by Daragh Ó Conchúir
IN COMPARISON with the county’s hurlers, the Galway Camogie brigade have been high achievers, even though the statistic of one Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Championship success in 2013, 17 years after their maiden title, is hardly the stuff of legend.
Like the men, they are always contenders though. More consistent probably but close too often for their liking, without getting over the line. It is remarkable that they haven’t won more, given the calibre of performer in a maroon jersey over the years.
As we watched Therese Maher sink to her knees almost four years ago, her own personal 16-year crusade having finally come to an end, few among us thought the Tribeswomen would not enjoy another day like this in the ensuing campaigns, even with The Great One signing off in the most deserved fashion.
Heather Cooney can barely believe so much time has passed since Lorraine Ryan was presented with the O’Duffy Cup. The St. Thomas defender has been appointed captain by new manager Mark Dunne and in many ways it is a natural fit for the 28-year-old primary school teacher at Killeeneen NS, who has been an ever-present since stepping up to the senior ranks in 2010, the year after winning an Intermediate All-Ireland.
The former All-Star does have some context with regard how these things can go however, with her brother Conor one of the hurlers’ go-to attackers as they look well placed to draw a curtain on what stands at 29 years of hurt since the days when the likes of Joe Cooney (no relation), Tony Keady, Pete Finnerty and ‘Hopper’ McGrath, father of current stars Niamh, Clodagh, Orlaith and Siobhán, were in their pomp.
Camogie is gradually earning more recognition but one wonders if there is a part of Cooney that might make her think that a high profile is not all it is cracked up to be when she witnesses the criticism that her brother and his teammates have had to endure in recent years.
“I do think there’s a lot of pressure on the lads and people are quick to put them down” says Cooney. “There are definitely times I look and I think, to be criticised to that degree is not nice. But then again, with the level of coverage they’re getting, that comes.
“Would you be happy to open yourself up to that level of criticism? I don’t know, I don’t think anyone would but in saying that, on the good days then there’s the loud praise.
“The profile of Camogie is definitely improving and that’s all for the good. I would never put that in a negative light.”
She agrees that a significant step in that journey will be when analysis is honest and players are called on costly errors.
“Oh my God, I don’t think there’s anything worse than someone being patronising saying that was good for a girl and things like that. If there’s a mistake made, it should be said. If it’s ‘Ah the poor girl that was unfortunate’ that’s just talking down to you.
“There is so much that comes with a profile. Playing in front of crowds is great and things like playing our matches before the lads is something I like. It means we get better crowds and people heading down to the Camogie match a bit earlier to have a look. It makes a difference.”
Cooney admits that there is a real appetite to return to Croke Park but insists that it had never waned.
“There’s definitely a hunger. It’s not like we haven’t been hungry but 2013 is well gone at this stage. If you look at it, the girls won the intermediate that day and a lot of them have come into the senior team since. They have that little bit more experience now and hopefully we’ll see that. We’ll see how it goes and take every game as it comes.”
Galway face Dublin at Parnell’s GAA in Coolock today (2.30pm) in what will be their first competitive outing since losing to Kilkenny in the League Semi-Final on April 9th. That is 10 weeks of hoping that what you’re doing at training and challenge matches is sufficient.
Even before the Championship started last weekend, there was provincial competition in Munster, Leinster and Ulster, while Dublin have the added advantage of coming off an excellent win over Clare at this venue last weekend.
Suddenly, Galway’s players face a period of incessant activity as the county championship gets under way next Thursday. But the skipper can’t wait to get going.
“It feels like it’s been forever. We’ve had club games, challenge games, panel games among ourselves but you really feel like you want to go out there and get started.
“I’d be wary of any team you’re meeting in the Championship. Dublin won last week but we’ll go into it like any other match, we’ve prepared well and hope it goes well.”