IT’S fitting that from Karyn Keohane’s home, high up in the townland of Kilgobbin, halfway between Ballinspittle and Ballinadee, she can see the lights of Cork Airport in the distance – because the Courcey Rovers stalwart has been flying high these past few months.
In September she captained Courceys to the club’s first-ever county senior camogie championship title. Her feet haven’t touched the ground since.
That was a magical moment for Keohane and her team-mates, as they blitzed Inniscarra by 5-12 to 1-12 in the county final at Castle Road.
In their 21st year playing senior camogie, Courceys’ wait to land their maiden title was over.
‘The joy and the emotion was unbelievable. It’s only when you watch the match back that it hits you,’ Keohane says, after she was last week presented – via Zoom – with a Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star Monthly Award for September.
This latest accolade was for her team-mates as much as her, their captain fantastic insists, but no-one will begrudge her this moment of recognition either.
She’s one of the longest-serving players with Courceys. In 2008 she captained the club’s junior C footballers to a county title and 12 seasons on she captained the club’s senior camogie team to an historic county title. That’s longevity right there. But then again, she’s a very determined woman.
‘When I was in third year of secondary school I was the only girl still playing sport,’ she explains. Her love of sport and the outdoors and her strong desire to win meant that dropping out of sport was never an option. It means too much to this Kinsale native who joined Courcey Rovers because she wanted to play GAA. At the time, Kinsale didn’t have a ladies’ GAA section, so Courceys was her route to playing GAA – and she hasn’t looked back.
That county junior football title in 2008. Then there were two seasons with the Cork senior B footballers, including an All-Ireland win in 2009. She had to wait until 2014 for her next county success, the Cork junior B football title when Courceys beat Dohenys to move up to junior A.
In 2017, Courceys landed an important county senior camogie league title. It was followed by a first county senior camogie championship final appearance the next season which ended in heartbreak, but, ultimately, was an experience they needed to endure.
In 2019, Keohane was picked, by her team-mates, to captain the senior camogie team, but then she received some great news: she was pregnant. In October last year, Karyn and her husband Ronan welcomed their first child, Lailah. The new mom’s hands were full, but Courceys was never far from her thoughts. And there was never a doubt in her mind that she would return this year. Again, she was named captain.
‘I didn’t put any pressure on myself saying that I had to come back, but I felt good,’ Keohane explains.
‘I have been fortunate that I have had very few injuries and I’ve always maintained a certain level of fitness so I felt I still had something to contribute to the team.
‘Even when I was pregnant last year I still went to a lot of the training sessions and matches, and I would have kept that close connection with the team and the management. I still wanted to play my part and be there for my team-mates, even when I wasn’t on the pitch.’
This season, her comeback year, has been the most unusual in living memory for most of us, but Keohane and Courceys never lost their focus. Instead, they embraced the challenges, they adapted and they pushed on. As a result, their bond strengthened.
‘Given the Covid situation this year the clubhouse was closed so if we had a match at the weekend, we used to meet at Garretstown Beach every Saturday,’ Keohane explains.
‘We used to walk along the water, everyone would bring their breakfast and maybe a cup of tea, and we’d have a team chat. It became more relaxed, it felt like you were going to meet your friends on the beach rather than this big, serious conversation in a clubhouse. That approach suited us, it was very relaxed and open. We had a routine that worked for us and we kept it for every game, from the first through to final.’
In a normal year, odds are Courceys wouldn’t have used Garretstown as a meeting point. Instead, it would have been a dressing-room at the clubhouse.
‘We are so lucky to have the beach so close to us but we wouldn’t have taken advantage of it before. But when you do have to think outside the box, and when the clubhouse wasn’t available, it benefitted us hugely. Even for next year, we are already saying we need to keep the same approach, go to the beach, go for a walk,’ Keohane explains.
Courceys approach certainly paid off this season. Round by round, they improved and impressed, and Keohane played her role. She set high standards. After one training session they were told to run up the hill outside the dressing-room at the clubhouse. When they were finished and still trying to catch their breath, Keohane asked to do it five more times. Like we said, she’s determined.
It meant they arrived in the final, against the Inniscarra team that had beaten them in the 2018 senior decider, hopping off the ground physically, while also a lot more streetwise. Lessons were learned and there was no way they were going to be caught in the headlights like two years earlier.
‘In 2018 the lads were in the county final as well, and we probably started thinking that we will all be in the lorry together after, celebrating,’ she admits. ‘Even seeing flags and banners up around the village, which we hadn’t seen before, you probably get caught up in the moment.
‘Then there was the national anthem on the day of the final. We were still doing the warm-up and our trainer was calling out different drills when the anthem started. We were all over the place to be honest, but that experience stood to us.’
Ahead of this year’s county final, there was a boombox at training. Every now and again, someone would play the national anthem, just to normalise it. Courceys were determined not to be caught out again by the trappings of the big day – and they weren’t.
Now, heading into 2021 as champions, Courcey Rovers are the team to beat, and that’s motivation right there for Keohane and Co.
‘In the past we would have been looking at the team who wins the county final as the level we need to get to, so we’re well aware that every other team will be looking at us and wanting to beat us,’ she says.
‘We know that people will want to take us down but we don’t want to be a one-year wonder, we feel we can get better and we want to keep this journey going, that’s a huge motivation for us.
‘Now that we know what it feels like to win a county title, we want it again and we want to hold on to that feeling.’
For Keohane, a middle child, she deserves her name in the headlines and a moment on stage all to herself, for the service she’s given Courceys and the commitment she’s shown over the years. And if her feet don’t touch the ground until 2021, well, she’s earned that too.