Camogie

Published on April 14th, 2016 | by admin

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All-Ireland Camogie Feature: Emotion Distilled (2009)

THE ALL-IRELAND CAMOGIE JOURNEY OF 2009 WAS AN EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER OF A LIFETIME, AND ONE WHICH BONDED A GENERATION WHICH INCLUDED SIOBHÁN CONVERY AND PAULA MCCLOY…

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THEY STOOD UP, dotted around the Ashbourne pitch perimeter like reference points on a map; marking the end-line, the thirteen, the twenty, the forty-five and sixty-five, twice over. The voices of strategically placed key personnel began propagating encouragement through December’s chill, and Paula McCloy felt their effect. She confidently drilled over two early points.

“We’d been through everything else,” says Paula McCloy (now McCann). “We had had all the emotions and the bottom line was that the job just needed done.”

Winning the All-Ireland Junior Camogie title in 2009 was an historic landmark for Lavey. The year, which began on a South Derry training pitch in mid-February and ended on December 13 in County Meath, marked the first time any Derry club had triumphed on a national level in Camogie.

For ten months, the Lavey girls cocooned themselves away from the outside world. Having lost out in the All-Ireland semi-final the previous year at Casement Park, vows were made that would endure through a remarkable series of events.

Their story is unique, of course, but it also contains universal truths and pertinent lessons about the honesty and attention to detail required for success in team sports, relationships, communities and also coping with a wide of emotions. In short, it is a design for life.

13 December 2009; Lavey captain Siobhan Convery celebrates at the final whislte. All-Ireland Junior Camogie Club Championship Final Replay, Lavey, Derry, v St. Anne's Dunhill, Waterford, Donaghmore, Ashbourne, Co. Meath. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE *** *** Local Caption ***

Lavey captain Siobhan Convery celebrates at the final whislte. All-Ireland Junior Camogie Club Championship Final Replay, Lavey, Derry, v St. Anne’s Dunhill, Waterford, Donaghmore, Ashbourne, Co. Meath. Picture credit: Brian Lawless

The Mark in Time

“If you want to go to war with Keady, be prepared!”

That’s the advice of Siobhán Convery, captain of the All-Ireland Camogie champions of 2009.

Now based in Dublin, where she is a director of the leading property consultants firm, Murphy Mulhall, Siobhán Convery has the aura of a leader. Calm, assured and steadfastly grounded, her qualities were there to be relied upon when the going got tough. And in the Ulster club camogie final of 2009 at Derrytresk, some of the toughest battles of the year, or any other year, were fought.

“It was the Sunday after my father had been buried the previous Tuesday,” Siobhán openly reveals.

“If I were to pick out a moment from the year, not to take away from the All-Ireland, it was that game. I felt he was really with me that day, which was so special to me because he followed me all over Ireland to watch me play.”

Greeted on the final whistle by local woman, Mary McVey, Convery’s mixed feelings of loss and triumph were confirmed in an emotional instant that still resonates strongly in her mind.

However, during those sixty-plus minutes of battle, she was still the strong one – the leader – as a stirring example illustrates:

“I remember Alana (McMullan) playing wing-half back and having a fantastic game,” begins Siobhán. “With the second half just about the start and everyone making their way back into their positions, Alana took a bit of a freak-attack – started to panic!”

“She came to me and said: ‘I need to talk to you, need to talk to you now’.

“In a way, it was fantastic because here was a girl who had been performing extremely well, but mentally had just taken a bit of a dip, and was afraid of what might lie ahead because she didn’t want to mess the whole thing up for the rest.”

“I can’t remember what I said exactly, but whatever it was, it steadied her. But isn’t it great when that kind of thing is there? When you can just go to someone and be that honest.”

It’s clear that the girls had been mentally prepared for what lay ahead, but it was a day on which their training shone through. In difficult playing conditions and against a resolute opponent, the cumulative physical preparation of the winter and spring months came to the fore.

“There was never just one of us in a tackle; there were always three of us,” explains Paula. “If you went down, there was someone pulling you up by the jersey to go again. We were not for losing,” she states emphatically.

When you invest so much time in something, you care. And Paula cared. Crucially, so did everyone else, and to the same degree. Often under pressure at work with the amount of training the squad were putting in, it broke her heart to have to occasionally pull out of training sessions.

“The management were great though,” she explains.

“There was just such respect. From the moment we took to the training pitch in February, we respected Damian (O’Boyle), we respected Orla (Downey) and we respected Mickey (McShane).

“They’d say: ‘sure we’ll see you tomorrow night instead’. And there was always a manager there the next night for me to do my own session.

“There was often six other forwards as well, there standing waiting on you on their night off. That was special. Things like that just don’t happen in a year when you don’t expect big things.”

Everything was done so that each and every player’s game was ‘on point’.

And so it proved in the Ulster decider. Athletic, with pace to burn, and razor sharp in front of goal due to a short lifetime immersed in the game, Paula’s hat-trick went a long way to securing victory in the Derrytresk thriller.

