By Daragh Ó Conchúir
To the victor goes the spoils and so it was that All-Ireland champions emerged with eight PwC Camogie All-Stars at Croke Park on Saturday night to go with the Matthew Twomey’s Manager of the Year honour.
It wasn’t a clean sweep for the Rebels however, as Waterford sensation, Beth Carton walked away with the coveted PwC GPA Camogie Player of the Year award.
In beating off the stiff competition provided by Cork duo Amy O’Connor and Saoirse McCarthy, Carton was emulating Kilkenny legend Anne Dalton. Dalton won the second of her two POTY awards in 2018 despite not tasting the ultimate success that year.
The top scorer in the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Championship, Carton has been Waterford’s talisman for a long time, despite still only being 25 years of age. After player-of-the-match performances for the Déise in both the All-Ireland minor B and U16B finals in 2014 – she scored 2-11 in the latter as Waterford completed a notable double -Carton lit up Croke Park when they secured intermediate honours the following season, a few weeks after going into sixth year.
Since then, she has been an irresistible force as the Suirsiders first consolidated their senior status and then made serious strides in the past two years, culminating in ending a 78-year wait to appear in an All-Ireland senior final.
The De La Salle genius was not just her side’s primary scorer but also an inspirational leader, illustrated by her selfless work ethic, while constantly providing opportunities for others with her extraordinary vision and delivery. This was evident even in the chastening All-Ireland final defeat.
Amy Lee was the first of the Leeside octet to be called to the stage, the goalkeeper claiming her first award but making it a nice double with the Soaring Star recognition received in 2018. Méabh Cahalane (wing-back) was also winning her first PwC All-Star.
At the other end of the scale, the ultra-creative Katrina Mackey earned her seventh award, 11 years after her first, while the ever-consistent Hannah Looney scored for the fourth time, albeit the first as a forward.
Victorious captain and All-Ireland final player of the match with her contribution of 3-7, Amy O’Connor received her second award, as did full-back Libby Coppinger and midfielder Saoirse McCarthy, who also has a Soaring Star and is a former Intermediate POTY, while the experienced centre-back Laura Treacy was named for a third time.
Carton, another former Soaring Star, was one of three Waterford award winners, selected at centre-forward for her fourth All-Star. Vikki Falconer’s brilliance in defence earned her a first nod and Lorraine Bray, who is also a previous Soaring Star winner, completes an extremely athletic midfield pairing with McCarthy after being named a third time.
All-Ireland semi-finalists, Tipperary and Galway received three PwC All-Stars between them, Tipp duo Karen Kennedy (wing-back) and Cáit Devane (corner-forward) each getting their second awards, while Róisín Black’s obdurate defending for the Maroons merited a first selection.
The team is completed by two-time POTY Denise Gaule, who has been picked for the sixth consecutive season and like Mackey, a seventh in total.
Long-serving Derry sharpshooter Áine McAllister brought the curtain down on an unforgettable year that not only saw the Oak Leafers book their return to senior fare with victory in the replayed Glen Dimplex All-Ireland intermediate final against Derry, but also included her getting married, by accepting the PwC GPA Intermediate Player of the Year honour.
Ellen Casey’s inspirational contribution as Clare made it to the summit of the third tier meant that she was a fitting winner of the PwC GPA Premier Junior Player of the Year award.
The Soaring Stars were also rewarded on the night, the team comprising eight Derry players, four from Meath, two Clare representatives and one from premier junior runners-up Tipperary.
It wasn’t a straightforward year for Cork, who underperformed badly in the Very League Division 1 final against a superior Galway and after being defeated by Waterford in the Munster Championship, the Tribeswomen scalped them once more at the beginning of the All-Ireland Championship.
Matthew Twomey was encouraged by the increased unity that came with adversity however, and remained confident that his charges would do damage if they clicked. And it all came together on All-Ireland final day.
“We didn’t turn on each other,” says Twomey. “There was a lot of truths told, both ways (but) we knew if we clicked, if we got the supply right and the timing of the runs right, we had the forwards to do damage.
“And that’s what happened in the final. Being there three years in a row was a big help too while it was Waterford’s first day. But we really clicked and Waterford lost Vikki Falconer, who’s an outstanding player. Amy O’Connor got 3-7 but she’d be the first to admit that the work outside was brilliant, with Katrina Mackey and Laura Treacy just two that were phenomenal in that way all year. It was great to see the players produce what was in them in the All-Ireland final.”
Twomey enjoyed catching up with the players again at the awards but more than anything, he was thinking of a lot of colleagues as he collected the Manager of the Year gong.
“It’s an honour but it’s really Management of the Year because it’s the people around you. There were some great coaches, stats, S&C – you could see the players peaked at the right time. But it’s also people in the background who do an awful lot of work in the dressing room, like our sports psychologist Michelle O’Connor, who was so important. It’s nice to get recognised without a doubt but it’s a total management thing. I know it’s a cliché but I was accepting it on behalf of everyone.”
The Douglas clubman ends on a high, having opted to walk away on a high.
“It was always going to be for just two years,” says Twomey. “It’s a huge commitment and I have a business and children as well and I’ve been coaching almost non-stop since I’m 19. I’m noticing I only have to charge the phone every few days now!
“I started with Cork in 2014 as a coach with an All-Ireland so it was nice to finish as manager with another one.”
It didn’t work out like that for Carton but the PwC GPA Camogie Player of the Year is already looking towards next year and the improvement that should come from having some harsh lessons dished out on the biggest stage.
“Days like that, you hope never happen in your sporting career but they do and you have to learn from them,” notes Carton. “We’re still a young squad and if we take what we need to from that, we can move forward.”
And just as Twomey focuses on the collective, so too does Carton when it comes to her personal success on PwC Camogie All-Stars night.
“Individual awards are not what you play for but I think it’s very nice for the family that go through a lot with you throughout the year. And for your club as well. There were nine of us nominated and there could have been more.
“I don’t really look on them as individual awards though. With nine of us up there and a few more of us going, it feels like a team thing. But I think they’re nearly most important for the people around you that go through the highs and lows with you so it’s great to enjoy it with them. But it is an absolute honour, of course.”
PwC Camogie All-Stars: Amy Lee (Cork), Vikki Falconer (Waterford), Libby Coppinger (Cork), Róisín Black (Galway), Karen Kennedy (Tipperary), Laura Treacy (Cork), Méabh Cahalane (Cork), Saoirse McCarthy (Cork), Lorraine Bray (Waterford), Hannah Looney (Cork), Beth Carton (Waterford), Denise Gaule (Kilkenny), Cáit Devane (Tipperary), Amy O’Connor (Cork), Katrina Mackey (Cork)
PwC Soaring Stars: Niamh Gribbin (Derry), Niamh Quinn (Derry), Claire Coffey (Meath), Sophia Payne (Meath), Lauren McKenna (Derry), Aoife Ní Chaiside (Derry), Ellen Casey (Clare), Dervla O’Kane (Derry), Aoife Minogue (Meath), Mairéad McNicholl (Derry), Áine McAllister (Derry), Amy Gaffney (Meath), Aoife Shaw (Derry), Caoimhe Cahill (Clare), Jean Kelly (Tipperary).
PwC GPA Camogie Player of the Year: Beth Carton (Waterford). PwC GPA Intermediate Player of the Year: Áine McAllister (Derry). PwC GPA Premier Junior Player of the Year: Ellen Casey (Clare)
PwC Camogie Manager of the Year: Matthew Twomey (Cork)