By Daragh Ó Conchúir
In another year, Sinéad O’Keeffe might have been preparing for two All-Ireland finals in a week. However, the decision to concentrate on camogie has probably eked out improvements that have helped her and Clare get over their semi-final hump to be putting the finishing touches to their preparations for the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland premier junior final against Tipperary at Croke Park on Sunday (12.50pm throw-in, live on RTÉ2).
Of course there is a tinge of regret about missing out on the ladies football squad’s All-Ireland intermediate decider seven days later at HQ but commuting from Dublin for training and games became too tough. Something had to give.
“Travelling up and down to Dublin was a bit difficult trying to manage both so I committed to camogie for this year,” explains O’Keeffe, who will lead John Carmody’s team out as captain. “It’s been going well obviously and I’m delighted for the footballers that they’ve got to the final as well. You’d love to be there but it was very hard and the decision has paid off in terms of camogie. And I know all the girls in the football so it’s great for them. Hopefully we can both do get over the line.”
An assistant professor who lectures in athletic therapy at DCU’s renowned sports hub, O’Keeffe has always had a passion for sport. Indeed, she is a bit of an outlier in her family in that regard.
“I probably am. We would have all played underage. I’ve two brothers and a sister that all live away in Australia. My mum and dad try and go to all the games as much as they can but there’s a lot of jobs to be done. I kind of laugh with them that I don’t let them come to games ‘cos they always bring me bad luck but they were at the semi-final and we got over the line so they’re allowed come to the -final,” she says laughing.
“I’ve only been in DCU three years and have been finding my feet but am settling down a bit and getting used to things so I want to get into the coaching. There’s a really good Ashbourne set-up within DCU that I’d love to get involved with so that’s a goal this academic year.
“Being involved in all different sports, I just had a love of sport and I wanted to go the athletic therapy, physiotherapy route. But also teaching was in the back of my mind. So many Gaelic games players are involved in teaching too so it just worked out that I got into that athletic therapy field and working in sport has been great and has probably driven my performance and helped me reach my goal of getting to Croke Park.
“I apply a lot of it in terms of nutrition, injury prevention, trying to make sure everything’s right. It’s not just about going out to play anymore. Especially when you get older like myself, you have to balance everything.”
At 28, the Kilmaley defender is a little off the pension yet, even in sporting terms, but having been a panellist since 2018 and seeing so many minors coming into the squad over the past 15 months or so, she does feel like Methuselah at times. The young blood has infused speed and energy however and O’Keeffe believes that the national stadium will suit them as they bid to complete a double having annexed the Very League Division 3B title earlier this year.
“The game plan we’ve worked on all year is using space and keeping our width and depth in our forwards so we’re hoping to be able to use Croke Park to that effect. We know it’s a massive field so we’re getting ready for that.
“We’ve been slogging away, trying to make that final step. I’ve lost three semi-finals. Last year’s was definitely the toughest to lose after two periods of extra time by a single point, and then to have to watch the All-Ireland and see Antrim collect that trophy. It was tough but we used that hurt and heartbreak to build for this year.
“At the start of the year we wanted to get back to a semi-final first of all and then get over it. We knew when we drew Armagh it was be a tough game. To get to the final you have to beat everyone in front of you so we didn’t look too much at them, played our own game and focused on getting over the line.
“We haven’t played Tipp so far this year but we played them last year in Munster and the All-Ireland. Both those games came down to the wire and we robbed them in one of those games so we know they’re a very tough team, very physical and you could see that in their semi-final against Roscommon. They’re going to bring that physicality so we have to be ready for that.
“Clare GAA are contributing all their funds from their match programmes for the next couple of weeks to the two Clare teams in All-Ireland finals, to the camogie and to the ladies’ football. I think that’s a huge thing. In the past it may have been very separate but that’s huge support for us and we’re delighted they’re willing to do that. That’s a driving force for us. We’ve talked to the likes of (Clare hurlers) Conor Cleary and Tony Kelly lately and they were saying how they were following our games. That means a lot. Now we need bums on seats and hopefully we’ll get that for the final.”