“It’s not as if there was very much to do around here,” she laughs when asked about her formative years. “You’d put your school bag down every evening and head straight to the pitch.”

“And then on Saturdays, there would be fights outside Boyle’s shop,” she recalls fondly.

The contention arose from the novelty of securing a station in the two backwards-facing seats to the rear of ‘Rosemary’s Volvo estate car’. Moving forwards, yet facing backwards. Being ferried around, to and from training or to blitzes and matches, it’s a journey Paula sees many others now starting out on around the club.

“In the beginning, she was probably the reason I stuck at it so long,” she says of her mother Rosemary’s influence on her camogie career.

“Like Siobhán, we lost mummy at a very early age – a difficult age – but the girls, the camogie, they bring you through.”

A excerpt from a letter from a primary school child to Siobhan Convery in 2009.

An excerpt from a letter sent to Siobhán Convery by a primary school pupil in 2009.

A Realisation

All the girls agree. There has been one constant. From ongoing efforts at the club, right back to their own childhood and the first tastes of competition, Eileen Downey (now Gribbin) has been ever present.

“Eileen, to me, is the rock of Lavey camogie,” says Paula. “No-one will beat her.”

“When I still see Eileen now, it’s just like it was 20 years ago,” she continues. “Her enthusiasm and will to win, in all walks of life, is just so admirable. She carries it right through and she teaches you that. It’s just lovely.”

A picture emerges of women with immense respect for those who nurtured them, who gave so much energy and commitment to help develop their own careers in the world of camogie, and also life itself.

“She deserves great credit,” interjects Siobhán. “She has been the constant through it all and along with her sister, Orla, and Martina Mulholland – they would have been the three. They did a lot of work and we all developed immensely as players through them. They were player managers and would also have made sure the kit was there, the balls were there, the sticks. It was total immersion.”

2009 was never going to be just about 2009. It was about years of effort both collectively and individually. From Teresa McElroy aged seventeen – the baby of the team and today’s current club captain – to Siobhán Convey and Mary O’Kane, it was about a commitment to each other as a group, but also about personal fulfilment.

“Mary is six months younger than me and she never lets me forget it,” laughs Siobhán.

Nothing was easy won though. Anything worthwhile seldom is. As a group, the Lavey camogs that found themselves on that training pitch in February of 2009 were initially slow to believe in themselves. The realisation that they were ready, and that they could achieve whatever they set their hearts on, had come dropping slow.

“Bear in mind that when we won the first of those three [county titles 2007-2009], it was actually our fifth,” explains Siobhán. “Well, for a lot of us. 1995 was our first.”

 

Having broken the glass ceiling in Derry, the provincial demons were slayed in 2008, only for the pain of defeat to return again later that year in Casement Park.

“My biggest anxiety was always just getting through Derry,” reveals Paula. “It was the fear of getting beaten at the first hurdle, if you like. I knew that if we could get through Derry, then there was no-one who was going to stop us in Ulster or the rest of Ireland [in that year].”

Paula’s thoughts were crystallised and put into a simple, yet compact, and lasting form that still strikes a chord within the group today.

“THREE, TWO, ONE”

Say it to yourself. Just as you finish, you’re left with expectancy. “TWO, ONE…GO!”

There was inherent momentum in the simple slogan and it became their mantra. It was written on hurls, sliotars, kit bags and helmets, and in some cases, even faces.

It was clear. In 2009, the Lavey camogs were going to win their third county title in a row, their second Ulster title and they were going to win the All-Ireland for the first time; THREE, TWO, ONE.

“We lived by that for the entire year. It was a constant reminder to us,” explains the captain.

6 December 2009; Mary O'Kane, Lavey, shoots to score her side's first goal despite the attention of Lorena Mooney, St Anne's Dunhill. All-Ireland Junior Camogie Club Championship Final, Lavey, Derry v St Anne's Dunhill, Waterford, Donaghmore Ashbourne, Co. Meath. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***

Mary O’Kane, Lavey, shoots to score her side’s first goal despite the attention of Lorena Mooney, St Anne’s Dunhill. All-Ireland Junior Camogie Club Championship Final, Lavey, Derry v St Anne’s Dunhill, Waterford, Donaghmore Ashbourne, Co. Meath. Picture credit: Brian Lawless

Preparations

The preparations have been done; the team has travelled down the day before the game. Team meetings have taken place in the hotel and everyone is on message. Breakfast has been carefully planned and a meeting to re-focus has taken place before boarding the bus to the game. It’s All-Ireland semi-final day and the nervous energy of anticipation is flowing.

“We were stuck up a country lane in Roscommon,” declares Siobhán. “There was a handful of sheep in the distance and that was it. The bus driver had obviously taken a wrong turn somewhere! We actually had to get out and knock down a loose stone wall so that the bus could turn on itself and go back.”

