By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Stakelum and Tipperary go together like bacon and cabbage, like blue and gold, like Holycross and Ballycahill.
Pat Stakelum won three All-Irelands with Tipperary’s hurlers, including one as captain, before going on to be secretary of the county GAA board and a selector of many Premier County teams.
His nephew Richie was the captain who declared ‘The famine is over’ after Tipp bridged a 16-year gap between Munster Championships in the unlikely location of Killarney’s Fitzgerald Stadium in 1987, and later garnered his own All-Ireland medal before going into coaching with Dublin’s own famine-ending Leinster Championship heroes of 2013.
Richie’s brother Conor followed the family pathway with his own All-Ireland success and contributed to another as a selector with Michael Ryan when Tipp last got their hands on the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2016.
Today, Tipperary are in the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie Leagues Division 2 Final at the St Ryanagh’s grounds in Banagher (3pm) and lining out in the half-back line just as her legendary grand-uncle and cousins did, will be Claire Stakelum.
Far from feeling pressure, the 20-year-old considers her lineage an honour.
“Ronan and Pádraic Maher are both first cousins, and Declan Hannon is a first cousin so I can’t really win either way” she exclaims with a laugh. “Pat was my granddad’s brother and he was a big name around here but sure you have to try anyway. I’m hurling and Camogie, born and bred.”
Now that she adorns a Tipp jersey, being a member of an Garda Síochána is another familial trend Stakelum is keen to emulate. She is currently taking a year out from pharmaceutical science in Waterford IT to attend a part-time addiction studies course at Limerick IT, which she hopes might get her over the line, having just missed the cut last time.
“Since I was five years of age I wanted to join the guards. I kind of like the whole idea of it being different every day. One day I could be out chasing someone and the next day I could be in the office. There are so many departments you can go into as well. There is potential for progression there too.
“And doing something like the addiction studies course, which is about helping families deal with addiction; that’s a part of being a guard people don’t think about and that I find very interesting.
“I made it to the interview before and missed out by two marks so I am really focused on it now.”
She won’t, however, be pursuing the road travelled by another first cousin, who has become something of a Stakelum trailblazer. Conor – son of Richie – has established himself as an elite international figure skater.
“He is very, very successful. It must be a Dublin thing where that came about though. We wouldn’t be used to that down in Tipp!”
Grass is more Claire’s thing and it is a good time to be involved with Tipperary. Bill Mullaney brought both the Seniors and Intermediates to their respective All-Ireland Semi-Finals last year. Being under the one umbrella has helped bring everyone forward.
“We train with the Seniors. That is obviously very beneficial for us. If we have a team meeting, if the Seniors are with us, they are thanking us which is savage to see that we are helping them along the way as well.
“There is a massive buzz there. I definitely see it rising. There is something about it now. And last year there was a real click as well with both teams. There is good ambition with the Seniors. They see big things as well and so do we.”
She would love to advance to the Senior squad in time, but the immediate priority is to beat Kilkenny today and for that to provide the springboard to a glorious Intermediate Championship campaign. Adding another All-Ireland medal to the Stakelum treasure trove would be sweet.
Kilkenny will be tough today, but Tipperary can call on the likes of three-time All-Ireland Senior champion and 2004 captain, Joanne Ryan off the bench. Sharing a dressing room with one of the greats of Camogie, determined to do what it takes at this level as a 35-year-old who has seen it all, is a thrill.
“It’s unbelievable. As a child, you looked at Joanne Ryan as being the biggest Camogie star of all time. Then playing with her now is gas. You would have a bit of a laugh about the age difference. She has the experience. She is a very level-headed girl. She is cool. She knows exactly what will come on a day and how to prepare. We get great advice off Joanne.
“She came in the last match and scored a vital point. The match before that she came on and scored a vital goal. That shows the confidence that comes along with her.”
Having been reared on a diet of legendary tales, Stakelum knows what she is talking about. But she is her own person, doing her own thing and doing it well.
And for that, Tipp are thankful.