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Monday 24 June 2019

Mary's unruffled grace was always a joy to witness

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

On the Line with Alan Aherne

It's as inevitable as winter following autumn, and it happens on a regular basis at this time of year, with talented sportspeople all over Ireland deciding to hang up their boots.

The latest high-profile player to leave the inter-county scene is our own Mary Leacy, and she speaks honestly and openly with Dean Goodison on a career to be proud of elsewhere in this edition.

I had the privilege of working with Mary as a Wexford mentor from 2006 to 2009, and I spent the next five years trying to out-wit her as manager of a rival club team.

Rest assured, I was a lot happier when we were on the same side!

Mary was quite simply one of the outstanding camogie players of this, or any other, generation, and she deserves all the plaudits that will come her way as news of this big decision spreads.

I was very interested to hear her comments on the style of play she deployed in that interview with my colleague Dean.

And if I was asked to sum it up in my own words, having seen it at such close quarters over many years in training as well as matches, I would describe it as an unruffled grace.

Mary didn't need to race around the field at one hundred miles an hour, simply because being in the right place at the right time came so naturally to her.

Her reading of the play and understanding of where the ball was likely to land was unrivalled in my opinion, and she was poetry in motion on her very best days.

That game awareness is something that cannot be coached. It comes from deep within, and the Oulart-The Ballagh stalwart had it in spades.

Even at times when the teams she played on were struggling, Mary's customary defiance was taken as a given.

And she was the perfect role model for younger players, because she never cleared a ball without having a quick look first to see what the lie of the land was in the forward line.

She had a near-telepatic on-field relationship with her younger sister, Una, but Mary always saw the bigger picture and if there was a better-placed colleague, then the long-striding number six would invariably target her for a pass instead.

There's just one aspect of Mary's glittering career that bugs me, and that's the shameful fact that he she is finishing with a mere three All Star awards, won in 2004, 2007 and 2010 respectively.

To suggest that this is an insult to her ability and her influence would be putting it mildly. Even to gain one such accolade would be regarded as a huge achievement for the vast majority of players, but it says everything about Mary's class that a haul of three is regarded as a travesty.

I'm not the only one to think that way either, but when all is said and done the four All-Ireland Senior medals she collected in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012 were a lot more significant.

They were won through her valiant deeds on the field of play, whereas the All Stars have been riven by internal politics in the past and Mary was one of those who sadly suffered the most.

Life isn't meant to be like that, but experience teaches us that personal agendas can lead to all manner of unjust decisions.

The fact that Mary was never afraid to express her opinions to the powers-that-be worked against her, make no mistake about it.

However, I think that personal trait is every bit as admirable as the magnificent talent she displayed with such consistency on the field.

The easiest thing in the world would be to sit back, sing dumb and cosy up to the authorities, but Mary was always made of sterner stuff and had the courage to say what needed to be said.

It's only natural that I will always remember her frenzied reaction to lifting the O'Duffy Cup in the Hogan Stand in 2007.

We all went a little crazy that day, and Mary - being the inspiring captain that she was - set a prime example for the rest of us to follow!

Don't forget that she was only 21 years old at the time, but the burden and responsibility of leading that special team rested lightly on her capable shoulders.

The inter-county camogie scene will be all the poorer without one of its shining lights, but she owes the game nothing at this stage.

Happy retirement, Mary - you were truly one of the all-time greats.

Wexford People

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