By Daragh Ó Conchúir
It is almost 41 years to the day since Antrim last reached the knockout stages of the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship but the current trailblazers and teams of yore are inextricably linked.
Anna Connolly (pictured above) is a member of the squad that takes on Tipperary in Saturday’s quarter-final at Croke Park (3.30pm).
Her mother Mary (née McMullan) played in the quarter-final defeat by Limerick at Adare on July 4, 1982. As a teenager, she had lined out at right wing-back when the last of Antrim’s six All-Ireland titles had been won three years previously.
There was a time when Antrim were superpowers of the game and current captain Lucia McNaughton and defender Maria Lynn-O’Hara have grown up on the stories of their late grandmother Maria McGarry, who was an 18-year-old player when the Saffrons sealed a famous All-Ireland three-in-a—row in 1947.
McNaughton has had an injury-interrupted campaign though should see some time on Saturday, having been introduced for her first championship minutes against Waterford last weekend.
Lynn only added the O’Hara to her surname in the middle of June and has postponed her honeymoon indefinitely until the inter-county season is concluded.
That’s what the jersey and the sports means and Connolly Snr is delighted that the gap to the last time Antrim were among the elite has been bridged.
“I attended the meeting in the Antrim Forum in the late 1980s when it was decided that the county be regraded to junior,” said Connolly in The Irish News this week. “There was no intermediate level at the time.
“I spoke against it on the night. I wanted Antrim to stay up because it is easier to go down a grade than it is to come back up. But the vote went against us. However, I never thought it would take this long to get back to where we once played.”
Connolly hails the groundwork that has brought Antrim back to this stage, despite being without at least five players that would be regulars through injury, or in the case of Chloe Drain, after becoming a mother.
“Anna and Róisín McCormick, Maeve Kelly and the rest all came through good work in development squads feeding into underage county teams. They were also successful at schools’ level and Cross & Passion lost a couple of All-Ireland senior A finals.
“The school structure in the county is very good at the minute… Loughgiel reaching the All-Ireland club final, clubs from the county able to compete at the top level.
“That is why this current squad has the best chance of staying at the top and building to become a team that can challenge for an All-Ireland. I think they are beginning to establish themselves among the top teams. There is a lack of confidence there at times, but that will develop with experience when you start to win at this level as they are doing at the minute.
“We have also been unlucky with injuries. Maeve Kelly, an outstanding camog, has still to play at this level and what a difference she would make. We are also missing Lucia at the minute, a great fielder and leader on the pitch.
“(But) contesting an All-Ireland quarter final in Croke Park is a huge step forward. What a lift it would be if they beat Tipperary on Saturday.”