Having just turned 19 on the week that Limerick were making their long-awaited return to the Liberty Insurance Senior Camogie Championship, it is no wonder Caoimhe Costelloe describes herself with a chuckle as “still a baby”.
Young she may be but it is only a matter of time before the Adare teenager is her county’s captain. She has already skippered Limerick to All-Ireland success, having led them to minor glory last year by scoring 2-6 in a replay victory over Cork.
Her ability is such that she is already in her third year on the senior squad. Joe Quaid had so much faith in Costelloe that he picked her in an unfamiliar midfield role for the All-Ireland intermediate Final last September. It was an inspired decision as she scored two points and hurled a mountain of ball.
There is more to her leadership skills than onfield ability though. Her maturity has always been notable. So is the clarity of vision with regard to her goals. Most uniquely for someone in her formative years, and crucially for a role where inspirational qualities are required, she is a tremendous communicator.
Early in the League, Costelloe stated that Limerick’s aim was to reach the semi-finals in their second season in Division 1 and make an impact in their first campaign back at senior level. The first target was achieved; the second has been made very difficult by a rotten draw. But Costelloe dismisses potential excuses.
“To date we’ve found it fairly tough adapting to the intensity of senior level but to be fair we’ve got a serious group of All-Ireland winners in there” she says. “So far we’re only half-way through the group, with one win, one loss. So there’s plenty more that Limerick need to do if we’re to make it at this level.”
“We’ve the last three All-Ireland winners in Cork, Galway and Wexford respectively and we’re playing them one week after another. Two years ago, this is where we wanted to be. Last year, when we won in Croke Park, we wanted to be playing these big teams.
“We’ve done enough talking about wanting to be at this level. We’ve set our targets this year. We don’t fear Wexford this weekend and we didn’t fear Cork last weekend. We’re happy with where we’re at.”
It is only the start as far as Costelloe is concerned. Ever since she saw her cousin, Conor Fitzgerald playing for Limerick, winning three All-Ireland U21 hurling medals, reaching an U21 football final and playing senior in both codes, she fantasised about going all the way in that green jersey.
“When I used to be going to Thurles with my parents watching Conor at U21 level, I saw what it meant to him and how much effort he had to put in. I was only four or five years of age at the time.
“Thank God I’d Conor to look up to from a very young age. He’s been through a lot. I saw the injuries he sustained playing hurling and football, and his mental ability to overcome them and come back stronger and more determined than ever.
“That was where it started for me and I’ve been blessed that I’ve had him along the way for help and advice.”
Costello is emerging at a time when the profile of camogie and its star players is reaching an all-time high. At grassroots level, the game is flourishing but there is more to be done in terms of exposing the game to young girls across the land.
As a future primary school teacher – she has just completed her first year at Mary I – she is clear about the potential for growth.
“Schools are where children are the most, where they find what they’re interested in. If camogie could tap into the primary school curriculum, it would thrive. The future of camogie is the younger players. If you can get them into it at six or seven years of age, you have a good chance of keeping them. Then keep it going at second level. Keep them interested is the main thing.”
Limerick took some time to get going before they beat Offaly in their Group 1 opener. Cork threatened to overrun them at times last Saturday but the Shannonsiders showed their character to push them all the way.
“We’re constantly adapting to the pace that senior camogie is played at. No better way to test yourself than against the All-Ireland champions of last year. We were disappointed. Everyone on the team believed that we could beat Cork and that was the only goal we had.
“We didn’t perform in the first half. We couldn’t get our hand on the ball. In the second half the game opened up a small bit and we did test Cork. If we had another five minutes, who knows what would have happened?”
Tomorrow’s trip to Wexford is must-win territory and the absence of Ursula Jacob (finger) and Úna Leacy (cruciate) for Colm McGee’s side gives them a real chance.
“We have to take confidence from the fact they’re not there but at the same time you’d want to play against them. They’re the greats of camogie.”
This is the bar by which she measures herself.
“If you’re content with winning an All-Ireland Intermediate medal, I’d be retired. I have every intention of helping Limerick get to an All-Ireland Senior Final, winning an All-Ireland Senior Final.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted. It’s something I used to dream about as a child when I was out the back; lifting the O’Duffy Cup in Croke Park.
“Last year was only a stepping stone in Limerick’s journey. If we can keep the players that we have there at the minute, and develop the younger players, I hope we’ll eventually get there. It mightn’t happen this year, it mightn’t happen next year, but it’s a process.”
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