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Keating enthused for future of Cork camogie and of integrated Gaelic games association

Sat 24th Feb

Daragh Ó Conchúir

County, Latest

By Daragh Ó Conchúir
There have been many tributes for Pa Finn after the great hurling and camogie coach was buried last Monday.

An All-Ireland winner as coach/selector with his club St Finbarr’s in 1978, and then as manager of the Cork camogie team in 2002, Finn was quite rightly lauded for his phenomenal success.

One decision when he took charge of the Rebels 22 years ago has had an enduring legacy; namely, his insistence that as a Cork team, they should dispense the white jersey with red trim that had traditionally been worn by the camogie team, exchanging it for the red one that has been retained ever since.

Around 48 hours after Finn was laid to rest, Camogie Association president Hilda Breslin sat side-by-side with LGFA counterpart Micheál Naughton and Larry McCarthy, whose term as GAA uachtarán concludes today, as the former president of Ireland Mary McAleese, in her role as chairperson of the steering group for the integration of the three associations, announced that the process would be completed by 2027.

McAleese called it “the most historic development in Gaelic games,” which seems right.

This is a development in keeping with Finn’s thinking when making that jersey change 22 years ago. One club. One county. One association. Cork is Cork. Cork is red. Male or female, that should never change.

The midweek announcement was very broadly welcomed and it is no surprise to find Cork camogie star, Fiona Keating singing a similar tune ahead of this afternoon’s All-Ireland final rematch with Waterford, in round two of the Very National League at SETU Arena (2pm).

“It’s great to see and it will be beneficial in so many areas and can only be good for all the games,” says Keating.

“Sponsorship will be a huge advantage for the three codes – and we’re lucky we have great sponsors in Kearys – but the new association will be stronger and more attractive for being integrated as one.

“It will be really helpful in fixtures, as they mentioned themselves. Growing up I played dual underage and I did it one year senior, so I know how hard it is to balance both.

“After stepping away from it, I see how hard it is in the girls that still want to do it. So in that way, it will be a very important development to have everyone working together to allow people the opportunity to play both codes if they want to try it.”

Keating did the All-Ireland minor double with Cork in 2019, having lost football All-Irelands at U14, U16 and minor prior to that, but opted to focus on camogie in 2021.

Given how she has become one of the most influential forwards in camogie since then, it is a call that has paid dividends. The All-Star nominee, who only turns 23 in June, invariably causes panic in opposing defences with the direct running that was always part of her game but became even more of a focal point under the direction of Cork coach Liam Cronin. She has a nose for a score too and can bring her teammates into the game when invariably drawing the attention of opposition defenders.

It will be strange to see Jerry Wallace in white and blue today as Waterford manager, having had him as boss of the minors in 2019. Wallace led Cork to four of the last five All-Ireland minor titles but when his application for the senior job proved unsuccessful when Matthew Twomey stood down, he was quickly snapped up by the Déise.

It was no surprise, of course, that Ger Manley was named as Twomey’s successor. The former Cork hurler was a coach under Twomey and while Teddy Donovan and Niall Collins are among those to have stepped away also, Cronin, psychologist Michelle O’Connor and assistant manager/player liaison officer Jen Mehigan (“the amount of work she does is crazy”) ensure a degree of familiarity.

Fiona O’Driscoll is a new face to Keating and co but as a multiple All-Ireland winner as player and coach, it doesn’t come as a shock to hear that she is already “making a great impact, especially with the forwards”.

Last Saturday’s opening League tie was a cracking game with 35 scores and Cork coming out the ride side of the traditional joust with Kilkenny by a point at UPMC Nowlan Park.

Sarsfields’ Claire Mullins pounced for the goal, her younger sister Orlaith did well off the bench and Niamh O’Callaghan also did well. Meanwhile, Emma Murphy, slotted the last two points to win the game. Competition for places, is clearly hotting up.

At the other end of the scale is Katrina Mackey, who in her 16th season with Cork, top-scored with eight points and set up a number of other key scores including the goal.

“Getting game time for new players is really important for the development of a panel more so than the team, because you’re relying on the entire panel more than the 15 that will start on the big days.

“We were fortunate enough to win the past few minor titles. There’s always been new players coming into the panel to try prove themselves and break onto the team the past few years. This year, the likes of Millie Condon and Eimear Duignan have come up from minor so I’m sure they’ll be pushing on for a spot, which is great to have such competition for places.

“There’s no such thing as complacency on this team when you’ve a panel of players that are just as good as each other.”

“Old age isn’t knocking much off Katrina,” adds Keating jokingly. “She’s one of our main players again this year. She’s a great leader as well, showing the younger girls the ropes but she really stands up when we need her.

“Her stats for assists and everything would be through the roof. We had a friendly game a few weeks ago. She came off the bench for 20 minutes and she scored about three goals. Everyone was looking around at each other on the bench laughing. It would only be her.”

Even thinking of climbing the Hogan Stand steps to get her hands on the O’Duffy Cup brings a smile to Keating’s face.

“Last year was my first year winning a senior All-Ireland. I’d lost finals in the two previous years. I think losing those made us that bit more hungry as we knew what was coming if we lost, but to be on the winning side of it last year was just the best feeling in the world.”

She is a lifelong friend of Saoirse McCarthy (with whom she is pictured above celebrating after the final whistle of the final) and their link-up play is instinctive, honed through the years at school and with Courcey Rovers. Going back home after the final was the cherry on top.

“It’s great to have a club player beside you. I know what she’s going to do next before she even thinks about it herself… it’s great to have that kind of dynamic between the two of us. She could say the same for me.

“When we won the All-Ireland last year, going back to Ballinspittle and seeing how much it meant to all the people in the village, as we do come from a small village, it was one of the biggest occasions of the year. To see what it meant to them, it’d make you feel proud.”

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