By Sarah Stanley
Waterford Camogie are no longer strangers to the big occasion. 12 months previous, the Déise were thrilled to reach the latter stages of the All-Ireland Senior Championship for the first time in their history. One year on and the Munster outfit have repeated that feat with great aplomb.
Third in Group 2 of the Senior Championship table, they set up a tough, but exciting contest with Division 1 League champions Galway this weekend, but the excitement and buzz around the county for this clash has been at the fore of team training since qualification was sealed in July.
This year’s captain, Niamh Rockett feels that the experience gained from being in the same position one year ago will really stand to the team when they run out onto Semple Stadium’s green carpet on Saturday.
“Last year was the first year we got to the All-Ireland Quarter-Final and we were a very young team, so nerves got to us that day. I think the girls are much more prepared this year and the fact that we got to the Quarter-Finals last year will really stand to us.” Rockett explains.
However, simply making it to this stage is not enough for the St. Anne’s star, as she hopes “to go one step further this year” after Tipperary halted their progression this time last year.
Throughout the Championship things have been going well on the pitch for Waterford, despite the challenging task of featuring in the group with more teams, meaning more matches to be played to qualify.
“It was tough especially when you're in the group with the bigger number of teams, so it was very tough mentally and physically, but I think the girls got on well. We won games that came down to the crunch and now we are just looking forward to the Quarter-Final.
“No matter how you get there or how many wins or losses you have it is always brilliant for Waterford Camogie. To get to these stages is brilliant for us.”
With the majority of the management team from last year still in place this year, it is no surprise to see the white and blue outfit return to the latter stages. Their influence on the team has been evident to all after consecutive Quarter-Final appearances.
“The management team are brilliant. Each one of the people involved in the setup always brings something different to the set-up. Our physio has been with us for the last couple of years and the girls love him, our team doctor Sinéad is with us every single year and the girls know her. The managers/trainers. Dónal is strict with us but he can push you and he is really good at improving the players. Shane and Nikki come in with the softer side to training. You need that and all of them in the set-up are brilliant.”
Our #GoTogether campaign is one that sits well with the Déise captain. Having started her career under the guidance of her father, she has continued to make her love of the sport a family affair and loves to visit them on the days of her matches.
“My father would have been a huge influence on my Camogie career. He is tough on me when he has to be tough and when push comes to shove, he will always tell me if I done right or wrong. He has been there for me when we have lost All-Ireland's and when we won big occasions too.
“On match days I go down and see my grandmother, nieces and nephews, that is one thing I always do. I like going down and seeing them. They always have their Waterford jerseys on and getting ready to go to the match, so I like going down to see them the morning of a game or at some stage during the day.”
After a stellar campaign last year in the county jersey Rockett was recognised for her performances by receiving an All-Stars nomination, something that meant more to her than words could describe.
“It was brilliant, I was absolutely thrilled to be honest, I never really got any individual accolades before. I actually couldn't believe it when the nominations came out. The fact that three other Waterford players got nominated as well was brilliant. Even when it was on the Sunday Game, I got nominated in the team of the year as well and I couldn't get over that too. I think all of my family were nearly crying as well.”
With the attention turning to the fixtures this weekend the Déise are rearing to go and are excited for the challenge that Galway will bring to the table. Training has been well prepared this week for the challenge to come.
“The management team were training us really hard this week, preparing for the game and we are really looking forward to it. The girls are really enjoying playing at the moment, so it feels like a weight lifted off our shoulders to get to the Quarter-Final. Now we are just really looking forward to getting to the big stage.”
While the occasion is always big for the players, getting to play in county stadiums around Ireland is another element to the occasion the players love to experience.
“To play in Thurles is brilliant. In Páirc Uí Chaoimh last year was brilliant, and it is one of the best pitches in the country. It is brilliant that we got to go there, and that the Camogie Association got these venues for us.”
Steeped in a GAA family, Rockett grew up knowing nothing else other than Gaelic games. Her father played for Waterford in both hurling and football, while her brother has also lined out in the Waterford jersey for football. It is no surprise that the Déise ace followed suit with playing sports.
“When I could walk, I had a hurl in my hand and a football. I played a lot of sports. I played soccer, hockey, football and Camogie until I was about 16. When you are that age you have to specialise in one and Camogie was always going to be the one that I loved the most and played the most.”
Thankfully for her county and her club, it was Camogie that she chose and as team captain, leading her team out this weekend will be one of the biggest highlights of her career to date.
“Getting to captain the team this year is one of my favorite highlights. Getting to the Quarter-Finals this year is something I will treasure, being able to lead the team out and getting to this stage of the competition is brilliant.”