The stories that have emanated from Nowlan Park training sessions over the past decade are legion and legend. Some of the latter are undoubtedly of the urban variety but the near-mythical status attached to these nights have prompted crowds to flock from the four corners of Ireland to watch in-house games involving Kilkenny hurlers.
Racing folk often speculate what might happen if Noreside native, Willie Mullins threw some of his equine superstars against each other, even just for the craic on his Closutton gallops. A two-mile hurdle race involving Hurricane Fly, Quevega, Vautour, Faugheen,
Annie Power and Un De Sceaux would have packed out any racecourse in the world.
A tantalising pipedream.
Hurling disciples saw the real thing and one minute of action disabused you of any notion that it wasn’t competitive. Jackie Tyrrell marking Henry Shefflin, Paul Murphy covering TJ Reid, Brian Hogan on Richie Power or JJ Delaney taking Richie Hogan was nirvana, especially with Brian Cody an unobtrusive referee.
If you produced the goods in such an unforgiving, ruthless environment you got the nod, as was the case for left-field All-Ireland final selections Walter Walsh, John Power and Kieran Bergin in recent years.
No surprise then to see the county’s camogie team adopting a similar approach, as they look to increase their tally of Liberty Insurance All-Ireland crowns from the 12th garnered in 1994, having only captured their first title 20 years previously,
“I don’t think we’re too far off of it” says Edwina Keane, when comparing the intensity of training games.
“We’re all fighting for our place each week. Our trainer (Fintan Deegan) gives us a clean slate and what he sees at training is what he puts out in the weekend. So if you’re putting in the effort, you get your reward.
“It’s kind of like what we’ve heard about Kilkenny men. The ball is thrown in and there’s no whistle. There’s nothing heard until the end of it. It’s a hard-out battle and whatever girls show in that will be out there at the weekend.”
A multiple All-Ireland victor at underage level, Keane has been established as a centre-back in recent years and won an All-Star as right half-back in 2013 when Therese Maher got the nod in the middle.
This year though has seen a relocation to full-back for the St Martin’s woman, after new manager Deegan was impressed by her combativeness in an early-season battle with Aisling Dunphy.
“At the start of the year I though he was messing putting me in there. So far, so good. I better not talk too soon. But again in training, you’re not going to come across tougher than Katie Power or Denise Gaule.”
The challenge is a mental one as much as anything. Dealing with the frustration of not hurling the amount of ball she is accustomed to. Maintaining the highest concentration levels.
“It took a while to get into my head that I can’t be drifting out the field and I can’t lose my player as easily as I might at centre-back.
“I have to tell myself there’s glue between myself and the full-forward. I’m the last line of defence so I’m telling myself I’m a bit of a brick wall at the back. No-one is getting past me. No-one is getting to our goalkeeper.
“I was struggling a bit at the start thinking ‘I’m not involved in the play’ but if I can stop a goal that’s as important as running around out the field.”
That she only took up the game because a boy in her school told her she wouldn’t be able to hurl gives a glimpse of the 26-year-old’s stubborn nature.
It has stood to her as she has experienced three losing All-Ireland finals, in 2009, 2013 and 2014. Wexford, Galway and Cork have all shattered her dreams.
Last year was a strange experience. A hamstring injury ruled the State Street compliance officer out for most of the league and she was never able to win her place back. Five minutes at the end of the decider gave her little opportunity to stave off another September defeat.
“To win it is the main thing. It’s one thing getting there but then after putting it in… the effort you made all year, the hard training sessions at the end of which you’re thinking ‘Thank God I’m still alive and in one piece’.
“To go up there then and watch the whole thing unfold and unravelling in front of your eyes, as it’s all gone downhill.
“It’s worth something to get there but it’s not worth anything when you go home on that bus the next day and you have nothing. You just have 60 minutes of playing experience but you’ve nothing to bring back with you.
“I have a bet with my Dad. He said he’d buy me a pair of hurling boots if I put the All-Ireland medal in his hand so I don’t want to lose out on that €120 too easily!”
Whatever it takes.