Thursday 14 December 2017

Camogie team comes of age with magnificent win


IN ALL THE SPINE TINGLING excitement that surrounded the capture of the O'Duffy Cup last week, the image that remains most firmly in this reporter's brain is of wing forward Kate Kelly sitting on the upper deck of the team's open topped bus calmly eating a slice of pizza.

Amidst the hullaballoo going on beneath her in Enniscorthy's Market Square, her team mates were hugging friends and relatives. Anything that could be autographed was being covered in signatures. Whooping and hollering was the order of the night and the volume on the sound system was turned up high.

But Kate rose serenely above the merry pandemonium and tucked into her supper. We should expect nothing other than calmness under pressure from the Ibar's attacker of course. She has been constantly in the sporting limelight for most of her 30 years, having won a Leinster under 14 title as long ago as 1992. Winning an All-Ireland is a big deal, of course, but no reason to by-pass meal time.

The programme for Sunday's finals in Croke Park offered a reminder in amongst the small print that Kate is not the only one who has been hanging around the headlines for quite some time. The potted biographies of four of the Rathnure players brought back memories of 1995. I had the privilege of being present at Toomevara in Tipperary where Rathnure ventured 15 years ago to capture the All-Ireland club championship title. Claire O'Connor, Aoife O'Connor, Michelle O'Leary and the ever effervescent Lennie Holohan all participated in that successful campaign.

The time was when women's sport was dominated by eager teenagers. Just think of Jennifer Capriati, the precocious tennis player from the United States. Camogie too has come through its babysitting phase and the side the triumphed on Sunday included no overnight successes. This was a team of women, not girls.

Back in 2007, when the same cup was last borne home in triumph to the Model County, Katrina Parrock was the infant in the side at 17. Three years later, she and Ciara Storey were the youngest players on show in the Wexford seniors, both aged twenty. The average age of the starting 15 was close to 26. Galway's age profile in the final was similar, with Tara Rutledge their only teenager. THERE WERE PLENTY of other pictures planted in the memory banks. It was good to see many of the players from the past involved in the celebrations. The exquisitely talented Fiona Dunne was spotted bear hugging her Oulart club mate Una Leacy, as the captain made her way up the steps of the Hogan Stand to fetch the trophy.

Stellah Sinnott of Buffer's Alley fame must have had the best seat in the house as hung around with Des Cahill for the Sunday Game: The manager of 2007 has moved on to take charge of a rugby team, we are told, by the way. And among the faces in the massive crowd at the homecoming in Enniscorthy that of another Alley stalwart, Terri Butler.

Butler, Sinnott, Dunne - all were reminders that Wexford camogie success comes from deep roots. Still, the superstitious among us must hope that Una and Mary Leacy continue to make themselves available for selection. The fact is that Wexford has never taken the top title in camogie without a member of the family in the side.

The trophy has come our way only five times - in 1968 (beat Cork 4-2 to 2-5); in 1969 (beat Antrim 4-3 to 4-2) and in 1975 (beat Cork again 4-3 to 1-2), 2007 (Cork yet again 2-7 to 1-8) and then Sunday week's tumultuous 1-12 to 1-10 success against Galway. Hall of fame member Margaret Leacy, mother of the current stars, was a Wexford ever-present in '68, '69 and '75.

SAUNTERING ALONG Jones's Road in the wake of the latest final, there was talk of who should be awarded the 'most valuable player' award. And there was no shortage of nominations for Mags D'Arcy the goalkeeper who surely put in a brave and skilful performance between the posts.

The groundswell of opinion was probably assisted by the fact that the number one was so readily identifiable, her brown locks unencumbered by any helmet. The rest of the players were hard to pick out under their hard hats from Row V in the Davin Stand. To make matters worse, the numbers carried on the backs of the players were not given in the otherwise comprehensive programme. The public address system at the stadium is worse than useless, so it was of zero assistance.

The Camogie Association took a progressive step when it decreed that individual names should be embroidered on ganseys but take a memo please: tiny lettering is wasted on spectators who are not at the front of the crowd, so use bigger print next time.

Never mind. Oh happy days!

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