Jennifer O'Leary - No better feeling than winning in your youth

June 5th, 2017 10:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

Great to see him back: Talented Bandon hurler Michael Cahalane has returned to the GAA field for club and county despite being told two years ago that he would never play again due to a heart condition.

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‘I’ll look forward to sitting in the Hogan Stand, When you play with Cork in the All-Ireland’

‘I’ll look forward to sitting in the Hogan Stand, When you play with Cork in the All-Ireland’


THEY were the words, still fresh in my mind today, written in a good luck card from my national school teacher in Barryroe when I was moving on to secondary school in Clonakilty all those years ago.

At the time, buoyed by the enthusiasm of youth and dreams, those words got me thinking of the endless sporting possibilities that lay ahead of me. When you’re that age the sky is the limit. Nothing is impossible.

I’m in nostalgic mood this month, off the back of a few games I watched lately, games that really struck a chord with me and brought me back to how I experienced success and enjoyment in camogie when I was young.

One of these matches was Cork hurlers’ terrific Munster senior hurling championship win against Tipperary in Semple Stadium – what an impact that victory had, beating the All-Ireland champions in their own backyard. This is a victory has reignited the passion Cork has always had for hurling; it was too long since we had seen it. 

But what stood out for me was the youth in the Cork panel and the freshness that now lines out for the team. Men like Bandon’s Michael Cahalane – who made an instant impact when brought on with his crucial goal, having come back from the heart condition that stopped him playing for two years – made it even more moving to see Cork gel and click like they did. 

It also reminded me of training with my club Barryroe years ago, and of a young Michael who always attending our sessions with his mother Josie, who played with us. Michael always had a hurley in his hand and he displayed brilliant skill even then. He repeatedly hit the ball with excellent aim off the nets behind the goal, catching it before it dropped. It makes me feel really old to think he is now a man and I’m watching him on TV! 

I’m delighted for him to return to the game he is born to play and also thrilled for his family because I know that Cork GAA runs through their veins just like their own blood.

You see, playing camogie at a young age for me was a joy. There was nothing else I wanted to do, no pulls from anything else. I grew up in Barryroe with a brilliant group of girls who adored the game – and that was just magic. 

At underage level we were very competitive and while we lost a few finals and semi-finals along the way, we still kept going and many of my former teammates played into their thirties and some are still playing. They always showed a great commitment and weren’t distracted by other influences like socialising and working at a young age, which can be a more attractive option for the youth. 

I’m glad those opportunities didn’t affect me or impact me too much. I have and I would still pick camogie over many other things, even today. This can cause problems when it comes to prioritising in life. It’s all about striking a balance they say but I have great difficulty with this.

Just last week I watched a brilliant victory for my club in Armagh, Middletown, when the U14 camogie team won the championship final. It really brought me back to my playing days as this group of girls live and breathe the sport, and put it above anything else in their young lives. The excitement in the dressing room beforehand, the maturity that came out in words from a number of leaders on the team, the spirit and dogged determination of each player on the field, it really brought a lump to my throat and made me wish I could rewind the clock, go back home and play as a young girl once again. 

It reminded me of the special day in 1997 when we won the U14 Féile na nGael competition. I was asking my former teammates about the day (my memory was sketchy in parts), it was played in St Finbarr’s grounds against Aghabullogue and this victory was memorable as we had lost the U12 county final the year before against a talented Ballygarvan side. This win was certainly earned as we worked so hard and gave so much to camogie when we were young. We also had role models in Elaine McCarthy, Deirdre Walsh and many more who willingly took the time to train us. 

This Féile win meant the world to us, just like it means so much to all those budding enthusiasts who love sport and give up their time to represent their club and county. There was passion in our team that day. 

I remember one of our players arrived on crutches with a knee injury before the game, but she left the field after playing a memorable role in midfield! You know who you are, Karen! There was nothing going to stop us, just like the already mentioned Cork and Middletown teams of late.

This trip down camogie memory lane was put into perspective on hearing of the Manchester bombings where so many young people lost their lives. Maybe some of them played a sport and were part of a team, many of them could have just discovered an interest in sport – but their lives were cruelly sorely cut short by an all too common senseless terrorist act.

What I’m trying to say is enjoy sport when you can because you never know when something or someone may impede that possibility. 

There’s no better feeling than winning when you are young. 

Keep the memories and draw upon them every once in a while; they can do you the world of good.

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