More than three decades after her first appearance for Newcestown Camogie Club, Hilda Kenneally will still be an active player as they make their senior debut. She spoke to DENIS HURLEY
HILDA Kenneally describes herself as being ‘like a bad smell that won’t go away!’ from Newcestown Camogie Club, but her staying power will be rewarded in 2020.
Since first playing at adult level, she has been involved in six county finals, with victory first sampled with a 2-4 to 1-5 triumph against Kilbrittain in the 1989 junior B decider – a report noted that ‘when this final is talked about, the deeds of Hilda Kenneally will be forever remembered.’
Now the club chairperson, she remains a valuable playing presence. Victory at junior A level in 2015 – having re-graded from intermediate – kick-started the current golden period for the club, leading all the way to senior for the first time.
‘That was when the whole thing got a rejuvenation,’ Hilda says.
‘The older players stayed on, they said they wanted to give one more go. We won that and came up to intermediate and we won that too two years later.
‘We were supposed to be senior B but the format was changed and that grade was removed, so we were still intermediate even though we had won it.
‘Still, we weren’t fazed by that and then we went and won it again this year, so for the first time since the club was formed 37 years ago, we’re up in the top flight.
‘It takes a long time, but now that we’re there, we want to stay there and compete.
‘That’s the only problem, that it’s going to take a huge effort from everybody. We had our AGM recently, I was trying to emphasise really that even U8s and U10s are hugely important.
‘In a short period of time, before we know it, they’ll be trying to keep the senior team going as well.’
One of Newcestown’s great qualities, in both male and female codes, is high retention levels among players. In an area where numbers are limited, Hilda agrees that nobody can be allowed to slip through the cracks.
‘You need every single person,’ she says.
‘The player that you might deem weak or whatever, jeepers, without them you wouldn’t be able to field a team.
‘If that’s the case then, you’re going to lose a few more people, so everybody is vital to the cause. We’re trying to get more parents involved with the underage teams, get them on the committee and get more interest going.
‘A rising tide will hopefully lift all boats.’
And yet, at the start of the year, Hilda admits that she wasn’t sure if that tide was going to rise.
‘We weren’t sure,’ she says, ‘but, to be fair to our trainers and selectors – Séamus O’Donovan, my brother Edmund and Finbarr O’Callaghan, who has been there from day one – they believed in us all the way through.
‘I remember Séamus saying, “We’re hoping to be training all the way into November, because there’s an All-Ireland final in us.” We were all looking at him as if he had two heads but he wasn’t far off the mark at all.
‘We didn’t have the greatest of starts. We beat Clonakilty alright in the first round but then Na Piarsaigh beat us, though it was probably the best thing that ever happened.
‘We thought we were going too well and all that, that put us back in our place.’
Redoubling their efforts, they reached the final, where they would come to face with a familiar foe, the side they had beaten in the 2017 decider too.
‘We always wanted another crack off Enniskeane, our friendly enemies down the road!’ Hilda laughs.
‘We’ve had fierce battles with
them over the years and, to be fair to them, they should probably have won the final if right was right. They should have at least drawn it but a late free was missed and we won by a point.
‘It could have gone either way but the luck was with us, we seem to have it over them. We had the belief and we were very well-prepared coming into the final. We worked very hard but looking back, there was definitely room for more commitment and that will be needed now at senior over the next few years.
‘Still though, it’s great, three senior teams training in the one pitch next year, there aren’t too many clubs that can say that.’
Did she ever think when she started that she would be in such a situation?
‘I didn’t,’ she says, ‘honest to God of course I didn’t, it was the last thing on my mind, I was taking it year by year.
‘It’s all I know really, I’m very much a one-trick pony, camogie is my life. I played while pregnant and trained all the way through, even when the children were very small.
‘It helps that I’m only a stone’s throw from the pitch, only down the road. I love it and it’s my life.
‘I say to myself that the young girls keep me young but, yet, every night I go training I feel another year older!
‘I enjoy it and as long as I enjoy it I’ll keep going. If I can get another year out of it now between junior and maybe five minutes of a senior game would do me, I’d be delighted with myself.’