IN the final moments of the 2020 county senior camogie championship decider, Courcey Rovers, closing in on an historic triumph, were in pole position. They led Inniscarra by 5-12 to 1-12.
They were minutes from the club’s first-ever county senior championship title. Defending champions Inniscarra were on the ropes.
That was also the moment when Courcey Rovers selector Joey Gallagher decided to pick up his fellow selector Shirley Moloney and throw her over his shoulder.
She didn’t know what was happening until the pitch appeared upside down. Moloney told him that the game was far from over. Gallagher carefully placed her back on the ground before pointing to his watch and then to the scoreboard.
‘I didn’t care,’ Moloney says, ‘Even with a four-goal lead, I was pleading for that final whistle.
‘When it went, I couldn’t believe we had finally done it. It was a pinch-me moment: Courcey Rovers were county champions for the first time. I ran on to the pitch to find my sister Ashling. All I could say was we have done it, we have done it. It took about a week for it to sink in. Even today, it still feels a bit surreal.
‘A first senior county title is what Courcey Rovers had been aiming to achieve for over 21 years. The squad had come close on a few occasions but only because they never reached their full potential.’
Who or what was the X-factor that got Rovers over the line? Surely, Moloney’s now-legendary lockdown Zoom sessions played a role.
‘I remember thinking after my first Courcey Rovers training session that Shirley was a bit of a lunatic, but in a good way,’ Cork senior Saoirse McCarthy laughs.
Courcey’s captain Karyn Keohane is another who sings her praises.
‘Shirley is a straight talker, but players appreciate that. Even now when if I go for a run near home, I can hear Shirley in my head saying “Karyn, your head will give up long before your body”,’ Keohane says.
A well-respected former Cork camogie PRO and long-serving Courcey Rovers player and coach, she got on board with the senior management team last year, adding her knowledge and experience to that of Mike Boland (manager), and selectors, Kevin Hannon and Joey Gallagher.
Rovers were coming off a disappointing 2019 and had lost the 2018 county senior decider to Inniscarra. The raw material was there for a positive season. Then Covid-19 struck and changed everything.
‘I came on board in 2020 and we started training in CIT,’ Moloney explains.
‘Next, we began running in the ball alley at home and had a few sessions under our belt before word started filtering through about Covid. That’s when everything ground to a halt.
‘That’s also when my Zoom sessions began and kept the senior panel going through April, May and June. We did two sessions a week but they were more an opportunity to touch base as a group. Working hard, yes, but having an interaction with each other and a bit of fun was more important than anything else.
‘You’d hear the odd voice shouting back at you saying, “Jesus, Shirley, are you losing your mind or what?” The banter and the craic were a good distraction from what was going on.’
It is worth noting that most GAA clubs were in the same boat during that first lockdown in 2020. Each club was running Zoom training sessions but the difference with Courcey Rovers was Moloney’s organisation, delivery and after-effects.
‘Shirley’s training sessions were a contributing factor to Courcey Rovers winning the county because they were so intense,’ Saoirse McCarthy says.
‘Yes, Shirley is a taskmaster and won’t take any excuses. The club is absolutely everything to her. I have so much respect for her because of that. There is an edge to Shirley. Make no mistake, she’d go through you rather than around you. There are no prisoners taken.
‘But the fact Shirley took on the training sessions, drew them up, organised, and ran them herself was important. If someone asks you to do something, then it is a lot easier to do if they are willing to do it with you. That’s Shirley.’
Karyn Keohane takes on the story.
‘Initially, the main reason behind Shirley’s Zoom sessions was for people’s mental health and to help them through lockdown,’ Keohane says.
‘Shirley jumped at the opportunity to organise and run the Zoom sessions with the Courceys’ senior panel every Tuesday and Saturday. She facilitated the whole thing and did everything for us including posting the workouts on our group chat for anyone that couldn’t attend.
‘Most importantly of all, Shirley was able to explain every exercise down to a tee. That’s why we got so much out of them. She is a brilliant leader and made the players put in that extra work because she, as a member of our senior management team, was willing to put in all that time and work herself.’
The GAA history books will show that in 2020, and despite a global pandemic, Courcey Rovers claimed their first-ever senior camogie championship title. There were many contributory factors but ask anyone involved with Courceys how that goal was achieved and invariably, Shirley Moloney’s name crops up.
True, the foundations had been laid during previous campaigns and under different management but Moloney’s attention to detail and dedication in the most trying circumstances won over her players.
‘I remember talking to Joey Gallagher early in the year and just after we got back out on the pitches. I said to him that this isn’t going to be Courcey’s year. No-one knows how things will pan out but I wouldn’t have winning a county on my mind at all. “Ah yeah, Joey replied, but if you got one, you’d take it.” Little did we know,’ Moloney says.
‘Fast forward to the county final against Inniscarra and, my God, we got off to a bad start. You could see people asking the same question: is this going to be a repeat of the 2018 county final defeat to them (Inniscarra) all over again?
‘The girls decided to unleash the beast and grabbed that county final by the scruff of the neck. That was it. There was no need to coach them from the side-lines that day. They began to express themselves. All the work had been put in but it was county final day when it finally all came together for Courcey Rovers. I was so proud of them.
‘That’s why when we log off our Zoom training sessions now, everyone says goodbye champions! That means a lot even though it is still such a novelty to hear.’