WITH Cork in the All-Ireland senior camogie semi-final against Wexford this Saturday at Semple Stadium (2pm), I began to think about the many games I was fortunate to play wearing the red of Cork, and these are the matches that still remain transfixed in my memory as the toughest and hardest-fought and, I suppose, most meaningful to me.
5. 2003 All-Ireland final v Tipperary (lost 2-11 to 1-11)
Having beaten Tipp the year before in my first senior final, this knocked us back. We thought that Cork were on a winning streak and didn’t expect Tipp to come back stronger this year.
Tipp were captained by the brilliant and reliable Una O’Dwyer and with just a goal between us it was a hard fought, physical, fast and highly skilful game. I remember being marked by Sinead Nealon, something I had gotten used to over the years when playing Tipp, but that never made it an easy feat.
Following this wake-up call and reality hit, it took us another year to get back on top. Tipp were very dominant in this period, but Cork were always on their heels and soon became the team to beat.
I don’t think we ever went into a game against Tipp being arrogant or full sure we were going to win. They set the marker for what teams should be, they were awesome and I was very lucky to play against some of the greats on those teams – Jill Horan, Claire Grogan, Ciara Gaynor to name but a few.
4. 2010 All-Ireland semi-final replay v Galway (lost 0-10 to 0-9)
We were going for three in a row and I had just returned from Australia at Christmas 2009 – I found it tough to get back up to the speed expected at this level. I played hockey in the winter and tried to train harder than ever to ensure I could play a part on the team. We never expected to find ourselves absent from the field of dreams entirely that year and it took us another four years to get back to that feeling of euphoria when you lift the O’Duffy cup. Galway were more hungry than us and I feel we were perhaps a little too complacent that year.
3. 2007 All-Ireland final v Wexford (lost 2-7 to 1-8)
I remember how much of a hard graft it was to break the Wexford defence. It was like trying to break through a solid brick wall. Wexford were awesome that year. It would begin the start of Wexford’s dominance although they didn’t quite show it until their three-in-a-row of 2010-12.
This was a loss that was hard to take for many reasons – a three-in-a-row chance dashed, Fiona O’Driscoll’s last year with us as manager and depriving captain fantastic Gemma O’Connor the chance to lift that cup.
No matter when you play Wexford, they are a very difficult team to beat. They never ever give up. Following this defeat, I went travelling as I needed to take a break to enjoy camogie again.
2. 2014 All-Ireland semi-final v Wexford (draw, 1-9 each)
We won the replay on a scoreline of 1-15 to 0-8 but I don’t think there was ever a semi-final that was so difficult to win. Cork were the better team throughout and we didn’t take our chances when we should have.
If there’s anything camogie has taught me, it’s that you can never lie down against Wexford. You may think that a game is totally out of one’s reach if there are only two minutes to go and you are four points up, but Wexford are one of those teams that never ever give up and can change a game entirely.
Within seconds their forwards make it look easy to score goals at any crucial stage. I had the opportunity to put us one ahead in the dying seconds of the game with a 45 at the sideline but unfortunately it went wide. It was one of those games where you left the field feeling totally spent, dejected by the draw but also angry that you couldn’t grasp the win. It made us stronger and more determined going forward.
1. 2014 All-Ireland final v Kilkenny (won 2-12 to 1-9)
Words like intensity, speed, body-blows and frenzy come to mind when I think of this game.
It was a hard road to this final, having had the extra game with the semi-final replay to set us up for what was a gruelling tussle. I believe we were the underdogs going into this game, as Kilkenny had left every team shell-shocked in their round-robin games. I don’t think Cork have ever had to work so hard during each game of the championship to get to Croke Park but it sure felt amazing to get there.
This game has to top my list as being the toughest game I have ever played with the red jersey of Cork. Not only because of our opposition, a Kilkenny side who were showing why they had won numerous minor titles in years past, but for other underlying reasons that would test the playing ability of anyone.
I have to empathise with and admire Galway’s Joe Canning in his recent interview after their All-Ireland quarter-final against Clare where he expressed how hurling is, at the end of the day, just a hobby of his and how there are more important things in life like family, which always come first.
It made me think of how lucky he is to have an amazing escape in the form of the game he loves and it struck a chord with me because this is what camogie was for me in 2014. It helped me forget some of my personal heartaches for those few hours of training or matches in preparation for the big day in September. Having lost my mother in May of that year and my sister less than two weeks before the All-Ireland final, I can’t express how much this game meant to me and all my family and friends.
It was definitely a difficult game to play with so many overwhelming emotions running through every sinew of my body. And being lucky enough to be in the position of scoring a goal, having trained hard enough to take the many body blows along the way and having the support of my strong family in the crowd and a formidable team by my side, it was a game that was meant to be, meant to be won by Cork that day.
The very best of luck to Cork in the semi-final, I know you will give everything on the day and leading up to it in training. It’s fantastic that finally these important stages of the championship will be televised on RTÉ on Saturday. Come on Cork!