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O’Reilly hoping Galway have timed it right

Sun 07th Jul

Daragh Ó Conchúir


by Daragh Ó Conchúir
As we chat earlier in the week, national school teacher and Galway goal poacher, Ailish O’Reilly is still decompressing in the first few days of her holidays.

It is decent enough timing, with a mouth-watering Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior camogie quarter-final against Waterford at Croke Park to prepare for today (1.30pm, live on RTÉ2).

That this game comes hot on the heels of an uncharacteristically uncompetitive performance in the Cathal Murray era, against Cork with a direct route of the semi-finals up for grabs, can’t be ignored.

But as anyone who ever fell off a horse or a bike will tell you, getting back in the saddle immediately is the best and indeed only way to assuage any lingering concerns.

O’Reilly doesn’t attempt to soft soap how poor Galway were at SuperValu Páirc Uí Chaoimh in their final game of the group series, when they scored three points in the second half and were beaten by 12.

And she acknowledges that the Maroons have been a bit hit-and-miss generally in the Championship to date, just getting over the line against Dublin and drawing with Wexford before accounting for Down and Clare.

But it is not an unknown phenomenon for knockout fare to flick a switch in a group that knows how to get things done and if there has been some turnover in the panel in recent years, there remains a core of operators that have the bling of success in their lockers.

O’Reilly is among that cohort with wonderful memories of Croke Park, from winning her first senior All-Ireland as a teenager in her debut season in 2013. Six years later, in Murray’s first full campaign as boss, she laid the platform for success with two goals, either side of an assist for Oranmore/Maree clubmate, Niamh Hanniffy’s major.

They were at it again two years later, a season that ended with O’Reilly picking up a fifth All-Star in nine seasons.

The 30-year-old remains a valuable operator, often taking on freetaking duties and mixing it up between the inside line, where she made her name, and a deeper role.

If Carrie Dolan has recovered from the dead leg that forced her off eight days ago, there should be no need for placed ball work today. Galway haven’t had a lot of luck with injuries but things might be coming right, with Aoife Donohue in line for a return too after a month on the sidelines. They will need everyone.

“We just haven’t really got going,” muses O’Reilly. “But, you know, we have one game now to do or die, so we have to be ready for it or our season could be done.

“We did a bit of talking (about Cork). We don’t have a lot of time… We have to, just scrap it, and we have to shift our focus to Waterford, (a) huge semi-final spot on the line. Big players like Niamh (Kilkenny) and Aoife spoke very well after the game. We have to drive on.”

A former player of the year, Kilkenny returned to the fold this term after missing 2023 when giving birth to her first child with husband and former Galway hurler, Cyril Donnellan. And having her long-time compadre, Donohue back in the mix would make a significant difference too.

“She was training well this week and knowing Aoife, do-or-die game, nothing will stop her. You know it was probably her first injury ever. I do not remember her ever missing a game or a session.

“Niamh coming back was a big boost. Just her presence alone. I was only talking to my uncle the last day, I said I’d love to count up all her assist sin the last couple of games. We need all those kind of players. We’ve lost so many.”

Siobhán McGrath was the latest bona fide match winner to depart, the hero of both club and county All-Irelands withdrawing from the panel after the one-point League final defeat to Tipperary.

Niamh Mallon played her first game for Galway as a last quarter sub that day, having transferred to McGrath’s club, Sarsfields from Portaferry as a long-time resident in the City of Tribes.

The Down native almost rescued the day for her new teammates in the League decider, scoring three points and being fouled for another. She then scored ten points on her championship debut in the three-point victory over Dublin, four of which came from play. Murray has described her as “a huge asset,” and O’Reilly agrees.

“She’s a massive threat, especially when we’ve lost the few we have. She just has something different. She’s deceivingly strong, very, very strong. And it’s her movement in there – she’s constantly moving.

“It can be such a game of patience in there, especially the last day, we couldn’t get any sort of supply of all into her make use of but we’ve learned from that massively. We’ll be trying to get her on the ball as much as possible.”

That aforementioned League final concluded what the Australians might call a pretty ordinary 24 hours for O’Reilly – “not great” is how she describes it in a similar understated fashion – as she also lost the BIDL Women’s decider with Claregalway basketballers the day before.

A point guard, O’Reilly was an underage international who won a schools’ All-Irelands with Calasanctius College and played Division 1 National League with NUIG Mystics. Interestingly, two of today’s rivals, 2023 player of the year Beth Carton and Abby Flynn also enjoyed schools’ success playing hoops, with Flynn an underage international who won National Cups with Waterford Wildcats before opting to focus on camogie.

O’Reilly has spoken in the past about how much basketball has brought to her game in terms of movement, a 360 view and of course, all-round fitness given there is no chance of hiding in the corner when you’re on the court.

“I went back last November and really enjoyed it. I hadn’t played since before Covid. It’s a totally different type of fitness – I never have to do cardio in the winter when I’m playing basketball. Having the low centre of gravity helps too.

“Touch wood, thankfully I haven’t picked up any of those horror injuries that are creeping into camogie. You seem to be hearing about a cruciate nearly every weekend now. And even with all that twisting and turning, you don’t hear about it so much in women’s basketball. So I wonder if it actually strengthens the knees?”

It’s all about the grass and Croke Park today and hoping the real Galway kicks in against last year’s All-Ireland finalists.

“We’ve had good days and bad days at Croke Park. It’s lonely, a very lonely place when you don’t come out the right side out of it but that’s all part of it. We just hope we are looking forward to a couple of other big days out by the end of the day.”

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