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Mourne captain McKay 'quietly optimistic' as summer looms

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Kate McKay of Down in action against Ciara Clarke of Fermanagh during the TG4 Ulster Ladies IFC semi-final match at Healy Park. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Kate McKay of Down in action against Ciara Clarke of Fermanagh during the TG4 Ulster Ladies IFC semi-final match at Healy Park. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Kate McKay of Down in action against Ciara Clarke of Fermanagh during the TG4 Ulster Ladies IFC semi-final match at Healy Park. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

An unbeaten start to their Lidl NFL season has Down sitting proud on top of Division 3, but more than anyone Kate McKay knows how precarious the balance between success and failure can be.

The Ulster side face into tomorrow's outing against Wicklow at Teconnaught in search of a fifth straight win, and with a simultaneous second-versus-third battle taking place between Kildare and Roscommon, victory could leave Down on the edge of a final spot.

Last year brought a lot of change in Down ladies football, with joint managers Caoibhe Sloan and Peter Lynch taking charge. One of their first actions was to name McKay (29) as captain, and as one of the few survivors from before their glorious 2014 TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate final victory, she is regarded as a natural leader in the squad. She is not letting anyone get carried away with their January and February form though.

"We have four wins from four, and we have three games left now. As a team we have not put too much pressure on ourselves. People aren't saying we need to win X, Y or Z. We are just playing and training hard and enjoying ourselves. Thankfully we have got a few wins on the back of it," said McKay, who plays her club football with Carryduff.

"Wicklow came up from Division 4 last year and they have held their own. The beat us last year and they have done really well. The spirit in our team is really good at the minute. It's more like a club team than an inter-county team. There is a really good buzz between the girls and a lot of friendships there.

"There is a lot of respect for the management too, so girls are giving it everything. When you put all that together it makes for a good force."

Despite making her inter-county debut in 2009 as a 19-year-old, McKay does not have an All-Ireland winner's medal from 2014. After taking a year out to work and travel in Canada in 2013, a skiing accident meant she faced a long time out.

"I broke my arm really badly, I shattered a big chunk of my humerus. For a year I couldn't play any sport. I was back home and I wasn't working for a while. The girls were very successful that year and I wasn't anywhere near that team.

"I grew up with a lot of those girls and naturally I thought I could have been on that panel and could have had a bit of success, but you never know what will happen. They put everything into that, but it was tough.

"I remember sitting in Croke Park and there was a wee bit of wistfulness, thinking that maybe I could have been part of it. But at the same time I was so delighted, genuinely delighted for Down football and the girls.

She was back in the squad for 2015 when Down graduated to senior football, but that year ended in heartbreaking fashion when Cavan delivered a crushing 10-25 to 0-3 beating in the All-Ireland series.

"Honestly, I'll carry that game with me forever. I don't know what it was, it was heartbreaking, demoralising. It was really difficult to deal with. There was nothing we could do, we were just getting absolutely hammered. It was embarrassing.

"I always have been really hopeful of having some success. I just turned 29 and realistically with work and life, how many years have I left?

"I'd love to keep playing and playing, but it's difficult when you're pushing on in your career. I have always been hopeful that it'd all come good, that I'd walk away with something. I'd love to walk away with something, whether that's this year, next year or never... I don't know, but I'll keep trying. I'm quietly optimistic for the summer; I think we can do really well."

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