Friday 24 November 2017

Jacob calls time

Dean Goodison

Ursula Jacob, who has announced her retirement from inter-county camogie
Ursula Jacob, who has announced her retirement from inter-county camogie

One of the game's true greats, Ursula Jacob, has retired from inter-county camogie. The Oulart-The Ballagh star had taken time to consider her future at the end of her club's All-Ireland campaign and came to the conclusion that it was time to walk away.

'I was weighing up the pros and cons and going through everything,' she admitted. 'To be honest the answer is simple enough, I felt the time is right for me. I've been playing Senior inter-county since I was 14. People will say, "look at you, you're still young", I'm only 30. But I just felt the time was right.

'Going into the championship last year in 2015 I had felt in my head myself this is going to be my final year with Wexford. I suppose that's the way it turned out, it was my last year, but I didn't make any full decision until I was fully finished with the club.

'It was an extremely tough and hard decision to make but I'm kind of content with it too because no matter when I was going to make the decision to retire it was going to be a tough one.'

Jacob has had a remarkable career with Wexford, winning pretty much every medal and individual accolade that a camogie player can win, including four All-Irelands with her county and four individual All Star awards. While the highlights are plentiful, a couple stick out for the hotshot attacker.

'I suppose the obvious one initially would be winning the first All-Ireland in 2007, that really set off Wexford camogie for the few years following after that. It's something you never forget, the first time playing in an All-Ireland in Croke Park.

'I remember the final whistle, it was the only All-Ireland where the crowd were allowed to enter the pitch, little special things like that, meeting up with friends and family after.

'I don't think that we even realised how much of an impact it had on the people of Wexford until we retuned for the homecoming. We entered Gorey and Ferns, Enniscorthy and Wexford, the thousands that came out, I'll never forget that memory.

'Obviously, a personal highlight for me was when I was named as captain in 2011. The thing was, it didn't matter if I was captain or someone else, but it was nice to be able to lift the O'Duffy Cup in the Hogan Stand in front of everyone.

'It was something I took serious too, being captain, I didn't put any extra pressure on myself but it was a great honour to lift the cup. I was one of four Oulart-The Ballagh girls that got to do it so it was a special thing for my club as well.'

When something is such a huge part of your life for a long time, it's understandable that there will be an adjustment period. For Jacob there will be a few things she will miss that go along with being an inter-county player.

'The opportunity of getting to play with girls from other clubs, now that I'll be only be playing club I'll only be competing against them!

'Right up until the last game I played against Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final, I never took it for granted getting to wear the purple and gold. It might be clichéd saying it but it actually was such an honour, it was something I was always proud of, that I got to represent, at the highest level, my county.

'It probably won't fully hit me until I see them playing in championship and not being there but I'll miss the build up and atmosphere coming into big games, running out onto Wexford Park or Nowlan Park with the girls, but I'll be taking a different role now, cheering them on and supporting them.'

As well as the four All-Irelands and All Stars, Jacob has a room full of honours. Winning came early and often with two Féile na nGeal titles in the late nineties followed by significant success with Coláiste Bhríde, including the 2004 All-Ireland as captain.

As Jacob racked up county crowns with Oulart-The Ballagh, titles which would later turn to Leinster and All-Ireland success, she eventually took the coveted O'Duffy Cup with her county in 2007. College success with W.I.T. followed, before Wexford completed the first of three-in-a-row in 2010 with Jacob racking up 2-63 in eight championship appearances.

Captain Jacob turned the 2011 final on its head with a cracking goal in the final ten minutes as Wexford beat Galway before scoring 2-7 in a 'player of the game' performance in the 2012 final against Cork.

As well as winning All Stars in those successful years, Jacob picked up another individual gong in 2014 and it's something she takes a little extra pride in. 'That was obviously a great honour, where we didn't win an All-Ireland and the All Stars team was nearly dominated by Cork and Galway. It was nice to pick up the individual awards but it is always about the team as well,' she said.

Whether Wexford will be in line for more trophies in the coming years is yet to be determined, but Jacob believes that it's up to the girls that are involved to give it everything they've got to fulfil their potential.

'The most important thing for Wexford at the moment is to get a group of girls who are fully committed and dedicated. It doesn't all come down to natural skill and talent either, a lot of it does come down to hard work and training and realising yourself what is expected from you as a player at an inter-county Senior level.

'It's instilling confidence and belief in the set-up as well, because when the likes of Stellah Sinnott, J.J. Doyle or whoever was there, that was one of the major factors. They were instilling confidence and belief in us as players, winning league matches or Leinster championship matches or whatever builds confidence as well.

'But work still has to continue at the under-age level in bringing girls forward, bring two or three girls into the Senior set-up each year, give them that bit of experience. Naturally, if any team loses six or seven girls in a year or two-year period, it is going to have a knock-on effect on the panel.

'It's about maybe rebuilding things and pushing forward and keeping the standards, I think that's the most important thing, keeping the standards of the set-up and what's expected of players as well and hopefully then they can push forward.

'Wexford are going to be there or thereabout too. As you saw last year there was only a point between ourselves and Galway in the semi-final.

'If they can have a decent run in the group stages, anything can happen in an All-Ireland semi or final stage as well. There is very little between the top three or four teams in the championship.'

Whatever happens in the summer and beyond, there's no replacing someone with the talent of Ursula Jacob. Someone who could always be relied on for a score and had that incredible ability to hit the target without even having to look.

Wexford camogie's loss is potentially Oulart-The Ballagh's gain, and who would bet against Jacob adding further club All-Irelands in the coming years?

Wexford People

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