To get back to the good days, you have to go through the bad ones: Ciara Storey

April 12, 2024

Waterford's Annie Fitzgerald with Ciara Storey of Wexford ©INPHO/Ben Brady

by Daragh Ó Conchúir

There is a lot to sink your teeth into when talking about one of the most enduring, remarkable figures of camogie.

Ciara Storey has stuck with Wexford through the leanest of times, the worst of which arrived in a Division 1 League outing against Galway in 2019, when they could field only 13 players and were pummelled by 45 points, with the Tribeswomen even withdrawing two players at half-time.

This was just three years after the Yellowbellies had appeared in an All-Ireland semi-final. It was only seven since they had completed the three-in-a-row, with the teenage Storey having broken through in those halcyon days.

The daughter of former All-Ireland winning skipper Martin, she valued the purple and gold but after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis eight years ago, no one would have batted an eyelid had she walked away.

Though many did, Storey kept her shoulder firmly pressed to the wheel, making some lifestyle modifications for a disease that has no cure. She remained a leader in word and deed.

Then there is the tattoo. A half crescent moon and star, situated on her right quad.

An online search will provide different interpretations for the ink but like song lyrics, significance can be individual.

“The meaning is don’t go on holidays with the Leacys. They’ll cod ya,” details Storey, guffawing and then elucidating.

“Me, Úna Leacy, Mary Leacy and Niamh O’Connor went away to Thailand and Australia for six or eight weeks. I’d say we weren’t in Thailand six hours, we’d a few of the buckets in, and it was Mary’s great idea to get a tattoo. Mary was on about getting a barbed wire tattoo around her leg. We went into this place on Khao San Road in Bangkok. Mary was looking them up and it was taking too long and I just said, ‘I’ll go first.’

“We went on and had a good night. We got up the next morning and I was like, ‘What tattoo did everybody else get?’ And they were like, ‘Oh no Ciara, you were the only one got one.’ So I was codded!”

It was a rare mis-step by the resolute defender, who celebrated her 34th birthday in January and has enjoyed a strong start to the year.

Returning to the Very Camogie League Division 1B final (v Dublin at SETU Carlow 2pm, live on the Camogie Association’s YouTube channel), 12 months after suffering a defeat to subsequent All-Ireland finalists Waterford, feels good.

Wexford did win what was then the Division 2 title in 2022 but the restructuring of the divisions with only six teams making the top tier left them where they were, albeit in deeper waters than heretofore.

They have been competitive though, with Colin Sunderland, who guided Storey and Oulart-The Ballagh to their third All-Ireland club title in 2021, a decade after their first, building on the gradual improvements overseen by Kevin Tattan. Notably, a number of talented and experienced operators have returned to the fold, including another who got a taste of the golden age, Storey’s clubmate Shelley Kehoe.

It isn’t the headline act Storey got used to, coming on as a sub in 2010 to win her first All-Ireland with that majestic team of Kate Kelly, Ursula Jacob, Mags D’Arcy and the aforementioned Leacy siblings but it is due reward for her longevity and obduracy.

“I suppose I just wasn’t ready to give it up just yet. I’m still under the illusion that I still have something to offer.

“I worked so hard to try and make the team. Shelley and myself came up through the intermediate. I loved the intermediate. We worked so hard to make it to senior and by the time I got to get the jersey, I wasn’t ready to give it up quickly.

“And you can’t always be there for the good days. Everybody wants to be there for the good days. But sure to get back to the good days, you have to go through the bad ones.”

They never saw the decline coming. Not the extent of it anyway.

“We were in semi-finals for years. Kate Kelly and Mary (Leacy) played in our last semi-final. That’s not that long ago. We played Galway in Nowlan Park (in the 2015 semi-final) and we were robbed! Remember? (Wexford appealed the one-point defeat on two counts but were not successful).That’s not many years ago.

“It dropped suddenly. Maybe the intensity was high for that many years but I also think maybe, so many players played for so long and when they stopped, the players that hadn’t made the team went away or weren’t able to get to that level.

“The competition every night of the week was so high with Wexford. Your leg could be falling but you’d be like, ‘God, I’m not letting anybody know I’m injured.’”

You wonder if the bloody mindedness is part of her make-up or a response to discovering she had MS?

“I’m going to say it’s probably a little bit of both. I think I would be pretty determined anyway but it’s the fact I’m so well. If I wasn’t as well, I wouldn’t be able to keep playing. The fact I was playing camogie so much and so active before I was diagnosed, was a big help. There were only a few things I had to change to my lifestyle.

“Training consistent, eating properly, looking after yourself – it was mirrored by what you’d do if you had MS. And then, doing that at the higher level of inter-county. Not drinking probably stings a bit! But you’re allowed a sip every now and then. But the lifestyle suits.

“When I got diagnosed first I would have been on different medication but since then, I haven’t had an episode as bad as that thankfully. There’s been a change of medication which I think suits me a lot better and suits playing camogie as I would have been taking injections in my legs an awful lot. They would have been sore and I could be tearing a quad but now I’m taking tablets and when I take them, I have to eat a protein, a carbohydrate and a fat so it keeps you going on the diet side too. You have to make sure everything is linked in. We have the nutritionist so we can link in with everything.

“Fatigue at some points can get you but I think that’s for everybody playing at that level. It’s not just me, so I don’t feel sorry for myself. Everybody has to go to work or college every day. Everybody has other things in their life that needs to get done so I don’t think I’m any different to anybody else in that sense. We’re all busy girls.”

What a boon it has been for Wexford to have such a character in the dressing room. As ever, she focuses on the collective, a strong squad with a unified goal. Dublin, she acknowledges, will be tough.

Making Ciara Storey just the woman for the job.

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