By Daragh Ó Conchúir
SARAH Dervan is laughing. Those that know her will tell you she does a lot of that, and not in a reserved fashion either, but more in a manner that is real, unaffected and completely lacking in self-consciousness.
It makes the 28-year-old tremendous company but doesn’t amount to a hill of beans on a Camogie pitch.
As amenable as she is off the field though, Dervan is a terror on it, for opposition forwards at least. Full-backs don’t survive by dint of sweetness and light. The ash is there to be used and whatever else it takes too. And she’ll laugh at the good of it after.
The cause for mirth on this occasion is the Liberty Insurance All-Stars, and specifically, the fact that the Mullagh defender has recently been honoured for the fourth consecutive season. That is a notable feat, especially as Galway have only been All-Ireland champions for the first of those in 2013, while her clubmate Aoife Donohue joined her on stage this time around. And Dervan can’t quite get her head around it.
“When you’re starting out in January, the main goal is to win an All-Ireland” says Dervan.
“When reality hits and you don’t manage that, it is nice on a personal note to get an All-Star at the end of it. But then you turn around and the goal again is the All-Ireland.
“I suppose I never even thought I’d get a nomination a few years ago so it’s kind of surreal at the moment. I don’t believe it.”
Dervan’s father Jackie won a hurling All-Ireland with Galway in 1980 and her earliest memories include pucking around out the back with him, and brothers Cathal and Conor, themselves former senior Tribesmen.
Jackie and Ita were in the Citywest Hotel last month and enjoyed the night thoroughly. Dervan was delighted that they could share in the celebrations, because they have travelled a very bumpy road with her.
You see Dervan wasn’t always one of the most consistent defenders in Camogie, and it didn’t just happen. At 23, she was out of favour, having never established herself with Galway. There were no signs of what was to come but the stars aligned, or more to the point, a few key individuals spotted the potential and believed in her.
“I wasn’t one of those lucky girls that once they hit 16 or 17 or even 20, they walked onto the county team. In 2008, I was the last sub on the team, 2009 I was dropped off the panel, 2010 I was out for the year, 2011 I wasn’t picked first 15.
“The management that came in in 2012 – Tony Ward, Deccie Walsh (and Liam Hodgins the following year) – had huge belief in me and saw the stuff I didn’t see, even though my parents were always telling me it was there. That gave me confidence.
“Some of the players were great too – Ann Marie Hayes and Sinéad Cahalan especially. Hayesie took me under her wing, doing drills at training and sending me texts after games. And your confidence just kept getting better and better and better, and before you know it, you’re playing full-back sitting behind Therese Maher going ‘Oh my God, this is happening!’
“I learned a huge amount from Maher as well. In 2013 we won the All-Ireland and it was just absolutely fantastic.
“You get knocked along the way and you have to try and learn from that. That’s easier said than done and you can be your own worst critic. I’ve had to learn to try not to be as hard on myself, to recognise the good things as well as the bad things. Keep the confidence up, not to second guess yourself and don’t let anybody tell you you’re not good enough because with hard work you can achieve anything.”
Now when the likes of Katie Power, Briege Corkery or Úna Leacy move in towards her domain, while she recognises the dangers they present, she is prepared.
“You know you have to be on your game and you cannot ever think you’re going to Lord it every day because you won’t. You just have to tune into the player you’re on and try and curtail them as much as possible – stop them moving too far away from you!”
There’s that laugh again, like butter wouldn’t melt.
YOU joke that she only has another five All-Stars to get to catch up with Kate Kelly – although that might depend on the Wexford great sailing off into the sunset. As much a threat as Kelly is to opposition defences, Dervan hopes the veteran continues.
“We beat them in the Semi-Final a couple of years ago. I was supposed to be marking her but they decided to play a sweeper and I was never as delighted to see her moving out the field. ‘Good luck!’
“I remember one ball broke inside us and the referee blew for a free and I roared at the ref ‘What did I do?’ and Kate said ‘It’s okay girleen, it wasn’t you’ and I was going ‘Oh my God, did she just talk to me?’
“She is an absolute legend in Camogie. The girl has nine All-Stars and she’s a fantastic person as well. She’s lovely. You’d hate to see her retire, you’d love to see her stay going because she’s as fit and strong and skilful as ever and you can always learn from playing the top players in the country.”
With Galway and Mullagh, Dervan had a better time than most but getting so close and ending with nothing was tough to take, as the Maroons only fell to subsequent champions Kilkenny after extra-time in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Championship Semi-Final, having underperformed completely when the same opposition defeated them in the National League Division 1 decider earlier in the year.
Meanwhile, Mullagh got to the county final despite losing seven starting players, including three to cruciate injuries, only to fall short to Sarsfields after a replay.
“It’s been a hard year. When you’re that close, it’s the little things that kill you and you’re always thinking about it. We have to hopefully learn from it, with both club and county. The reception they gave me and Aoife back at the club after the All-Stars was unbelievable. Memories like that drive you on. You just have to give your heart and soul to the game. You will take knocks but you have to put the head down and work hard and hope you’ll be there or thereabouts again.”
As possibly the greatest jump jockey there has ever been, Ruby Walsh said recently, you only find out how good a young rider might be when he or she has suffered a few bad injuries. So it is in Camogie, as it is, indeed, in life. Setbacks are part and parcel of it all.
Sarah Dervan got back up on the horse.
And look at her now.