Clonduff followed up their 2019 AIB Camogie All-Ireland intermediate success with another triumph at Croke Park on a chilly Saturday, with Paula O’Hagan and player of the match, Sara-Louise Graffin bringing all their experience to bear as they followed up their semi-final heroics by scoring nine points between them in the 0-12 to 1-6 victory over James Stephens of Kilkenny Saturday night.
Little wonder Alastair McGilligan, joint manager with Kieran McGourty, hailed their influence, and that of Graffin’s sister Fionnuala Carr, as the trio of legends produced another top-tier performance at HQ, having missed out last year after giving birth to their first children.
Their absence undoubtedly told as Clonduff gave up their Down title last term but McGilligan reckons it might have been a blessing.
“This group of players up until last year were going for three winters in a row and probably last year, we got a bit of a break,” McGilligan told Off The Ball Sports.
“Maybe we didn’t want a 15-point beating by Portaferry to do that but we did get the break. It revitalised us and gave us time to make slight changes in the management group but also it gave time for our three big leaders in terms of Paula, Fionnuala, Sara-Louise to come back after having family for the first time.
“There’s a famous photo when Ross (Carr) won the All-Ireland for the very first time (with Down in 1991) of Sara-Louise, Aidan and Fionnuala as young, young children. I think Sara-Louise was only two at the time. She was practically sitting in Sam Maguire, the other two hanging on to it. They’re now able to make similar photographs of their own generation.
“You can’t put drive into people. You bring people to training, you can try and train them but it’s what they do outside. It’s how they look after their diet, how they do their strength and conditioning, it’s all into their pilates and yoga and recovery. And it’s also a little bit in terms of us balancing the workload and not expecting them to do the three nights heavy slog, slowly getting back in again, giving them extra recovery. But they’re absolutely outstanding, all three of them.”
A brace of points apiece by Graffin and O’Hagan, and a fine individual score from Ceallagh Byrne had Clonduff four ahead after 21 minutes.
However, just as she did to turn the All-Ireland final Kilkenny’s way last September, the excellent Sophie O’Dwyer grabbed an opportunistic goal to breathe life into James Stephens and McGilligan admitted that The Village’s grittiness had him nervous throughout the second half.
“When you come out of a game with that level of intensity and the referee blows the final whistle, it’s just relief, getting over the line after all the worries in the second half about were James Stephens going to come level or go a point in front.
“We dominated the first 20 minutes. We were 5-1 up. We possibly could have been more up but we found it hard to get the ball into our full-forward line. We struggled a bit between our midfield and our half-forward line.
“The goal was a turning point for them. It gave them impetus. It maybe stopped us hurling for those seven or eight minutes before half-time but half-time came at the right time for us. We were able to readjust and make a few positional changes.
“Instead of one or two in the full-forward line, we went with three and that seemed to pay off.”
“It’s been a difficult three years,” McGilligan continued. “Society has went through an awful lot of change. Covid ripped the heart out of a lot of competitive sport and out of a lot of families. People lost members of families.
“But that’s what the GAA, camogie, ladies football is all about. It’s giving people an outlet.”