independent

Monday 22 July 2019

Mary will be missed

Wexford legend leaves county scene

An image of Mary Leacy that camogie followers will never forget - her unbridled joy after captaining Wexford to a first All-Ireland title for 32 years in 2007 with a two-point win over Cork
An image of Mary Leacy that camogie followers will never forget - her unbridled joy after captaining Wexford to a first All-Ireland title for 32 years in 2007 with a two-point win over Cork

Dean Goodison

Rudyard Kipling's 'If' is probably the most over-quoted piece of poetry of this century. Popular culture has swallowed it up and spat it out; Mike Bassett, Bridget Jones, Mission Impossible, even Joni Mitchell has adapted it into a song. So why not borrow from it again?

'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you' - that line could have been written about Mary Leacy. As she announces her retirement as one of Wexford's greatest-ever camogie players, she also must go down as one of the most under-rated.

There was a myth peddled about the Oulart-The Ballagh lynchpin. Her style grated at people. 'She's too lackadaisical, too slow to react, she puts her side under pressure, she needs to do things faster.'

Nonsense. It stuck with some people, though, the sheep 'baaad' in unison and she just never got the credit she deserved within the game.

The thing about Mary Leacy is that she never complained, she got on with her job and did it better than anyone else could even imagine doing it. The fact that she ended a career that spanned almost two decades with just three All Stars tells you more about the end of year awards, the people that are on the committee and the 'myth', than it does about her.

Mary Leacy was, indeed still is, the most graceful player in the game. Her level of composure has always been off the charts, and she is what every young player should aspire to be.

The rhythm, the speed of mind, the turn of foot disguised by languid strides, always knowing the right move to make, the right step to take.

When contacted by this newspaper to discuss her inter-county career she was happy to oblige and was open and honest about her years with Wexford. The only time she hesitated was when it came to talking about the style of play that made her different, indeed better, than the rest.

Eventually she said: 'I think I was able to read the game, it just comes to me naturally to be honest. Over the years I've been tried in the forwards, tried in midfield but I was just more suited to the backs and coming to the ball, I can read the game without even having to think about it.

'I'm probably lucky as well, in under-age I did athletics for maybe two years and then decided to concentrate on camogie. I think, even though I don't look like I'm fast, my speed helps me a lot. I have a run that you wouldn't think (I'm fast) but if I'm sprinting I'm faster than I look, if that makes sense!'

Speed of thought, speed of mind and speed of foot - they are the components that made Mary Leacy the one who could burst into the gap or alternatively swing a frozen rope pass 50 metres crossfield. She was Wexford's quarterback, the pocket passer that could use her feet, her side's Russell Wilson, their Cam Newton, their Aaron Rodgers.

It was obvious early that Leacy was a huge talent. She was drafted into the Wexford squad at the age of 13 and remembers fondly that debut against Dublin.

'I just remember that I was so delighted, I couldn't wait to go in. I think it was something I always wanted to do and I was just so lucky to get a chance at such a young age.

'I always remember my first championship match, I remember Dan (Quigley) saying to me before I went out to be strong because they were going to try hit me because I was only a young one.

'It's so weird that I remember that now but I wouldn't remember some of the stuff that was told to me in recent years! I was wing-back that day and I was on a really good player, she was tough, I remember that I held my own with her, I remember the thrill I got,' she recalled.

It wasn't until 2007, not that long out of her teens, that Mary got her hands on the big one, the O'Duffy Cup.

'I was captain and I just remember the last few minutes, just realising on the pitch, "oh my God, we are actually going to win", it was just a special moment, just thinking of going up and lifting the cup.'

One of the abiding memories of that day must be the excitement of a youthful Leacy beaming in the Hogan Stand, with 33,154 watching on in the stadium and another several hundred thousand on the television.

'To be honest I was really young, I was only gone 21. When I think back on it now, I never really thought about it, I just went mad, I actually went mad, it was such a relief, such a joyous moment and it meant so much to us.

'I'd say because I was so young, you don't realise there are so many people looking at you at that moment, so I really did express my emotions and it's something really funny now when I look back on it.'

After what Leacy calls 'the two biggest regrets at county level', the 2008 and 2009 seasons, things turned in 2010 and Wexford started a three-in-a-row run.

'When J.J. came in in 2010 he gave us new belief and we kind of just raised the bar training-wise, it was great,' she said.

'I think the level of commitment really went up and it helped that there was two teams training together with places up for grabs as well. It was great, so competitive, it pushed everyone on.'

Wexford have now gone five seasons without an All-Ireland, or a final appearance, and Leacy admitted that she's thought about retiring before, only to come to the realisation that she wasn't ready. Things are different now.

'It's true what they say, you do know when your time is up and that's the way I felt this year,' she said. 'Saying that, I'll probably be at every single league game and championship game but I think it's time now that the young girls get out there, and it's up to them.

'I've been out there a long time, my life has really centered around camogie, and it's kind of time for me now to move on with my own life.'

Moving on doesn't mean leaving Oulart-The Ballagh, the club, behind. Even though recently married to Kilanerin footballer Richard Hughes, and living in the north of the county, Leacy will continue to battle away at club level with the two-time All-Ireland champions.

'The women used to jeer me; I'd be saying I'm halfway to Dublin,' Leacy laughed.

'It's a great way of going back and keeping in touch with everyone. I'm very lucky because our club is like a second county team.

'Our club is as professional as the county set-up, it's great to go back with your club and you're actually with girls you grew up with.'

And what about taking charge of the county team one day? 'I suppose, not in the near future but maybe long term I probably would.

'I do help out in the club with under-age teams and I do train teams in school so I will be staying in the circle of camogie.'

While Mary might miss the big games and high stakes of inter-county camogie, Wexford will miss her quality and class a great deal more.

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