BY JENNIFER O'LEARY
THE Southern Star Sports Editor certainly knew how to blow away my January cobwebs.
‘I want to know who your top ten camogie players of all-time were,’ he said.
There was no time for entertaining those January blues, it was straight down to business – and this wasn’t an easy job.
In the end, I got there, my top ten, and my search criteria was simple: each and every one of them had that star quality, the magic, a drive and determination to achieve their maximum potential, and their list of achievements is staggering.
In total, my top ten have won 69 All-Ireland senior camogie titles between them. I know it’s not all about winning – believe me, I’m well aware of this – but this group of women are winners because they are special in so many different ways. Enjoy.
(All-Ireland senior camogie medals won in brackets.)
10. Sandie Fitzgibbon (6)
A speedy and athletic midfielder and centre back, Sandie would have played on Cork teams in the 1980s and 90s and I remember going to Cork games and being excited to see her engine on the pitch. My first real encounter with her was in 2000 when she was a selector on the Cork senior camogie management team. I was just starting out and she had this ability to make you feel so welcome and relaxed. She may have been quite petite on the pitch but her work rate and natural ability stood out a mile. A talented individual, a team player and a Cork camogie legend.
9. Therese Maher (1)
Therese was a player who was guaranteed to be on the opposing Galway team come league and championship, year in year out. She persevered in the game for 16 years until she finally achieved her goal of winning a senior medal in 2013. I admire her never-give-up attitude, her mental strength and belief to keep coming back year after year. I respect her even more for sticking with the team and bringing youth along with her in the process. She had a major impact on Galway’s win and will remain a well-known centre back for years to come.
8. Kate Kelly (4)
Kate is a native of Wexford and a name that is synonymous with top quality camogie. Some people say she plays like a hurler – I don’t quite know what they mean by this, girls are hurlers and can do everything a man can do in the game, but I think they are trying to emphasise how fluid and natural her swing is and how effortless her play is. Kate is still playing today at a very high level and achieved her ninth All-Star last year.
7. Aoife Murray (6)
An extraordinary goalkeeper with incredible reactions, Aoife feels no pain: she leaps across the goal-mouth, throwing her body like a puppet into the air, often landing heavy on the ground, but she won’t wince once. I’ve seen her application to improving her game by introducing various training methods to progress minor aspects of her game in order to make the major aspects work for her and the team. A true professional, she’s the best goalkeeper in the game.
6. Briege Corkery (6)
Briege was recently named as one of the greatest GAA sportspeople of all-time, along with the fantastic Rena Buckley. Briege has 17 inter-county All-Ireland senior medals to her name for both camogie and football, but if you had a conversation with her about those achievements, she would quickly try and deflect the attention away. She doesn’t look for praise, she trains harder than anyone I know and has high expectations of herself in both codes. This constant search for betterment is what makes Briege so successful, and her modesty allows her to remain grounded and focused on what really matters. Her ability to suddenly change a game with her solo runs at immense pace is what makes this player so exciting to watch.
5. Gemma O’Connor (6)
A rock solid individual in every way, Gemma is a stalwart of camogie and a girl I had the pleasure of playing alongside at inter-county level for many years. Gemma has it all: skill, power, intelligence, stamina and sheer determination. She has managed to balance her tough job in the army with the demands expected of you at senior inter-county level. Gemma has achieved so much and will continue to play for as long as her body will allow it. She looks after herself so there’s still more to come.
4. Mary O’Connor (6)
Mary is a legend of the game and a credit to the game of camogie, not just in her decorated playing days but now also in her progressive role within the Camogie Association. Her unbelievable point scored off her weaker side in the 1997 final in full flight from 50 yards out is a talking point for those who mention her name. I knew her as the solid and dependable centre back and remember talking to her following her retirement where I asked her to reconsider her decision. She certainly had a major impact on me as a player growing up and she was someone I wanted to emulate on the camogie pitch.
3. Fiona O’Driscoll (6)
I’ll never forget the 2002 All-Ireland final when Fiona was on absolute fire; I was there on the pitch alongside her. She was completely revved up and if she got her hand on another few balls they would have certainly had goals written all over them. She scored a hat-trick that day, and while she was always known as ‘the pocket rocket’ with an incredible first touch, she really shone brighter than ever on the field of play that day. Fiona was awesome, an accurate free taker with a low centre of gravity and a really driven individual. When I think of Cork camogie and its successes, I automatically think of her.
2. Kathleen Mills (15)
I never saw her play but she had to get on this list. She was a name I had seen and heard many times before in camogie circles and I was taken aback when I researched all that she won with her county, Dublin. Kathleen Mills played from 1941 until 1961 and her collection of 15 medals outlines just how good she was. With a career in camogie spanning a 20-year period, she is regarded as one of the greatest players of all-time and no other player in camogie, hurling or football in an individual code has equalled this record. She has been compared to legends such as Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard – that highlights how gifted she really was.
1. Angela Downey (12)
A twin whose sister Ann was also a great talent in the game, Angela Downey is a sportswoman who resonates with me most from my childhood days. Maybe it’s because she also played in the forward line like me and I recall watching her on TV re-runs when I started getting interested in the game. Angela’s inter-county career spanned over 25 years and she made her debut on the senior Kilkenny side at corner forward at just 13 years of age. While this would never happen now, it certainly did not happen too often in the past – that shows what a serious talent she was. She was lethal in the forward line and could easily put teams away in the first half. She is famous for her camogie prowess but many may remember her as the Kilkenny player who in 1989 lost her skirt while scoring a goal in the All-Ireland final! She was the complete package as a camogie player, displaying sheer skill and a fierce athletic ability. An icon of the game and an inspiration to future players.