by Daragh Ó Conchúir
The youngsters call her ‘Mammy Roche’ and she is happy to play along. After all, Emma Roche has coached many of them.
Such has been their influence that the Gailltír team that will play Clonduff in the AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Club Camogie Final at Croke Park on Sunday, is much changed from that which lost to Eglish by just a point two years ago in an All-Ireland Semi-Final.
A number of them played as the Ursulines of Waterford city completed a remarkable All-Ireland Senior B/Junior A Post-Primary Schools double last year. Indeed there is a strong representation on the team that was due to pursue Senior A honours tomorrow only for the Gailltír feats to necessitate a rescheduling.
“There’s nine or 10 of them involved in the team now, ranging from fourth years to sixth years” Roche explains. “There’s a good few of them doing their Leaving Cert but they’re all fierce committed – to club, to county and school. They bring their own little ingredient to the club. I dunno would you call it a sort of cockiness. It’s brilliant, the energy they bring.
“I’m a completely mammy. I’m the oldest on the team at 31 but I love the fact they can approach me, if they want to ask me a question on or off the field, whether it’s sport-related or life-related. They can ask me anything. I’m black and white, as blunt as, and I’ll give it to them straight up.
“A lot of the U18s and U19s, I coached them back in 2013 and 2014 for the Féile. I’d say, ‘in a couple of years’ time you’re going to be playing Senior with me and ye can give it back to me then, the hardship I’m after putting ye through.’ Back then they weren’t laughing but now we have the joke and the craic about it. It’s brilliant to be playing alongside those talented girls.
“As a club, we did weather years of not fielding and being short of numbers. Girls retired and went off travelling – such is life. But there was a development plan put in place within the club 10 years ago and in fairness to all the mentors and committee members that committed to it all, it’s paid dividends. You can see it from U6s, right up to Senior; you go down into the Gailltír field on a Monday night during the summer and there could be a hundred kids training.”
The stock of Camogie in Waterford is at an all-time high. Galltír only just got over De La Salle in an epic Déise decider, 1-17 to 2-13. Lismore are former All-Ireland champions. No team emerged from the group phase with a clean record, Gailltír themselves drawing with Cappoquin and losing to St. Anne’s. So there is no guarantee of another shot.
“I’m going to enjoy the run-up to Croke Park. Whether I will ever get there again with club or county, who knows? I’m not going to leave this pass me by, look back and wish I enjoyed it more. I’m really looking forward to it and that’s what we’re telling the younger girls. Don’t take this for granted.”
It will be her third appearance at Croke Park, the other two coming in the Waterford jersey. She earned her first call-up when she was “14 or 15”, when fortunes were at a very low ebb. Paul Lyng, father of cub and county teammate Áine, became manager and they won the Division 3 League in 2007.
Belief grew though they lost the All-Ireland Premier Junior Final after a replay to Antrim in 2010, they made no mistake 12 months later completing a League and Championship double against a Down team that included the likes of the Carr sisters, Fionnuala and Sara-Louise, and skipper Paula O’Hagan (née Gribben), who will resume rivalries on Sunday.
She was still a resolute force when the Division 2 success was replicated in 2015 but had committed to going travelling with her husband Crispin, and wasn’t in the country when Waterford bagged All-Ireland Intermediate honours.
A thumb injury kept her on the sidelines as they reached the knockout stages of the Senior Championship for the first time last year. She had played through the pain barrier until it became obvious she would need surgery.
“When I couldn’t do the simple task of tying my shoelace or tying up my hair, I knew I had to go get something done. To come back playing at this level, from not having the full use of my hand, is a huge personal achievement for me.
“I don’t see myself old. I see myself as being 18. I know my body is a little older and there’s a bit more mileage on the clock, so I know I’ve to take care of myself a bit more than those little grasshoppers. I knew if I wanted to play well into my 30s I had to get that injury sorted out.
“And I’m not finished with the county yet. I didn’t feature for the last year and a half but I’m not done yet. I’m not going to finish my county career being injured. I still have more to give and once the body allows me to do it, I’ll keep going. The minute it becomes a chore, that’s the day I’ll hang up my boots.”
From the sounds of things, that will be a long while yet.
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