By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Tomorrow, Wednesday November 29th, is a historic one for Camogie as the country's top stars fly out early in the morning to the Spanish capital of Madrid to take part in the first Liberty Insurance Camogie All-Stars Tour.
The centrepiece of the Tour is a game between the 2017 and 2016 All-Stars, and a smattering of nominees to cover players that qualified for both teams, at the grounds of XV Hortaleza Rugby Club at 5.30pm Irish time on Thursday.
The game will be refereed by Owen Elliott, the Antrim whistler who took charge of this year's Liberty Insurance Senior All-Ireland Championship Final in which Cork edged out Kilkenny thanks to a dramatic injury-time point by Julia White.
The Rebels' manager Paudie Murray takes charge of the 2017 All-Stars while Ann Downey, who stewarded Kilkenny as they ended a 22-year drought last year and preceded Murray as Manager of the Year as a result, will lead the 2016 selection.
Players from eight counties will be represented including Cork's Gemma O'Connor, who set a new All-Stars record when winning her 10thaward this year, and former Wexford great Kate Kelly, who retired after joining O'Connor at the top of the pile with her ninth gong in 2016.
In all, 29 players will be involved in an 11-a-side game where rolling subs will be allowed and comprising two 25-minutes halves.
During the Tour, players and officials will also take the opportunity to engage with the Irish community in Madrid with the Irish Ambassador Síle Maguire hosting a reception at the Irish Embassy, while the Madrid Harps GAA Club have assisted with the organisation of the trip.
The party will also pay a visit to Liberty Insurance's Madrid headquarters (Liberty Seguros) before giving locals an opportunity to try their hand with a camán and sliotar at Juan Carlos I Park.
This is very much in keeping with the policy of the Camogie Association and Liberty Insurance to support the growing international Camogie contingent, and Madrid Harps are hoping to establish a Camogie team to compete in future European Championships.
At its core however, this Tour represents another important step in the continuing development of the profile of Camogie and the premier purveyors of its skills.
Liberty Insurance have proven enthusiastic partners of the Camogie Association in driving this process, and this inaugural All-Stars Tour provides an added reward to the players for their efforts, as well as recognition of their status as some of the premier sportspeople in the country.
This continues the journey towards parity of esteem and benefit for women involved in Gaelic games and sport in general, where the likes of Rena Buckley, Denise Gaule, Ashling Thompson and Katie Power are seen in similar light to not just athletes of the calibre of Katie Taylor, Annalise Murphy and Natalya Coyle, who are high-achieving international female sport stars representing Ireland, but their own male counterparts in the GAA such as Joe Canning, Austin Gleeson, Ciarán Kilkenny and Andy Moran.
2017 All-Stars Squad: Aoife Murray (Cork), Tara Kenny (Galway), Catherine Foley (Kilkenny), Laura Treacy (Cork), Gemma O'Connor (Cork), Máire McGrath (Clare), Eimear O'Sullivan (Cork), Meighan Farrell (Kilkenny), Ashling Thompson (Cork), Chloe Morey (Clare), Katie Power (Kilkenny), Amy O'Connor (Cork), Ailish O'Reilly (Galway), Aisling Maher (Dublin), Aoife Donohue (Galway)
Manager: Paudie Murray (Cork)
2016 All-Stars Squad: Emma Kavanagh (Kilkenny), Sarah O'Connor (Wexford), Sarah Dervan (Galway), Collette Dormer (Kilkenny), Rebecca Hennelly (Galway), Anne Dalton (Kilkenny), Miriam Walsh (Kilkenny), Orla Cotter (Cork), Michaela Morkan (Offaly), Shelley Kehoe (Wexford), Denise Gaule (Kilkenny), Niamh Mulcahy (Limerick), Tina Hannon (Offaly), Kate Kelly (Wexford)
Manager: Ann Downey (Kilkenny)