Galway star finally ready to make impact in Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship
By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Clouds and silver linings, eh?
It is difficult to envision an upside to long-term injury, and after tearing her cruciate knee ligament for the second time in three years at just 20 years of age in 2014, Rebecca Hennelly certainly could not do so.
It was absolute devastation for a prodigious talent, pinpointed as a certain Camogie star almost from the time she picked up a hurley in Ardrahan.
A two-time All-Ireland winner at U16 level, Hennelly had been the shining light as Galway completed a Minor/U16 double in 2010, landing the injury-time free that earned the Tribeswomen a replay against Clare in the U18 decider before making no mistake second time around.
The ascent continued in rapid fashion and in 2011, Noel Finn named the recently-turned 17-year-old to make her debut at wing-forward in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Championship.
It is almost five years to the day now, the Thursday night before, that Hennelly went down to the Ardrahan pitch for a puck around. She was running in a straight line when the knee buckled beneath her.
There would be no championship on Saturday, or for some time. The road back was torturous and in hindsight, the rehab was hit-and-miss. She missed out on the long-awaited Senior All-Ireland in 2013 but was on the Intermediate team that completed a famous September double.
By 2014, she was flying again, having propelled Ardrahan to an All-Ireland Senior Club Camogie Final in March. She made her belated championship bow in the All-Ireland Quarter-Final against Clare the following August and held her spot for the Semi-Final, but Kilkenny proved too strong.
Disaster lay around the corner though and Hennelly’s knee collapsed once more in the Club Championship a few weeks later.
It would have been easy to hang up the boots after that but showing remarkable fortitude in the face of such adversity, she embarked on a disciplined regime that not only transformed her into a fitter, stronger and faster player, better equipped for the rigours of Camogie than ever before, but set her on a new career path.
So taken was Hennelly by the benefits of strength and conditioning that she is putting the finishing flourishes to setting up a gym in the large garage at the back of the family home.
There isn’t a name yet – the shortlist has been whittled down to just a couple of options now – but the premises is fully kitted out, the insurance was sorted this week and her many contacts within Camogie and the wider Gaelic games family have promised to support her.
Allied with having a first real run at a Senior Camogie campaign with Galway, five years later than initially expected, it all adds up to being the most exciting period of the Ardrahan woman’s life.
“The first time I did the cruciate I was fairly young” Hennelly recalls. “I just didn’t know what had to be done, what it was going to take. I didn’t do as much as I should have done before or after the operation.
“Coming back from the injury the second time, I put a lot of work in. I found it mentally challenging, wondering would I make it back, questioning myself. But I spent an awful lot of time in the gym and did so much work that I knew I’d make it back no problem.
“I came back at the end of last year and I was fitter than ever. This year is better again and that’s just completely down to the hard work. I did find it tough but I powered on.
“Every minute I had I was going to the gym, doing everything I could. I was working in a factory in Galway and it wasn’t where I wanted to see myself for the rest of my life. I got so into the gym; I love how it helped me not just physically and mentally as well, so I decided to do a course and eventually left my job.”
She is passionate about the benefits of strength and conditioning and is looking forward to the prospect of spreading a message, which being an Our Game Your Game ambassador also gives her the opportunity of doing, that strength and weights should not be dirty words for girls, assaulted as they are by body image stereotypes nowadays.
“A lot of girls think they’re going to be muscly like body builders but it’s not like that at all. Girls can’t build muscle like that unless they’re on steroids or something.
“The fitness it brings to your Camogie is unbelievable, the strength levels, breaking tackles, getting out of rucks, your speed work, your hurling, your striking – everything improves. It’s something every Camogie player should do, even to prevent injury.
“But even if you’re not playing a game, you just feel so good.”
Strength and conditioning programmes are a relatively recent phenomenon in Camogie says Hennelly, but the players have bought into it completely, combining a minimum of two nights a week with the collective pitch sessions. It should make the Hennelly Gym, under whatever moniker it operates, a popular destination indeed.
For more information on the Camogie Association’s Our Game Your Game campaign visit www.camogie.ie/ourgameyourgame.asp