It has been a very difficult build-up to the AIB All-Ireland senior camogie club final for Oulart-The Ballagh.
A local tragedy rocked the community and hit to the very core of a tight-knit club. The All-Ireland final had to be parked, for a while. All thoughts and energy focussed on the family and friends of a 14-year-old killed in a car accident on Thursday night, particularly as family and friends were included in the panel.
It has been tough but this week, they got back down to business again. Context has been placed on sport for them, but they still want to win, maybe now more than ever. It might not help the healing in any way, but it won’t do any harm. Perhaps it could commence the lengthy process. Anyway, a ray of sunshine always brightens up a dark day, however briefly.
It should help that the Oulart-The Ballagh team is packed with experience, including four individuals that have captained Wexford to All-Irelands – Ursula Jacob, Karen Atkinson and the Leacy sisters, Mary and Una. For good measure, Mary led Oulart to the club title in 2012.
Having said that, this is something new to deal with, not something you could ever become accustomed to even if it wasn’t.
And quite apart from that, as Atkinson points out, lining out in a club All-Ireland is completely different to the inter-county decider.
“There is a good bit of experience there between club and county and a lot of the girls would have played in Croke Park before but a club All-Ireland final is going to be a completely different game, a completely different atmosphere” says the Oulart skipper.
“No matter what, girls are going to be nervous, whether you’ve played there before or not. It’s still a big build up. It’s a senior club All-Ireland.
“I know we have the likes of the Leacys there, the Jacobs, Shelly Kehoe, Shauna Sinnott that have all played in Croke Park. But I do think experience is one thing, but I think the will and want to win is the rest of it. Whoever’s going to want it the most I think it will come down to Sunday.
“Mullagh will be doing everything in their power to stop us. They’re a strong, physical team and I know they will bring a lot to Croke Park.”
She is well aware that the opposition will test them like no other side this year.
“We’re under no illusions about what Mullagh are going to bring. We’re not naïve enough to think they’re not going to bring something big to Croke Park.
“Ardrahan were there last year and just got beaten by Milford. Killimor were there a couple of years ago and beat us in the All-Ireland semi-final. So any team that has come through Galway have been very, very strong and have pushed either through the semi-finals or went on to win All-Irelands.
“Mullagh are going to be a strong, hard team to beat. I don’t know much about them; we’ve never played them before but they’ll have a couple of girls on the intermediate county team and senior county team; so some of them will have played in Croke Park before too. It’s going to be a very tough game.”
When Oulart got their hands on the Bill Carroll Cup three years ago, there were many astute observers willing to predict that they might not let go of it for a while. It didn’t work out like that though, as they fell to Killimor and Milford in subsequent All-Ireland semi-finals before being shocked by St Ibar’s/Shelmaliers in the 2013 county final.
That last defeat shook them, but in a sense, it revitalised them too.
“You don’t get to an All-Ireland every day. When we were younger, we were winning Féile three or four years in a row and everyone thinks it’s just going to keep continuing. Unfortunately it doesn’t. It comes to a point where other teams are better than us.
“Against Killimor, it was a tit-for-tat game and it just came down to the last point. When Milford beat us, I think the home venue didn’t seem to work for us; we seemed to put more pressure on ourselves. There was an awful wind that day and Milford got a massive lead on us that it was hard to come back from.
“Last year we got beaten by St Ibar’s in the county final and I think that really spurred us on. Everybody had a break. County was finished as well so everybody had a break until Christmas for the first time in so long. It refreshed everybody and there was a new lease of life. A couple of players joined the panel as well.
“We set our goals as county final, Leinster final and All-Ireland final so hopefully we’ll reach our final goal now on Sunday.”