By Daragh Ó Conchúir
CORK and Meath do battle in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Final Replay at the Gaelic Grounds tomorrow but not all those travelling from the south-west will be barracking for the Rebels.
Meath stalwart Aoife Maguire has very strong Cork connections, by virtue of her mother Eileen, who is a native of Cape Clear Island. A convoy is making its way up from Schull to throw their vocal chords behind the Meath effort.
There will also be a group from Kilmichael that will include Maguire’s three-year-old first cousin and goddaughter Aisling Murphy, who will be making the journey with her parents Deirdre (Maguire’s aunt) and John Noel.
Aoife bought Aisling a Meath jersey and though John Noel has been insisting amidst the banter of the past few weeks that she has grown out of it, the little one will be wearing green and gold.
“My mum is from Cape Clear Island off the coast of West Cork. We’d spend an awful lot of time down there. The relations came up to Croker and they even had Meath colours on them, so I was very flattered” laughs Maguire.
“John Noel has been slagging me the last few weeks. Aisling is only three but I got her a Meath jersey last year. She’s all ready to go I think. There’s more from Schull coming and it’s nearly further for them than it is for us so to get to Limerick so fair play to them.”
There has been some negative commentary around Meath about the selected venue, as there was in the immediate aftermath of the drawn game that referee Liz Dempsey blew the final whistle with Megan Thynne in possession and about to have a pot at a dramatic winner. That is all just noise to the players and management however.
“Everyone was going on about it after but as players, we don’t have an issue with it. There is no point dwelling on what happened in the last game or where the replay is or whether it’s televised or not. You have to focus on the game itself. There’s been an awful lot of hype over it and we’re keeping away from that and focusing on ourselves.”
As well as being a talented Camogie player, Maguire is an excellent show jumper. Eight days before the drawn game, the 28-year-old was part of a four-strong team (including partner Brian Cassidy) that finished second at the British Riding Club Championships in Lincoln. The clear round she produced on board her 14-year-old mare Mane Attraction was a key contribution. That was a repeat of their efforts in the Irish equivalent at the Dublin Horse Show.
She has enjoyed such success despite the horses taking a back seat for the moment in pursuit of the ultimate target.
“Most people that have horses, you put them first because they cost you a fortune but with me I have Camogie and if I’m not playing a game, I might go to some competition. I work around Camogie. You have to. That’s the kind of commitment you’ve got to put in if you want to win an All-Ireland. You can’t put it in second place.
“Even families and stuff. You’re sacrificing weddings, nights out with the family, just for that medal at the end of the year. It takes over a bit but you’re either in it or you’re not. That’s the kind of person I am anyway. I won’t take something on if I don’t think I can do it a hundred percent.”
The maths teacher at Boyne Community School in Trim, where she coaches hurling, is desperate for Meath to be dining at the top table next year. She captained the Royals to a Division 2 League success last year and having had a taste of Division 1, dreams of the ultimate.
“It would mean absolutely everything. It would nearly bring a tear to your eye to think about how much we want it. I can’t even explain it.” She exhales, searching for the words.
“Camogie in Meath has come on tenfold in the last 10 years and to be just part of that… It would be my dream to be able to play Senior Championship and have an Intermediate medal. I’m one of the oldest on the team and whenever the day comes that I’m finished, to be able to say I was able to play at Senior level, you’d feel you’ve done it and you got there with a group of girls and (long-serving manager) John (Davis), who’ve done so much together. They’re like our family. To try and win on Sunday… my voice is shaking even talking about it.”
She maintains that the occasion might have gotten to both sides a little the last day and is predicting a better portrayal of their talents in front of a live TV audience once more. A drawn Final is a bit like purgatory but Davis and co. were quick to recalibrate their charges.
“It was an anti-climax. You’re building yourself up for this. You’re expecting to see Claire Coffey walk up the steps at Croke Park though it’s on your mind that you might be watching someone else.
“You walk back into the dressing room and you’re a bit deflated but from the time we sat down, it was about looking forward. We watched a bit of the Senior game but we went home then, had the meal that had been planned. We’ve been looking forward to it since. If we could have played the replay there and then we’d have done it.
“I think the whole Croke Park thing and TV thing might have put a bit of nervousness in it. We have a hell of a lot more to give. A hell of a lot more. The thing is to get that out. We have a second chance and we’d take that any day over a loss.”