Passion and dedication are just two imperative traits that have always been associated with Fionnuala Carr writes Daragh Ó Conchúir.
Throughout her 14-year career playing camogie at adult level for Down, the flame-haired defender has had ample opportunity to call it a day but adversity has never been viewed as a sufficient excuse to take the easy path.
There have been setbacks aplenty, many years when the Mourne women struggled to field a team. When they got their act together, they were very good but just fell short. Three All-Ireland junior finals have been lost in the past 10 years, consecutive ones in 2011 and 2012.
In recent years, Carr has been commuting from Cork and Dublin for training, but though she wouldn’t have been short of suitors, throwing her lot in with anyone other than Clonduff and Down wasn’t even considered. In fact she is horrified at the very suggestion.
“It wasn’t really an option I considered. I’m only 20 minutes the other side of Newry. My job is sort of flexible in that I’m in and out of the office a lot… I would never consider playing anywhere else. No. It’s not an option.”
The 30-year-old property surveyor has been based in Dublin for the past three years and started a new job in December. This week, training was in Newry, so she was back home for 11pm. If it were in Castlewellan or Milltown, it might be after midnight.
Work is flexible though and while she has to make up the hours, that isn’t a problem for the 30-year-old. A daughter of two-time All-Ireland football winner Ross, Carr has always been aware of the importance of doing something right or not bothering.
She is acknowledged as one of the finest centre-backs around. A two-time Soaring Star, she was named an Ashbourne Cup All-Star on three occasions, twice when with UUJ and once with UCC, where she spent two years completing her Masters. Her consistency has been notable amongst the ebb and flow of Down’s fortunes.
“It’s not easy. There is a constant battle. This past number of years we’ve struggled for numbers. We’ve always had good enough players within the county but it was getting the players out was our problem.
“This year, they have come out and they’ve been brilliant. It’s enjoyable again, the training’s been good… the commitment does feel like a chore at times but that’s just the driving. When you’re there, it’s really enjoyable.
“This year might have been my last year but with the way things went, with the new manager – the last manager was unlucky the last three years but this year, we’ve a man from outside the county and he doesn’t have any ties, or any loyalty to one club over another and that has helped.
“And while we always got on as players, we didn’t have the same team spirit that other teams would have had. And we didn’t maybe work hard enough. This year, all those wee bits and pieces have come together.
“I couldn’t have done another year like last year.
“I don’t think we ever worked hard enough to win the All-Ireland finals to be honest. Don’t get me wrong; I think players were more than talented enough and more than capable enough but it shows for the likes of Meath and Kildare, who I would consider that we had better individual players than, but they had a better team and worked harder than we did, and in All-Ireland finals and All-Ireland semi-finals, that’s the difference.”
Antrim native, Michael McCullough is the new boss, heading an eight-man management team that includes ex-players such as former All-Star Máirín McAleenan, Noreen Keown and Pauline Green. It also includes Alistair McGilligan, who has shown a remarkable lack of ego in his willingness to step down as manager but remain part of the set-up.
It is this desire to do things for the right reasons, for the good of Down camogie, that has helped to create the right environment according to Carr.
“We know that if we don’t win it’s not for the lack of trying or commitment from everybody. If we don’t win, it will be because the other team is better than us on the day or they got the breaks. But I do know that if a team is going to beat us they’re going to have to play very well and work very hard to beat us.”