Refocussed Armagh back in the game
By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Ciara Donnelly has just completed a 5k run for a local fundraiser and after a tough training session the night before, is feeling it a little in the legs.
With an Irish Daily Star National League Division 3 Final coming up though, the Armagh markswoman likes to know that she will be able to go an hour or more if required.
It is a good time for followers of the hurley and sliotar in the Orchard County right now. This conversation takes place in a short window between finishing the run and having to depart for the All-Ireland Minor C Championship Final, in which Donnelly’s younger sister Leanne scores 2-2 to ensure a famous victory.
The hurlers have had a good start to the Nicky Rackard Cup, after losing last year’s final agonisingly by a point, and have annexed the Division 2B League title recently.
While the hurlers draw primarily from a very select grouping, camogie has spread its wings to all corners of Armagh. With 19 clubs, the game is flourishing and the senior panel is 30-strong.
“The work is being put in at grassroots level, with the likes of the development squads for U14 and U15” Donnelly explains.
“There is a great rivalry now. There was a time when two clubs dominated. But now the likes of Tullysaran and Madden have won the senior championship for the first time. Last year, Middletown were in the final. It can only be a good thing that it is wide open this year. Anyone could take it.”
The 25-year-old teacher doesn’t actually play her club camogie in Armagh anymore, and along with siblings Leanne and Aisling, was part of the Eglish squad that bridged a 24-year provincial gap by claiming Ulster Intermediate honours last season.
Her performances as captain were recognised when she was named Ulster Intermediate player of the year and the former Purcell Cup All-Star certainly has no cause to regret the switch.
A long-time player with Granemore, she remained with them for three years after the family moved back to their father’s home village but eventually bit the bullet.
“I didn’t feel I was living in Eglish, because I was in uni as well and I didn’t know too many people at home so I felt it was the best thing for me to do to get into the community. The girls are all understanding about it, and still playing county meant I was still playing with a lot of the girls from Granemore that I was close with.”
The bond within the county camp is a tight-knit one, particularly with a number of the minors, including Leanne, having been brought into the fold.
“It’s a good mix of youth and experience, which is what really has added to things this year I think. The belief is there because the young girls are like a breath of fresh air. Seven or eight of them girls are pushing for places on the senior team so it’s keeping everybody on their toes and keeping competition there. Nobody can get complacent.”
Being withdrawn from the championship last year really concentrated the minds, forcing the players to consider whether they wanted to commit or not.
“It did. Seeing Roscommon in Croke Park last year for the Junior A Final as well… we’ve been up there with Roscommon for the last three or four years. If we want it, it’s there for the taking if we put the work in. We’re not saying we’ll definitely do it but that we can be up there.
“The management that came in this year has pushed things on. We were pulled out of the championship last year but from the end of last season, the management said there was a team and they were there to help us to progress.
“The morale is good. Everyone wants to be in training and the competitiveness is good. It makes it easier to go and to enjoy it.”
Roscommon lie in wait in Kinnegad on Saturday. Armagh beat them by four points in the group stages but that will count for nothing now.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it now. It’s where we aim to be so it’s just a matter of hopefully going out to do the business.
“The target from the start of the season has just been to take each game as it comes and the target for each game was to win it. So far, so good but we know it’s not gonna be an easy task.
“We know that Roscommon are strong. We’ve had some really tough games with them over the last few years so we’re definitely not taking anything for granted. We’ll be going out to do the best we can and to be the better team on the day.
“It’s nice to be in finals but there are no certainties about anything, so we’re just gonna have to try make sure of it.”