By Michael O’Leary
For the first time since four-time All-Ireland winner Peggy Muldowney (née Carey) started the 1981 decider, Gowran is likely to be represented in the starting 15 in a Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior camogie final (4.15pm, live on RTÉ2), as sisters Tiffanie and Steffi Fitzgerald have been regulars throughout the year for Brian Dowling’s charges.
If that materialises, tt will be an historic occasion for the Young Irelands club, which will be providing its first starters ever, having been formed in 1994.
The progression of the siblings is a tribute to their hard work over the years. They have won plenty of silverware over the past five years, having achieved All-Ireland honours with Loreto Kilkenny as well as county titles with Young Irelands as well as silverware with the Cats.
However, victory next Sunday would be the pinnacle of their achievements so far.
Steffi (above) won both senior and junior colleges’ All-Irelands with Loreto in 2017 was also on the Loreto team that retained the senior All-Ireland in 2018.
Tiffanie (below) was on the junior panel in 2017 and the senior in 2018, before establishing herself on the senior team that regained the title in 2020 under the captaincy of clubmate Ciara O’Keeffe, who is now a Kilkenny panellist too.
Young Irelands were starting to enjoy plenty of success also. The Fitzgeralds and O’Keeffe were central to the club’s minor A championship victories in 2018 and 2019, playing major roles in the progression of the club through county junior and intermediate championship victories in 2016 and 2018 also.
While a minor in 2018, Steffi was called into the Kilkenny intermediate panel and after making a good impression, advanced to the senior squad the following year. In 2020, she won an All-Ireland senior medal. Steffi featured throughout that championship run which included an appearance as a half-time substitute in the All-Ireland semi-final victory over Cork.
She became a more regular figure last year, particularly in the Littlewoods Ireland League final victory over Galway in a thrilling contest in Croke Park.
The teams were level at 1-15 each entering the closing few minutes but Steffi led the way for Kilkenny during those closing few minutes. She struck over a superb point from 40 metres near the sideline to give Kilkenny the lead, and after Denise Gaule doubled the lead with a pointed free, was involved in the final act as she turned provider for Mary O’Connell to land the final point.
It was proof that she had fully arrived as an established member of the side, thriving in a pressure situation.
That progression has continued into 2022 and along with Tiffanie, she is now a regular feature in the Kilkenny starting line-up.
Earlier this year, Steffi played a central role for DCU as they strolled to their very first Ashbourne Cup triumph and at one stage throughout the academic year, she was in opposition to Tiffanie, who lined out for NUIG.
Tiffanie impressed greatly in her Kilkenny debut year last year, when she featured on the intermediate team that went all the way to the All-Ireland final before losing out to Antrim.
Last February, she made her senior bow in the National League opener against Limerick and she has been an ever-present since, giving a series of solid performances.
The pair’s grandmother, Beatrice Treacy was one of the great loyal servants to the Young Irelands club and Kilkenny Camogie for several years. She was a selector with the Cats’ 1974 All Ireland team and also served as secretary of the camogie county board from 1972 to 1976 and chairperson in 1977.
Beatrice’s husband Paddy has been a loyal servant too and along with Peggy Fitzgerald, Tiffanie and Steffi’s other grandmother whose late husband Jim was another Young Irelands and Kilkenny acolyte, are among the girls’ greatest supporters.
It’s a huge day for Young Irelands with Ciara O’Keeffe also part of the panel, while Pat O’Neill is part of the backroom team.
Ciara, along with Tiffanie, made her inter-county adult debut with the Intermediates last year. She also featured with the team this year along with being part of the senior panel.
She shared in the minor club successes and won senior colleges’ All-Irelands with the Loreto in 2017, 2018 and 2020, the latter as captain. She also captained the Kilkenny minors that year, when Tiffanie was vice-captain.
Pat O’Neill has become a vital part of the management since coming on board in 2020. Initially, he was brought in as a defence coach, but subsequently has had a broader role in the coaching set-up.
His experience of playing for Kilkenny and winning senior All-Irelands has been a major factor in the backroom team – along with Philly Larkin and Tommy Shefflin – and their expertise and knowledge has been well received and respected throughout the squad.
Since the Pandemic began in March 2020, Kilkenny have lost just once in League and Championship and that was last year’s All-Ireland semi-final to Cork, so they have unquestionably become a tough nut to crack which is a huge testament to the management team.
It’s one of the biggest days in the history of Young Irelands Camogie Club and after bringing such huge numbers to the semi-final victory over champions Galway, they are expected to travel in their droves to Croke Park on Sunday, with the club organising a bus to cheer on their clubmates and the rest of the Kilkenny girls in their quest to regain the O’Duffy Cup.