth Ulster Championship, Sleacht Néill were on the wrong end of a 2-15 to 1-11 defeat to the Wexford champions after trailing 1-5 to 0-0 early on in December’s clash.
“We just said after the match that we are going to bottle this feeling and don’t want to feel this any time soon,” Mellon recalls of their defeat.
“We now know the level we need to be at to be right up there at the top again. Oulart were amazing, probably the best team we have ever played. I think they definitely had an edge that we had never seen before
“We were so happy to see them win the All-Ireland final because they deserved it. They definitely blew us away and set a benchmark for where we want to be.”
Saturday’s clash with their Ulster rivals Loughgiel comes in the wake of their 2020 drawn and replayed Ulster finals before Christmas.
It left the Sleacht Néill players with a hectic schedule that felt abnormal.
“We never had this workload before and it was quite hard to cancel this (2021) match out, but once you are in the thick of things and once you are out playing, the 2020 is just as important coming up,” said Mellon who praised the management team for keeping the minds focussed on whatever challenge came along the path next.
”We wouldn’t have it any other way,” she conceded of a run of high-octane clashes that have littered the winter months since their first Ulster title in 2016.
“It is such a privileged position and we know how important it is to be in this position, to be out again fighting for another Ulster title.
“We all do love camogie, it’s what we do and it kinda defines us. It is part of our lives. We did have a nice break over Christmas to reset and I think it is very important to reset mentally and physically.”
Looking ahead to a ninth meeting of the sides, Mellon accepts that both Loughgiel and Sleacht Néill are sick looking at one another.
“We know them inside out and they know us inside out and it is scary knowing that,” she added, while pondering what fresh element they can bring to the table.
When asked to expand on the word ‘privileged’ in relation to the club championship, Mellon recognises the increase in media coverage since their first All-Ireland final in 2017. She refers to the ‘20×20’ campaign geared at having 20 per cent more recognition, of participation in and attendance at female sport by 2020.
“That’s probably how far we have come,” Therese pointed out. “We are treated as professionals and the respect we get as women in sport is incredible. It is really important for the younger generations, having role models and it broke the barrier for them coming through. And it is a privilege to see we have done that.
“It has made a difference and we are attracting bigger numbers for matches, which is great to see.”