By Daragh Ó Conchúir
THERE were many that questioned whether Wexford would make it to the knockout stages of the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship.
Tipperary, Offaly and Limerick were snapping at their heels and the perception was that they may be mortally wounded by losing Kate Kelly and Deirdre Codd to retirement, Katrina Parrock to soccer and Mags D’Arcy, who opted to step away from the panel.
With only Mary and Úna Leacy still around from the 2007 breakthrough, and Ciara Storey and Karen Atkinson with them from the first of the three-in-a-row triumphs three years later, it was thought that too much know-how had been removed with those multiple All-Ireland winners and All-Stars passing on the torch.
That did not give sufficient credit to the next generation however, and joint-bosses John Kelly and Matty Flynn O’Connor, who have managed the young guns’ graduation expertly.
Chloe Foxe is in the vanguard of the new breed, joined by the likes of Joanne Dillon, Amy Cardiff and Sarah O’Connor, with Nicole Fortune inheriting the goalkeeper’s role. They have flourished this year but face their biggest test when taking on Dublin in the first of this evening’s televised Quarter-Finals’ double-header at Semple Stadium.
Foxe was given a taste of the action as a Leaving Cert student last year but has created a huge impression this term. The St. Martin’s sharpshooter was just 10 when the Yellow Bellies took over Croke Park a decade ago. Sharing a dressing room with so many legends could have been daunting but Foxe kept her mouth shut and her ears open.
“Players like Kate Kelly; she would have been one of my true inspirations growing up” says Foxe.
“Just playing alongside her last year was so surreal. Just looking at her… the desire to go and fight for every ball as if it was her last is really something I’ve tried to bring to my game.”
“I remember last year in the Quarter-Final against Tipp, it was slipping away so easily and to see that ball go over the bar in the dying seconds was just an absolutely incredible moment.”
Kelly’s injury-time winner, after Wexford had trailed by eight, was the last in a lengthy list of heroic feats over 20 years in the purple and gold but her contribution continues, as she drifts around the younger crew on match day. What better mentor could one hope for?
“She’s been there in the dressing room as a voice for the likes of me and Joanne and Sarah and Amy. She’s someone who gives you a lot of inspiration going out on big match days.
“Before the match she’s just telling you to focus on what you have to do. I remember the last day against Offaly, we got a great start and were going really well. We came in at half time and she said to me ‘Look, ye had a good first half but that’s over now, you may do the exact same in the second half.’”
Foxe has succeeded her hero as free-taker. Despite only just turning 20 in May, the increased responsibility doesn’t bring added pressure, she insists, because she has been on placed balls since U12.
“It’s something you can keep on working on. The problem is you don’t remember the ones that went over the bar, it’s the other ones that stick in your head. So you try to get out 20 minutes before training just to knock over a few. With frees, at least you can practice them and keep working hard.
“I like to keep the same routine if I can. Like I said, it’s the ones you miss that you tend to remember. We can look at the clip of the games on the computer so I find it easier looking at them and watching a free go wide. You can put it to bed in a sense. You can see if you threw the ball too far in front of you or something like that.”
The entire family is immersed in sport. Foxe’s father Ger was a selector with Jason Ryan when Wexford reached the All-Ireland Senior Football Semi-Final in 2008. Her brother of the same name hurled for the county while all her siblings play at some level.
Foxe herself has lined out for Wexford at underage level in ladies football and soccer, but Camogie always held sway. No-one is surprised by her progress and her influence was never more obvious than against Tipperary at Innovate Wexford Park on July 15th.
The computer science student at UCD damaged her hamstring against Tipp and after missing too much training, was held in reserve against the Premier County. The visitors scored two quick goals to draw level in the second half, which was the signal for Foxe’s introduction. She quickly scored a goal and a point to put her team in command once more, her finishing tally of 1-2 being the ultimate margin of victory.
“After I had an injury, the lads chose not to start me and I was completely understanding that as I missed training. And I was pleased for the girls that got to come in because everyone is going so hard in training.
“I saw it as an opportunity. I said ‘I’m not sitting on the bench for another summer so I better do something when I get in.’”
The rest is history. With more to be written.