JENNIFER O'LEARY COLUMN
WHEN the result of the inaugural Liberty Insurance Camogie All-Stars exhibition match filtered through, it was no surprise to hear that Cork goalkeeper Aoife Murray shone between the posts, even though she finished on the losing team, and it was no shock either that those watching on at the XV Hortaleza Rugby Club in chilly Madrid were delighted with what they saw.
There was skill, passion, lots of scores – the 2016 All-Stars team beat the 2017 All-Stars by 10-13 to 7-8 – and the historic first Camogie All-Stars has been a massive success.
When you consider how special camogie is, that was never in doubt.
This tour symbolises another step forward for women in sport but a giant leap for the game of camogie. It rewards the All-Stars who are spreading the word by their heroics on the pitch throughout the year and it’s promoting the game and showcasing the talent of camogie players to a new audience. It’s win-win.
‘It was something everybody would have been aware of for a number of years that we wanted to do as an organisation,’ Camogie Association President Catherine Neary reflected, her term coming to an end next April.
‘Certainly from my point of view, it’s all about the game and if it’s all about the game it’s all about the players as well. So it’s another step up that ladder to show we have a fantastic game and players that put so much of their life into our game. This is another small way to acknowledge that.
‘It’s important to get it done and that we continue on and learn from it as it goes on. There is no downside to something like this. It’s about bringing the game out there, not hiding it.’
Catherine’s right, there is no downside to this. It’s another step along the road for our sport.
The 2016 and 2017 All-Star selections, 29 in total from eight different counties, jetted off last Wednesday week to Madrid, all sharing a common goal: to promote the game of camogie abroad. In the lead-up to this tour, players past and present backed this initiative and praised the forward-thinking of the Camogie Association, in conjunction with Liberty Insurance Ireland, who joined forces to ensure this idea could be realised.
Praise must be given to Liberty Insurance Ireland who have been a great support to camogie and ladies football teams during the past few years and the various initiatives such as ‘squad goals’ have raised the bar in highlighting the skills and competencies of clubs around the country in camogie.
On arriving to the Spanish capital the All-Star squads visited a number of local tourist attractions such as the home of Real Madrid, the Bernabeu. While sitting in the team seats at the stadium I’m sure the girls felt like the superstars they are, soaking in the sun and visualising what it’s like to play in front of a crowd of 81,000 people. They also visited the Irish Embassy abroad as well as the Liberty Insurance offices in Madrid (Liberty Seguros) where the game of camogie was presented to the staff working within its walls.
The highlight of the tour for 2016 and 2017 All-Star Orla Cotter was the exhibition game where all 29 players displayed the skills of the game in a 50-minute match in the XV Hortaleza Rugby Club.
‘The game was very enjoyable, playing and linking up with girls you’re usually fighting against on the pitch. We had a fantastic welcome and time there. Playing camogie abroad and getting the chance to play and promote the game out here is not something you do get to do too often,’ Orla said.
This trip also allowed the inter-county players to interact with locals, showing them the skills of the game in the form of an ad-hoc coaching session in Juan Carlos I Park. Each player broke down various basic skills of the game and demonstrated alongside the eager participants.
We can sometimes forget how skilful and technical camogie is. Basic skills such as the jab pick or solo come naturally to those who have been playing from a young age. Here locals were fascinated by the technique involved and enjoyed the task of trying out something new and exciting.
Camogie as a game in Madrid is still just at the thinking phase. The aim is to start a club soon and compete in European competitions. Madrid GAC has over 150 members who provide opportunities to play both Gaelic football for men and women and hurling. Founded in 2003 the member base has grown and includes players from Spain, Ireland and beyond. The hope is to start camogie in the Spanish capital and I’m sure this fantastic promotion of the game will kick-start this process and capture the imagination of many people.
This can only be the start of an exciting venture for the Camogie Association.
Having played with the Central Coast Camogie team in Sydney Australia, I have experienced how important it is to have that vital link and sense of identity through the help of Gaelic games. It’s an integral part of our culture but can also play a vital part in other people’s lives that aren’t inherently Irish.
The game should be for all and what better ambassadors of the game but the players themselves who showcase skill, passion and determination to reach the heights in their own game. With continued efforts between sponsorship partners, players and the Camogie Association itself, there can be a significant growth in camogie in future years.
We are only just at the beginning.