The clubs take centre stage in the camogie world on Sunday with the semi-finals of both the All-Ireland senior and intermediate championships down for decision writes Daragh Ó Conchúir. Oulart's Ursula Jacob and Eimear Lyng of the Rower-Inistioge are counting down the minutes until throw-in this coming weekend.
Lyng and Jacob gear up for semi-show down
In the penultimate round of the senior championships, Galway champions, Killimor play host to Antrim stalwarts, O’Donovan Rossa at Duggan Park (3.00pm). In the other semi-final, defending champions, Oulart-The Ballagh (Wexford) will play host to Cork representatives Milford.
“Everyone is looking forward to it” says Oulart star, Ursula Jacob. “We had a break before Christmas but we’ve been training fully since then. We’re looking forward to it now but it will be a tough game for us.
“We’ve been doing a lot of training but we got two or three challenge matches. It’s difficult enough at this time of year to get matches but we got a few games under our belt. The majority of the work is in training, trying to get our first touch right.
“Some of the conditions on the pitches haven’t been great but you’re trying to do the best you can. That’s the way it’s going to be in the game. It’s going to be tough conditions. It probably won’t be pretty hurling. It’ll be high intensity, with both teams wanting to win.”
Jacob has known tremendous success at inter-county level, winning four All-Irelands, including the last three. She was captain in 2011 and the clear difference between Wexford winning and losing in the last two finals.
But while the club had been dominating within the Model County, their appetite for All-Ireland success went unsatisfied until last March. As seems to be the way with Wexford camogie teams, that appetite is far from sated though and Oulart are desperate to retain their title.
“Last year was a brilliant year, winning the club and winning the county as well. When you’re winning, it’s easier to keep going, keep training, playing the matches. We’ve been fortunate enough in the last couple of years in that sense.
“With the club, now that we’re back in the All-Ireland semi-final, we want to get back to Croke Park for the final but we know Milford are going to be equally mad to be there as well. Anyone getting to an All-Ireland semi-final is going to be a strong team. There’s not going to be any easy team. I think there are going to be two brilliant semi-finals.”
In the intermediate semi-finals, Castlegar (Galway) welcome Ballycran (Down) to Duggan Park, while The Rower-Inistioge have the use of Kilkenny’s county grounds, Nowlan Park for the visit of Clare champions, Kilmaley.
The Rower-Inistioge is a club steeped in tradition, famed for spawning one of the greatest hurlers of all time in Eddie Keher.
They have provided a plenitude of camogie Cats over the years too, with Eimear Lyng amongst the longest-serving. The full-back – who is also chairperson of the camogie club – gave birth to her first child, Emma last December, while corner-back, Becky Dempsey had her second child.
They were both back training by the end of February and have been rewarded for the hard work that included 90 training sessions prior to the county final alone.
“We’re very excited,” declares Lyng. “With the Leinster final played last November, we’re very anxious to get it played at this stage. We consider ourselves to be in a good place
“It will just come down to how it is on the day because of the conditions. We can only control ourselves anyway. I think we’re okay fitness-wise, I think our hurling is okay and if those two things combine on the day, hopefully we’ll put up a good strong fight.”
Lyng has won a National League with Kilkenny and been involved in an All-Ireland final but the feeling of operating at such an elite level with the club trumps all that.
“It has to be bigger and better than anything I’ve ever played in before. A lot of us have said we’ll give it one last year. Our aim was to get to the county final and playing with the people yo grew up with, and your friends, you can’t beat that.”
The focus for the entire campaign had been on annexing the county title. Beating Shinrone in the Leinster decider was a bonus. Now, they are just an hour from an All-Ireland final.
“The more you win, the more you want and we want this one. It’s not going to be easy. We don’t know much about Kilmaley but we can only imagine that they want it as much as us and have worked as hard for it, coming through Clare and Munster. Clare teams at county level would usually be physical so we’re expecting the same.”
Whatever transpires, Lyng knows that there will be no excuses if they don’t prevail. She fervently hopes they will though.
“After we won the Leinster final, it was just fantastic. We took a few weeks off but we’ve been back for a while now, working hard. The nerves are kicking in, we’re thinking about what’s at stake and we’re looking forward to it at the same time.
“Some of us know we’ll never be at this peak of fitness ever again and we’re prepared to give it what it takes. If they’re better all round, so be it, we’ll have no regrets knowing we did all we could.”