Cooney embracing family and club heritage

March 17, 2018

Maria Cooney, Sarsfields

by Daragh Ó Conchúir

Chanelle Pharmaceuticals does not have anything to do with horse racing in a direct sense, but given that Michael Burke named the company after his daughter, who would go on to become Lady McCoy, wife of celebrated former jump jockey AP McCoy, it has always had a bit of an equine vibe.

Of course Burke has a long-standing association with racing and still has horses in training in Ireland, the UK and Dubai.

Chanelle McCoy is a director of her father's company but even though her husband has retired following a record-breaking career, he is still very visible on television coverage of racing.

The focus this week was on Cheltenham, the Olympics of jump racing, and no doubt it wasn't just Burke and his daughter who were a little distracted from their normal daily responsibilities at the Loughrea-based factory.

Maria Cooney might have been among them. The qualified teacher is taking a year out since finishing her studies before diving into what is likely to be her career and is enjoying her time at Chanelle.

If she was distracted this week though, it is entirely understandable.

It is unlikely to have been Ruby Walsh, Gordon Elliott, Davy Russell, Willie Mullins, Samcro, Laurina or Presenting Percy on her mind though.

Instead, the 22-year-old has had running out onto Croke Park, for the rescheduled AIB All-Ireland Senior Camogie Club Championship Final, front and centre.

Emma and her Beast put paid to the initial planned fixture but Sarsfields people will be comfortable with the idea of lining out at HQ on St. Patrick's Weekend, and Cooney in particular.

Mind you, she wasn't even born yet when her father Joe, Uncle Jimmy and manager Michael 'Hopper' McGrath were part of a gifted panel that won the All-Ireland Hurling title in 1993. They then became the first side in the history of the competition to retain it the following year.

Joe is considered one of the all-time greats of Galway hurling, a wizard of the game. He followed in the footsteps of his older brother Jimmy, who had been part of the Galway team that ended a 57-year wait for a second All-Ireland in 1980.

Joe won three, along with McGrath, but when he retired he focussed on coaching with the hurlers, while McGrath, with his six daughters, was drawn naturally to Camogie.

"I have four brothers so the boys took over in our house!" says Cooney laughing. "But (my father) has always been really interested, and goes to all the matches. He'd be delighted for you and have the few bits of advice but he'd let you do your own thing. He'd never push us.

"I never felt too much pressure. People like to talk about his successes and everything and that was great, but I never felt pressure because of that.

"Hopper has been with us all the way along. He knows us inside-out, both personally and in terms of the sport and it's brilliant that we do have someone like that."

The last time they were in Croke Park, Cooney's brother Joseph was winning an All-Ireland with Galway last September, the county's first since their father and McGrath starred in 1988.

She knows ultimate glory herself, having played when the Galway Intermediates bagged the first leg of a famous double in 2013, while she was a member of the extended Senior panel that completed it.

The new county manager, Tony O'Donovan has left the Sarsfields contingent to their own devices and they appreciate that. Cooney is relishing getting back in and attempting to help them get over the line after plenty of disappointment in the past four seasons, but victory tomorrow would trump everything.

"I think an All-Ireland club is the one thing you'd dream of in your career, especially as we've all grown up together. We're such a small club, we are only two or three miles away from each other, we've known each other all our lives. So I think it's probably a little more special to win with your club."

Slaughtneil defeated them in the Final last year by two points and the champions stand between them and the sweetest feeling once more.

"Going into last year, we knew we had a strong team but we were saying 'Maybe over the next three to five years we'll be there or thereabouts.' We went into it taking every match at a time and thank God things went our way.

"We pushed onto the Semi-Final and got to the County Final. When we won that, everything else would be a bonus but we took it on our shoulder and drove on from there. Then we got to the All-Ireland Final so it was a great year overall. It was disappointing to lose but to get there, with such a small club, it was a great achievement, especially after winning our first county title.

She continues: "Croke Park is such a big place, such a lonely place to be when you lose. But for our first time to get there and be in an All-Ireland Final, we were really proud of ourselves. When we look back on it, there's still that heartache that we did lose out by a few points. But we are a small club and it was a serious achievement to get there.

"This year, we didn't think because we had done that we had a right to be there again. The Galway Championship is so competitive. So we took it game by game in the county Semi-final and the Final. And then in the All-Ireland Semi-Final, Burgess-Duharra, are a serious team and we just got over them by a point.

"We're up against Slaughtneil again, a serious team again. They will probably go in as favourites and rightly so, but we'll definitely try and use the hurt from last year a little bit and hopefully having been there will help. We know what it's like now."



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