It may not have come across the radar of many but in 2008 and 2009 Davy Fitzgerald took the Clare minor camogie team to consecutive All-Ireland ‘A’ finals and lost.
Heading into injury time in the 2010 Minor All-Ireland Final Clare, now managed by Clare U21 boss John Minogue, were minutes away from an historic first title until a quick fire 1-1 from Rebecca Hennelly forced a replay which Galway would win by four points, consigning Clare to a third final defeat in succession.
Fast forward three years and in the space of a fortnight the Clare manager of ‘08 and ‘09 – Davy Fitz – and Galways 2010 hero Hennelly had been up the steps of the Hogan to collect McCarthy and O’Duffy.
For Niamh O’Dea, a 16-year-old starter on the Clare team, that coveted ascent up the famous steps remains elusive, and this is where I start when I catch her between classes at St Caimins College in Shannon.
I put it to her that having reached Minor All-Ireland finals in 2008, 2009, 2010 and again in 2017, the Banner county have failed to deliver on their camogie potential. It becomes clear though that it’s not quite as simple as that.
“We aren’t a Cork or a Kilkenny where a talented minor will go on and play Senior camogie” explains Niamh.
“Clare is a county with a limited pool of female athletes and thus invariably that pool gets dipped into by soccer, hockey, rugby, football etc etc. There is no guarantee with us that they will come through onto the senior team and when they do they are usually playing a few different sports.”
A dual county player herself, O’Dea refused to use this as an excuse and credited manager Trish O’Grady’s management skills in achieving the balance of letting players play dual sports but also preparing professionally for top tier camogie.
She has been critical in the past of the lack of communication between ladies football and camogie in the county but says the channels of communication have been far more open this year and the whole county is rowing in the same direction for the first time in a while.
I put it to Niamh that realistically a team of multi sport athletes could never compete with a team of fifteen out and out camogie players but she simply wouldn’t entertain that thought. “It comes down to attitude” she says, “we have the talent, we have had some excellent results in the championship in the past, we need to get that bit of consistency. If we get on a roll we will take beating.”
With Galway and Kilkenny alongside them in Group 1, Limerick, Waterford and Clare will be playing a mini competition for the final qualifying spot. O’Dea doesn’t accept this. “Every year people tell us we can get the final qualifying spot but we are going out to win every game. We wouldn’t be playing for Clare if we didn’t think we could go all the way. And to do that you have to believe we can beat everyone, and we certainly do.”
As we finish our conversation Niamh mentions that Alan Cunningham is the vice principal of her school and Paul Kinnerk used to teach there. The school is used to welcoming success on the national stage. O’Dea intends to be next.
Clare open their championship campaign with a visit to last years beaten semi-finalists Galway on the 9th of June followed by a crucial clash with Limerick in Cusack Park on the 16th.
Columnist with GAAWrap and current Éire Óg Ennis Senior Hurling coach.