Deirdre Murphy is living her dream writes Daragh Ó Conchúir. In her 17th season as an adult inter-county player, she remains a key operator as Clare continue their bid to gatecrash the elite level of senior camogie.
Just last Saturday, the Clooney Quin stalwart was the best player on the pitch, scoring 1-2 and proving a sliotar magnet around the middle third as Clare got their Liberty Insurance championship campaign under way with a professional win over newcomers Derry in Ashbourne.
Throw in the fact that her job now entails spreading the camogie gospel in Munster – she is a regional development officer with the Camogie Association – and things couldn’t be going better.
There is an itch that needs scratching though. While Clare have continued to make progress since winning the All-Ireland junior title in 2008 – the year they began a run of three consecutive appearances in All-Ireland minor finals and four successive Munster titles – there is a sense that they need to make a major step-up now.
There have been glimpses of the Banner’s serious potential as John Carmody moulds a team combining the guile of Murphy, Claire McMahon and Denise Lynch with the bullet-proof confidence and enthusiasm of the likes of Máire McGrath, Chloe Morey, All-Ireland handballer Lisa Loughnane, Niamh O’Dea and Susan Vaughan.
In particular, there have been some mighty battles with Cork, beating the Leesiders in last year’s Munster final, losing by a point in the opening round of the championship and then a goal in the quarter-final.
This term they were again on the wrong side of the verdict after extra time in the league semi-final before falling flat in the penultimate round of the Munster championship. That latter effort apart, those performances offer an indication of Clare’s capabilities given Cork’s standing in the game as two-in-a-row league champions, All-Ireland finalists last season and favourites to go all the way in 2013.
The time has come for them to turn near-misses into wins though and Murphy isn’t shying away from that. Saturday’s clash with Kilkenny will be a stiff test of their credentials, given the Cats’ recent wins over Galway and Wexford.
“This is the year we have to do it” she says determinedly. “We won the Munster final last year, which was a massive thing for us; a great win for us. Then there’s only been a score between ourselves and Cork in the last five matches until the Munster semi-final, when they were by far the better team.
“I think that league semi-final took a lot out of us and a lot of girls are of college age and had exams. That’s not making excuses at all.
“This is a big year for us. You can only be contenders for so long and we really have to put ourselves in this year’s championship. We’re looking forward to trying.”
Murphy made her debut for Clare in 1997 “but I was very young” she adds hastily, with a broad grin. This is someone clearly deriving as much satisfaction from playing the game as ever. Maybe even more so.
“I saw some of those players winning minor titles and I vowed I’d mind myself long enough to play with all of them. You see it all the time. Teams are contenders for so long, there’s a window there and you have to make a breakthrough.
“The Munster final was very important in terms of that last year and a probably bit of inexperience cost us in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
“Cork are fantastic. Every year they’re turning out and the work ethic that all their panel have is something we aspire to.”
“We got to three minor All-Irelands and at the time, I was teaching in Tulla. Kate Lynch was doing her junior cert and she’d nearly be considered one of the oldest ones now!
“I have enjoyed playing for Clare so much in the last two years. The group that’s there, we’re very competitive. There are some excellent young players, we’ve great people in charge of us. It’s a great time to be a Clare camogie player.”
Clare face Kilkenny at 2.30pm in Nowlan Park in the Liberty Insurance Senior Camogie Championship on Saturday June 29th. The game will feature on RTÉ The Sunday Game on Sunday June 30th.