The past few months of club activity have offered absolute confirmation of the cathartic qualities possessed by finally winning a county title after suffering intense heartache writes Daragh Ó Conchúir.
O’Riordan and Lyng revel in bonus territory
In the hurling world, Kilcormac-Killoughey and St Thomas’ both won the Offaly and Galway senior championships for the first time in their history. Now, they are preparing to conclude Cinderella campaigns with an All-Ireland final appearance.
Milford Camogie Club are in the exact same boat. If anything, the pressure on them in recent years has been even greater, as the North Cork outfit have been pinpointed for stardom for some time.
The club was established in 1997 and a team was entered in the U12 championship. They won it and progressed rapidly, claiming all before them. The core of the panel that will play in Saturday’s All-Ireland senior club final against Killimor at Croke Park (5pm) lined out with that U12 side.
Memorably, the club provided the captains as Cork won three All-Ireland minor championships in a row from 2001 to 2003. Maria Watson, Elaine O’Riordan and Anna Geary remain key operators for Milford.
They won the senior league in their first year at the top level in 2003 and reached a county final the following term. Their ascent had been too rapid though and like a diver suffering from the bends floundered badly as a result.
They were too young for such a level and each reverse left its scars that debilitated and crippled them. Until a saviour was found.
“We were winning everything but we were winning so quick when we hit the senior – I don’t know whether we were just too young or what –we found it hard to break through and win a senior county ‘til this year” says O’Riordan.
“Everyone thought we’d run away with a senior but it wasn’t the case. We seemed to flop. We got to three county finals and we lost them all.
“It’s hard to go back after losing a county final. Thankfully, the bunch of girls stayed together and last year, we got the Cork minor hurling trainer, Frankie Flannery on board. He seemed to be the thing we were missing all the time.
“He brought a new lease of life to us. He brought in a confidence that was missing. Our confidence had been knocked but he said, ‘you will win a county, you will win the Munster’. His aim was to get to an All-Ireland final and we thought he was crazy because we hadn’t even come out of Cork. But he wasn’t crazy after all.”
The Rower-Inistioge are slightly different, but only in that they will be playing senior camogie for the first time in 2013. First to contend with though, is an AIB All-Ireland Intermediate final against Castlegar at Donaghmore Ashbourne on Saturday (1.30pm).
Having annexed a County Junior title in 2000, they had to wait 12 years to take it to the next level and were on the receiving end of plenty of setbacks before resolving to put in one last superhuman effort. Their last training session before the Leinster final was their 99th.
Lizzie Lyng has played in three inter-county All-Irelands for Kilkenny, scoring a goal as a 16-year-old in the 1999 decider. Unfortunately, that game ended in a one-point defeat and the subsequent appearances didn’t end any more positively.
She has always been hugely dedicated to the club though and little has made her happier in her career than garnering that elusive intermediate medal.
“When you’re playing with the county you start off the year wanting to win an All-Ireland” says Lyng. “When we started with the club our ambition for the year was to win the county final. We had lost two in recent years – a replay in 2009 and another final in 2010 so there was a great sense of achievement when we finally won it.
“That fear of losing another one is always there in the back of your mind and we had worked so hard. That for me was the highlight of the year so far.
“We were very proud to have the Leinster final in Inistioge. To have so much support from home; it was such a great day and one of the best days in my career anyway. Because that’s where it all started.
“It’s a very small parish here, very close-knit. These kinds of things don’t happen in The Rower-Inistioge. The hurlers won the senior in 1968 and we still talk about that!”
Now Milford and The Rower-Inistioge will be hoping that there’s more history to be made. For Millford, it is the 2011 champions that bar the way to ultimate glory.
“Killimor were up there two years ago so they’ve definitely the advantage” insists O’Riordan. “They’re the favourites because all their girls have been up there before. A handful of our girls have but the majority haven’t.
“When we won the county, everything else was a bonus so the pressure was off us. There were eight steps to win an All-Ireland and this is the eighth step and hopefully we’ll perform on Saturday.”
Another Galway outfit, Castlegar will be in the opposite corner to The Rower-Inistioge.
“We’ve never really known a lot about the other teams” reveals Lyng. “To win in Ballycran was a tough task so that says a lot about them.
“Everyone feels differently about (whether you’re better off knowing about the opposition or not). I’d be of the opinion that you just go and play. Sometimes you wear yourself out worrying with nerves and your mind isn’t on the game at all.
“What will come will come. You can only do your best.”
Pictured at the AIB All Ireland Club Championship Finals photocall were Claire Conroy, Killimor, Elaine O'Riordan, Milford, Sarah Burke, Castlegar, Lizzie Lyng, The Rower Inistioge.