Steelstown talisman Emma Doherty hails Ulster victory as 'best of career'
The 2017 Junior Players' Player of the Year has been the beating heart of the Brian Ogs senior team for the best part of two decades, leading the club to the 2015 Ulster Junior Championship and representing her county with distinction and success on countless occasions.
Yet none of that compared to hearing the final whistle in Carrickmore on Saturday; a whistle that confirmed Steelstown were finally Ulster Intermediate Football champions.
"Absolutely it is (the best day of my career)," smiled the midfielder, "This is unmatched, especially given what we have come through over the past two or three years.This is hard to beat.
"I don't think I can put it into words, it hasn't really sunk in yet. It was such a tough match. Glenavy brought everything they had and really, really put it up to us. I don't think we really kicked into gear until the first half of extra-time and even then, in the second half of extra-time Glenavy really came back at us again but thank god to win by a point; win by whatever, it's just brilliant."
The scenes on Saturday were in stark contrast to 12 months previous. In 2021 Kinawley had broken Steelstown hearts with an injury time winner in the final and the Brian Ogs were determined to make up for it last season despite having their semi-final against Castlerahan/Denn scheduled midweek just 72 hours after a tough quarter-final victory in Ballyshannon. However, with the team en route to Cavan, a late switch to a 3G surface saw players caught without the correct footwear and Steelstown were forced to turn around.
Doherty remembers well the dejected silence of that bus journey home but rather than mope, Steelstown doubled down on their efforts and returned stronger.
"Honestly, the character in this group is just amazing," added the 35-year old dentist, "My husband Seb (Crudden) is one of the management team and as soon as we got off that bus last season and knew our championship was over, we were moping about a bit but then we said we needed to get back at it. We needed to get back to training and we were in Carnhill hall before Christmas last year playing basketball just to keep the group together.
"It took off from there. We were in the gym again and back on the pitch again as soon as the light came back. It's been such a journey, but such an enjoyable journey when you get days like this. Long may it continue."
And even after falling a point behind in injury time, just as in Augher back in 2021, Doherty said she was determined history was not going to repeat itself.
"It was nearly the same feeling but it's been a bit like that all year," added the midfielder, "I've such belief in this group that whatever came our way this season I felt we could come back from it.
"When they went a point up in injury time of normal time I saw Katy Holly lying on the grass and I was like, 'Katy, you need to get up, there's time here, there's time!' and we went down the other end and got that levelling score. Orla McGeough was brilliant from placed balls all day and she had nerves of steel for that one."
It was a thrilling final which neither team deserved to lose and having experienced both sides of championship football in the last few years, Doherty had some words of consolation for a Glenavy team who pushed Steelstown to their limits.
"We know exactly how Glenavy are feeling at this moment. A one point defeat in an Ulster final, we've been there and the effort they put in, it matches everything we have done. We knew coming into this final that they had scored a few late goals in their previous matches so we knew they would never give up. It was so tough out there so we're just delighted to finally get over the line."
Now, there’s just the small matter of an All Ireland semi-final to look forward to for the new Derry and Ulster champions.
"Yeah, that's amazing. Two more weeks of preparation. Every time we go out onto the field on a Saturday, we're saying to each other let's get another Monday night on the pitch and we have achieved that today. It's just another step, another Monday night on the pitch as a group which we love."