ELAINE Aylward knows better than most what’s needed to compete at the highest levels – and that’s why she is backing Enniskeane to find their feet fast in senior camogie in 2021.
A former Kilkenny senior camogie star for 13 years, and an All-Star in 2009, Aylward moved to Enniskeane in 2016 – after marrying a local man – and has been involved in a coaching capacity with the local camogie team since 2017.
She watched on from the sideline when Enniskeane lost the 2017 and 2019 county intermediate finals, but 2020 proved third time lucky as they got their hands on the prize that had eluded them.
The reward is a place in the Cork camogie senior ranks in 2021, and Aylward feels Enniskeane can hold their own with the best in the county.
‘It’s a huge step, it’s senior camogie in Cork, and Cork are one of the top three teams in the country so the standard is very high,’ Aylward says.
‘But what 2020 proved is that if you have a good bunch of girls, like Enniskeane have, that’s a big help.
‘The sooner the 2021 championship starts and the girls get into it, the better. We have played challenge matches and county league games against senior teams over the years and we have always been able to hold our own.
‘I think the best way to improve is to play at a high standard and Enniskeane will only improve by playing senior. The young girls coming through now will have the chance to play senior camogie too and that can only help the standard in Enniskeane.’
That’s a view shared by Enniskeane player Siobhan O’Driscoll, as the Carbery club intends to kick on.
‘I am confident we will make an impact at senior next year,’ O’Driscoll says.
‘We will be playing the great teams that we want to be playing against, like Courceys, Killeagh, Milford, Inniscara and St Finbarr’s.
‘We are already looking forward to the championship draws.’
And Enniskeane are bouncing into 2021 off the back of a dream 2020 campaign.
A silver lining to the Covid pandemic was that Enniskeane had a full squad at training every night. Everyone was together and everyone was pulling in the same direction. The bond between them strengthened.
‘They were always close as a team and close as friends, but in a year like 2020 when you had no other outlet, and you couldn’t go anywhere or do anything else, the GAA was your only social outlet and you were delighted to have that,’ Aylward explains.
‘There were no J1s gone for the summer, no one gone travelling, very few had part-time jobs, the inter-county players were all with the club too, so we had the same bunch of girls every night for training. They became a big family for one another.’
For Aylward, a selector on the management team that also included Dermot Curtin, Brian Daly and Anthony O’Sullivan, it meant they had a full hand to train and pick from – and that helped.
Having influential Cork forward Orla Cronin involved from the start was also a huge help. With the club and inter-county seasons separated, Cronin had an uninterrupted few months with her home club, and that benefitted everyone.
‘She was outstanding for us,’ Siobhan O’Driscoll says.
‘The only good thing about Covid was we enjoyed training with Orla full time. We got to know how she plays, we learned a lot from her but even off the pitch the team bonded really well together.’
Cronin led by example throughout the campaign. The Cork centre forward hit 1-11 against Ballyhea, 0-10 against Blackrock and 0-7 against Fr O’Neills, before saving her best performance for the county final against Aghabullogue. Player of the match that day, Cronin scored 0-11 to get Enniskeane over the finishing line.
A few weeks earlier, though, they found themselves in a tricky spot in the county quarter-final against Blackrock.
At one stage in the first half of their last-eight tie against Blackrock, Enniskeane trailed by 13 points.
The outlook appeared grim.
‘On the sideline there is not a lot you can do when you are in that situation, only try to get messages into the girls,’ Aylward says.
‘But credit to them, it was their own motivation that got them out of trouble, their own words at half time, and they drove on in the second half. They didn’t panic, they kept tipping away with the points, and I think that the real difference was the belief they had in themselves.
‘They weren’t happy with their first-half performance, it wasn’t a reflection of what they did in training in lockdown and it was their hard work and effort that saw them pull through that game.’
Louise Duggan, Siobhan O’Driscoll, Kellie Scannell, Aisling O’Driscoll, Laura Mannix and Orla Cronin, they all stood up that day, they refused to accept defeat and they got their reward: a narrow win and a place in the last four.
Confidence grew with each victory, and Aylward noticed a change in the group this season.
‘There was definitely something different about them in 2020,’ says the Kilkenny woman who still lines out for her home club Mullinavat in south Kilkenny.
‘Even from the start of the year you could see it in their attitude, they realised how close they had come in the last few seasons and probably realised too that there is nothing given in sport and that you have to go and earn it.’
Enniskeane earned it in 2020, and it all came together on county final day.
September 20th, 2020, that’s the day Enniskeane beat Aghabullogue by 1-16 to 2-8 at Castle Road to be crowned county intermediate champions.
It was a day worth waiting for, even more special in 2020 as it was the club’s 25th anniversary.
‘As a unit we performed well in the final,’ explains Siobhan O’Driscoll, ‘our defence left quick ball into the forwards and they did the damage inside then.
‘This year we were a lot more mature than other years, which was the difference.
‘Every game we absorbed any pressure that was on us and we just never gave up. This was evident from our quarter-final win against Blackrock. We were 13 points down, we kept on hunting our opponents, tipping the scoreboard over and showing leadership all over the pitch. We brought that fight to the other games – that is why we are county champions.’
Now they’re eager to see what 2021 brings and Enniskeane, who also fielded a second adult camogie team for the first time in 2020, are in a good place heading into their first season in the senior championship.