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FEATURE: “This time last year we hadn’t even played an intermediate championship”

Fri 04th Mar

Daragh Ó Conchúir


These are heady days for Galway camogie, with the county team the current All-Ireland champions and consistently winning titles now. Meanwhile, the county of tribes is doubly represented in the AIB All-Ireland Club Championship finals at Croke Park on Sunday.

It is in times of success that organisations must work doubly hard for the future but it takes diehards to keep the show on the road when times are tough.

So while Salthill-Knocknacarra taking on champions St Rynagh’s in the AIB All-Ireland intermediate decider (2pm, Croke Park – Live RTÉ 2) is a testament to many, it is primarily down to the club itself and its members.

Orla Callanan (30) has seen some dark days in the blue and yellow geansaí but there was never a question of not heading up to The Prairie. Now, not long after competing at junior B level, members, players and coaches have gotten their reward but in a horrible twist of fate, Callanan – who is joint-captain with her long-time ally Siobhán Divilly – will miss out due to a cruciate knee ligament injury.

“It’s disappointing,” Callanan concedes. “I had surgery on my cruciate in November. It was just an unfortunate tackle in a match but I’m delighted to be there for the team and at training and to be some way involved.”

That is the type of selflessness and team culture that has characterised the Salthill-Knocknarra growth and with a number of young players coming through the flourishing underage system, quality and depth have been added to the mix.

After a period of struggling at junior A level in Galway, they dropped down a grade but that coincided with an infusion of fresh blood devoid of any baggage. The junior B title was annexed in 2017, with the junior A crown following in 2020. Last season they won the intermediate league but fell agonisingly short in the championship decider to an injury-time point from Kinvara’s Colleen Callanan.

With Kinvara having assimilated with Gort however, they were ineligible to represent Galway, however. SK took the sliotar and ran. And ran. And ran. And here they are.

“The build-up around the club and everything is brilliant, lots of excitement going on. The camogie side was set up in 1979. I think they had to disband for a while but  they slowly started building up. Junior A was always at the highest level that we were in. I’ve been playing for a good few years now and we were stuck in junior A, we couldn’t get out of it, barely getting out of the group for most years.

“And then we did hit a bad patch again, struggling to get players, coaches even. So then we went down to junior B just for that reason. But ever since really – and it was a testament to the underage structures in the club and the development side of things that there was a lot of players coming up into the adult team from underage, and that kind of developed us into the team we had today – we started winning and moving up the ranks.”

Cork football manager, Keith Ricken has opined that dropping into the newly-formed Tailteann Cup would not be a disaster for the Rebel County, providing youngsters with a less demanding environment for making the step up and progressing as players and individuals. Callanan can see the point once it’s not a short-term fix and you are set up to get back to where you were in a stronger position.

“You can’t really beat momentum for keeping everyone together. Winning keeps you pushing on… this time last year, we hadn’t even played an intermediate championship. And I suppose the age profile of some other girls in our team, they’ve kind of all developed and been developing. That kind of keeps you going because you know how you far you have come. It kind of gets you excited to keep pushing on and keeping involved and you have all of these younger girls coming up. You’re being pushed for your place as well, and trying to improve your skills, and those younger girls certainly have it.”

A GP trainee in Galway city, who has previously captained her school to an All-Ireland hockey title and also won a couple of All-Britain camogie championships with Tara, Callanan found the opportunity to train, even in pods before play resumed, as a real blessing throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The Zoom calls helped with strengthening the bond, particularly with some significant age gaps between the likes of herself, Divilly, Vikki Flanagan and Aisling Griffin, and the younger generation, including Emma Madden, the 18-year-old who was captain of the Galway minors last year.

Regardless of what happens on Sunday, Salthill-Knocknacarra will still be in the intermediate championship next year but they would love to be going into it with the big target on their backs as All-Ireland champions. Because nothing is guaranteed and this might be their one shot. To that end, being underdogs, just as they have been for most of the journey is of no concern.

“You can kind of use that underdog tag for your benefit as well you know. We felt like we kind of wanted to prove ourselves really. Coming up from the junior A, you want to prove that you belong there in intermediate and prove that you’re able to stay at that level. So we kind of did take that with us into the games.

“We do think about Rynagh’s and trying to get the match-ups right. They are very strong midfield and their middle third. They’re experienced, they’ve been here and won it before. But the other side, we don’t want to focus too much on them, we just stick with ourselves, our own preparations, getting into the final and getting into Croke Park. Walking in, not letting this affect the girls and just play like we can, not let the occasion get the better of us.

“We are underdogs going into this final, no doubt about it. Again, we will do our best to prove ourselves and have that workrate and desire, like we have done in all of our games. Be kind of fearless in a sense. We’ve some excellent players. It’s about getting them to shine on the day.

“It would be a dream come true to be collecting the cup with Siobhán. Especially seeing where the team and club have come from, coming up. On a personal level, of course it’d be great. But this team and great management team, it’s great to be part of that, and it’d be great to collect the cup on their behalf.”

Callanan pauses. And breathes.


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