by Daragh Ó Conchúir
It isn't only because it gives them something else to talk about that the people of Hilltown have become completely caught up in Clonduff’s impending appearance in the AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Club Championship Final at Croke Park.
But it’s nice to have the distraction.
The club has known glory in the past, via the feats of Down footballers’ All-Ireland-winning captain Kevin Mussen, the first man to bring the Sam Maguire Cup over the border in 1960. Ross Carr was a leading light as the Mournemen repeated the trick in 1991 and 1994.
But this is unprecedented. This is the club and on Sunday, supporters of ‘The Yellas’ will throng to HQ. Hilltown will be deserted.
“It’s brilliant” says Sara-Louise Carr, daughter of Ross and an All-Ireland winner herself along with older sister Fionnuala in the famed red and black county kit.
“We were out and about this morning and you’d people coming up to you and wishing you good luck. Everybody is buzzing for you, hoping that you do well... Somebody was saying last night there won’t be a man, woman or dog left about the place.”
Of course it is impossible to escape the spectre of Brexit. Carr has seen the impact in her professional capacity at Citibank and in everyday life. It is caused almost exclusively by uncertainty.
“You’re planning stuff but nobody really knows what’s happening. It’s trying to be as best prepared as possible, whenever that final button is pressed. It kind of has people on edge but until that decision is made and people know what’s happening, there’s not really a lot to be done or said.
“It is a wee bit frustrating because it’s all you’re hearing about but I don’t really hear anything new and that’s the most frustrating part. I suppose you just get on with it and we’ll deal with it when it comes.”
What a relief to have an All-Ireland to focus on. With up to 10 members of the Down panel that lost the All-Ireland Intermediate Final to Cork last September, there should be enough experience to cope with the Croke Park factor.
For Carr herself, it is a welcome and unexpected shot at redemption, having been sent off six months ago for two yellow cards that left her and many observers puzzled.
“In September, I probably thought it would be the last time I would be there and that was how it was gonna end. I’m delighted that I get the chance again to go out and hopefully for me personally, I’ll get to finish the script a different way.
“There is an element of parking that too and trying not to overemphasise it or play on my mind. But it’s definitely there, that I have that chance to right a few wrongs.”
Carr has carved out a wonderful career, recovering from a chronic hip problem that almost caused her to miss Down’s All-Ireland Premier Junior success in 2014. She had to sit out 12 weeks and also needed an injection to remove fluid but the process worked and she was back for the business end of proceedings.
It continues to require management but hasn’t stopped the 29-year-old from becoming a feared attacker with a happy knack for scoring goals. The Semi-Final defeat of Galway champions Craughwell was just the most recent example.
“It’s something that’s always in the back of your head. The first thing you think of is, ‘Is there a goal on here?’ As a forward, you’re always looking for the score.
“It’s first thing that pops in your head once you’ve won the ball. Obviously, you have to beat your marker. Then it’s, ‘Is there a goal on?’ and if there’s not, settle for a point.”
Carr married Antrim hurler Arron Graffin last year and he too was involved in club activity until Cushendall’s agonising one-point defeat by another Galway outfit, St. Thomas’ recently.
“There were plenty of times where we mightn’t have seen each other for a couple of days. He was in Cushendall and if he was training there at night, he would probably stay with his Mummy rather than make the journey back down the road. We were passing each other in the night a lot of the time but we kind of knew what we signed up for!”
Arron has had his own injury nightmare, putting off an operation in one knee and then damaging the other but he still managed to field for the Semi-Final.
“He’s a bit of a dog when it comes to an appetite for work and there’s a serious resilience about him. He got back for the Semi-Final but he knew whenever Cushendall’s campaign was over and he’d have to have the operation. That’s booked now for the next couple of months and hopefully he’ll be back for the start of next year.”
The pain of losing the 2011 All-Ireland Premier Junior decider to Waterford remains and Gailltír had a prominent representation for the Déise. Áine Lyng remains an influential operator and though Trish Jackman has not been involved due to working in England, Carr would not be surprised to see her make an appearance on Sunday.
The focus, however, will be on themselves.
“There’s very little between a lot of teams now. Every team has their big players and their county stars but I think… even for Cushendall playing against St. Thomas’, who were littered with All-Ireland winners, when it came down to it, you wouldn’t have known the difference when they were on the pitch.
“It’s just having that wee bit of belief and realising that you are good enough, so that if it does go down to the wire, have that confidence to push on and do the business.”Tweet