Why is it then that while Ulster champions Crossmaglen Rangers are this Saturday going for their sixth All-Ireland senior club football title in recent years, their hurling counterparts, Loughgiel Shamrocks, remain the only Ulster team to have won a club title way back in 1983?
That was the question we put to Loughgiel’s Joey Scullion recently, as he picked up his AIB Ulster player of the year.
“I’d say an awful lot of it is mental,” he said.
“We believe we have as good a bunch of hurlers as there are in Ireland. Our management believe that. Our supporters believe that but it all boils down to the mental aspect of it — that’s true of any sport. At the end of the day that’s going to be the difference.
“Coolderry are probably in the same position. They’re fairly new to it. The big teams have been beaten in the early rounds and it’s down to Coolderry and ourselves to make a name for ourselves. We have the belief we can do it.”
That belief doesn’t come from the fact Loughgiel have done this before. More telling is their own recenthistory. A few miles further north is Rathlin Island, just off the coast of Antrim where Robert the Bruce hid out in a cave and was said to have been inspired by the repeated efforts of a spider. There are traits from that one common with their own.
“This group of players lost six county championships in-a-row, to come back from that and win two in-a-row, to contest an All-Ireland semi-final last year and come up short.
“Then come back again this year and win. We have proved that we’rementally strong enough. We weretested at times in the semi-final — Na Piarsaigh scored a goal just before half-time, then they came back and drew at full-time, which questioned us again.
“After that we came back and were eight-point winners for a finish. Our mental strength and physical strength was tested, thankfully we came through.”
Joey was part of the panel for all six county losses and played in four. Two decades waiting for a county title, six times denied at the final hurdle — if that doesn’t steel you, what will?
“We had an awful lot of success at underage. It was a question of translating that through to senior level.
“We had a management team in place that were first class. The coaching that was being provided and also the psychological aspect that they put forward for us. We were just ready I suppose. We had reached a maturity where we were ready to go and win a county title. In our club though we weren’t happy with just that. Wewanted to achieve more and we believed that we’d achieve. Last year we reached the All-Ireland semi-final and were beaten by O’Loughlin Gaels.
“We felt we left something on the field. In the changing-room afterwards we made the decision to get back there again and give a good account of ourselves. We strengthened our panel. We have 29 players and any one of them is capable of going on the field at any given time. When it came down to it against Na Piarsaigh our mental resolve stood to us when the questions were asked.”