Saturday 24 August 2019

This Sporting Life

With the success of Wexford's camogie teams this year it is easy to forget the barren years when only five players turned up for training and 23-point hammerings were a regular occurence. Brendan Lawrence charts the rise of Wexford camogie with some of the stalwarts who made it happen.

THE DATE of September 11 2011 will be remembered for many things in years to come. It will be recalled as the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York or on a lighter note the opening game for the Irish rugby team in the World Cup. But in Camogie terms it will go down as one of the finest afternoons in county Wexford's long and distinguished history as the Senior squad claimed back to back All-Ireland titles not long after their Intermediate sisters battled bravely to wipe the slate of destiny clean by bagging their first ever All-Ireland title in that grade.

At the head of both those teams was a Marshallstown man. A being brimming with energy and enthusiasm; a creature who speaks the game as if it is the very essence of life and a soldier on the ground who has helped bring about the dawn of what is most definitely a golden age in Wexford Camogie.

The Model County's history in Camogie is an interesting read. After breaking through the ranks of Intermediate in the late 1950's they claimed their first Senior title in 1968 and added two more in 1969 and 1975. A lean spell would follow lasting 32 years until a squad of athletes who had enjoyed a youth filled with guidance and dedication from their mentors and elders finally broke through and claimed the ultimate victory. But was there something that clicked to make this happen? What was the secret of this emergence from the murky halflight of the barren years?

"I think they came of age to be honest," offers a somewhat weary JJ Doyle four days after his squads' immense achievements. "I'd go back to their secondary school days when the likes of Colaiste Brid in Enniscorthy won two All-Irelands; a lot of the girls were involved back then. And now this is a golden age of Camogie in the county in regards talent. No other Camogie team from Wexford have done what these girls have done and I say fair play to them. It's something that has never been achieved before in the GAA where on one day two teams from the same county with the same management team have won two All-Irelands. It's unheard of," added JJ proudly.

The former county Minor hurler believes that after the two defeats in the semi-finals in 2008 and 2009 that things had turned a little stale and with fresh voices and different outlooks the hunger returned in 2010.

Two years ago when Stellah stepped down I was approached and I did an interview and they obviously liked what they had heard and I got the job. After 2007 they were beaten in two semi-finals and maybe things had gone a bit stale so maybe we were fresh voices and a different outlook. We didn't care who they were.

"They all got a chance to play their way onto the team rather than off it. Then we won the National League and that gave us confidence. It gave us confidence in the girls and them confidence in us because I wouldn't have been known to many of them. Then luckily we came through in the All-Ireland final and this year we won the League, Leinster and All-Ireland so we couldn't have done anymore.

"With the Intermediates after they were beaten in the final last year and with Karen Barnes stepping down we realised that they were all training together and we knew what potential was there in the squad. So that gave us a panel of 48 girls pushing each other on and we just prepared for it one day at a time," he said.

To the future then and JJ is extremely keen for Wexford Camogie to seize the day now while this era of success is upon them. He reflects upon the hurlers of '96 and how a golden opportunity was missed to lay the groundworks for a successful future on the foundations of that historic win.

"I keep emphasising that we need to make the most of this because it won't last, eras come and go. Some county's hold on to it for longer but it goes. They've realised now that this is their chance to make history, to make hay while the sun shines. The talent base is there and we must use this now as a way to boost Camogie in the county. These girls have to be ambassadors. Any young girl out there could look up at any of these players. They are successful in their jobs and private lives. We need to leave a legacy. You look at the lads of 1996 and wonder was enough done back then. That's why we go to schools now; that's why we were in New Ross last night. We have to do it now," he implored.

Another extremely positive development since the breakthrough in 2007 is that at least seven new Camogie clubs have been formed since that day. JJ Doyle credits this success to the hard work of people on the ground; people who will receive few plaudits or awards.

"Every parish in the county almost has a Camogie team and we have to credit all the people working hard behind the scenes. They don't get the credit but only they took the time to coach these girls we wouldn't be out celebrating," he added.

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