By Daragh Ó Conchúir
WHEN Tipperary fell to an injury-time point by Wexford’s Kate Kelly in last year’s Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship Quarter-Final, it was agonising.
They had led by eight points after a stunning exhibition of speed and accuracy but were unable to do anything to halt the momentum against them in the final 10 minutes.
Cáit Devane looked on helplessly, having been sidelined by a torn cruciate knee ligament injury suffered the previous September. It was tough missing out, having been a member of the panel since 2009, when she was a TY student.
“I took a bit of time when it happened to wallow and feel sorry for myself and then I decided not to let it define me” says Devane.
“It was a massive blow but it was something I could deal with. So I decided to just put my head down and I’d massive support around me from my family, friends and the people at my club Clonoulty-Rossmore and Tipperary. I put in a lot of work.
“One of the biggest things when you’re out injured, (you miss) the playing but it’s the social aspect. You’re loving the buzz of playing and getting the best out of yourself with and against some of the best players in the country. But it’s the friends you make. You might start out as enemies but the friends you make is massive. That was a real eye-opener to me, missing the dressing room, the camaraderie and I’m loving it being back with club and county.”
The 24-year-old PE and Irish teacher at her own alma mater Pres Thurles, was able to use tools picked up as one of a handful of elite Gaelic Games players invited to participate in the Jim Madden Leadership Programme two years ago, to help her through the rehabilitation process.
She found it useful to be able to pick the brains of top-flight footballers, hurlers, ladies footballers and other Camogie players.
“What I used was goal setting. It gave me the skills to sit back and say I need to sit down and make short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. With the injury, if you think of it as nine months all the time, you’re gonna be down in the dumps a lot of the time when you’re learning to walk again, to single-leg hop and all that sort of thing. So setting weekly goals and monthly goals, and keeping them nice and basic and attainable, I felt that was really good. Ultimately you were looking at the nine months but you can’t dwell on the bigger picture too much. You have to break it down to bite-sized bits.”
With the return of the gifted attacker, it was expected that Tipperary would find another level this year but lack of consistency has been a common theme in recent seasons. While defeat to Cork in their only Championship outing to date is hardly a disaster, they haven’t caught the eye yet this year.
“We’re a team that’s coming for a while and unfortunately we have struggled with consistency, through no fault of anyone in my opinion. The panel of players are working tirelessly hard, the management and the county board are pulling in the one direction but we have been disappointed.
“But it’s not the time to feel sorry for yourself. We’re in the middle of the summer, only the first round played and we’re conscious of not letting the summer pass us by. There’s a lot of hurling to be played and we’re hoping we can redeem ourselves in the remaining games.
“We definitely feel that we have a lot more to show. We have to take each match individually. We’re not looking past Limerick and we’re looking for a performance.”
The flip side is that they can draw confidence from knowing the performances are there.
“On any given day we’d back ourselves to match any of the teams in this year’s Championship. Last year against Wexford was heart-breaking but there were a lot of positives to take from it. The year before, we were our own worst enemies against Cork, should have gotten over the line but lost by the slimmest of margins.
“We are getting closer but it comes back to consistency and we need to get used to putting in a performance week-in, week-out. There’s a massive pool of talent we’re pulling out of. A lot of these girls have All-Irelands and Munsters at Minor and U16. We’ve a lot of girls that have had massive success at Ashbourne. We know we have the talent but need to fine-tune the little things to find the consistency and get the belief.”
Today’s opposition Limerick have their backs to the wall after two defeats and it is a must-win game for them. In truth, the same would apply if Tipp were to lose. The fact that it is taking place in Semple Stadium sets it up for what could be a cracker.
“It should be a fantastic game. Their whole season depends on this. They won’t want to finish the season saying ‘It was a good year, we won the Munster Final.’ I’m sure they have bigger plans for themselves. For both sides it’s do-or-die but the heat of Championship, that’s what you look forward to as a Camogie player.
“To have it on the big stage in Semple, before the senior hurlers is fantastic too. It’s a massive opportunity. Ask any hurler or Camogie player, and the vast majority of them will say their favourite stadium to play in is Semple Stadium. We’re relishing the chance to hopefully get a performance in front of a big crowd, that some of the hurling supporters will come in early to have a look as well.”
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