“And then we had to rebuild it!” laughs Paula.

Rebuilding a stone wall up a country lane before an All-Ireland semi-final would throw a lot of teams, but not this one. They rolled up just in time for the throw-in and then rolled over their opposition, Four Roads. It was

only on the pitch where the one way traffic occurred. A travelling band of supporters filled the stand outnumbering the home side by at least ‘three-to-one’.

“It [winning so easily] probably wasn’t the best preparation for the final,” explains Siobhán. “They [Four Roads] weren’t quite at our level.”

The following year an Intermediate level was introduced into the competition, but for 2009, Junior meant Junior and Intermediate combined. Teams just below senior grade could play junior teams and so mismatches were possible. This was one. The final was not.

Keeping Going

All-Ireland finals are special events in Irish life. Whether involving club teams or inter-county teams, the very words ‘All-Ireland’ does something to those involved. There’s an automatic sense of history, of destiny and also end game. Preparations tend to take on a whole new level. Every possible inch of the environment is raked over for a glimpse of advantage.

“We had three weekends in a row in Bewley’s Hotel at Dublin airport,” explains Siobhán.

The first involved the game being cancelled on the morning of the game. It was a major psychological blow, although events at home took an even more unwelcome turn.

As the girls prepared in the hotel, news began to filter through that a young player at the club, fifteen-year-old Shauna Shivers, had taken seriously ill.

Shauna, a promising underage player, and part of the St Pat’s Maghera panel that was due to play Cross and Passion, Ballycastle in the Ulster Colleges’ final that weekend suffered complications from diabetes and eventually lost her fight for life on Thursday 3 December.

Shauna was laid to rest on the weekend the girls returned south for the re-fixed game.

“It wasn’t really mentioned that much,” recalls Paula. “We had tunnel vision. When you looked at certain players, you would know they were thinking about it. It was the silent gestures; the wee hugs here, the glances there. The respect was there.”

“Events like that bring the whole thing back into perspective,” agrees Siobhán.

Keeping going was something the squad of 2009 had done better than most. In the match itself, all reserves, both physically and mentally, were called upon as a late Dunhill point forced the game into injury time.

“I was cramping and I couldn’t watch the match near the end of extra time,” Siobhán recalls. “I remember turning around and seeing Kevin McCloy laughing at me for not being able to watch it. It was just so tense.”

Having been tugged back from the winning post, it required nerves of steel from Attracta McPeake to then level the game with a vital last minute equaliser as the light faded.

A cocktail of exhaustion and relief coursed through Paula McCloy on the final whistle.

“We were so mentally exhausted. It was our second weekend down in a row and it was also freezing. When we got word it was the following weekend again, I just remember wondering how we could go and do it all again. Where do you start?”

Enter Mickey Harte. The three-time All-Ireland winning football manager with Tyrone visited Lavey to speak to the girls during the week between the drawn and replayed games.

“What I learned from him was that the conditions are the exact same for both teams. So if you can get that into your head before the game, the weather conditions can’t get to you. They got to me the first day because it was so cold. But I was much better mentally prepared the second day because of that,” explains Paula.

“Looking back on it, the occasion got to us,” states Siobhán. “It definitely did. It got to the management and everyone, even though we were super prepared.”

“We had some beautiful touches that weekend with families writing us cards. The management had this all arranged. They all added to the sense of occasion but they all had a draw emotionally.”

It’s called playing the occasion. It has happened before and it will happen again. However, getting away with a draw, the Lavey girls began the task of playing the opposition and preparing themselves. Instructions were no longer generic. ‘Play game of your life’ has no meaning in terms of a match. Specifics win matches and analysis told them their puck-outs had been compromised. Each player was now given detailed instructions on what to do in an attempt to rectify the mistakes that had been made. The emotion dissipated. This was cold and calculated business and was just what was needed.

Finally

Nine points separated Lavey and St Anne’s Dunhill following the next sixty minutes of camogie. After Paula McCloy’s two early points, Lavey continued to hold a two point lead at the interval. Then they went to town. Helen O’Neill raced through to drill a bullet to the net. Attracta McPeake picked up where he left off in rescue mode the previous week to register six points in all, five from frees. Mary O’Kane, Denise McShane (nee McCann) and Paula McCloy added points as Ceara Cushnahan and Siobhán Convery launched attacks from half-back.

6 December 2009; Ceara Cushnahan, Lavey, in action against Kate Rockett, St Anne's Dunhill. All-Ireland Junior Camogie Club Championship Final, Lavey, Derry, v St Anne's Dunhill, Waterford, Donaghmore Ashbourne, Co. Meath. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***

Ceara Cushnahan, Lavey, in action against Kate Rockett, St Anne’s Dunhill. All-Ireland Junior Camogie Club Championship Final, Lavey, Derry, v St Anne’s Dunhill, Waterford, Donaghmore Ashbourne, Co. Meath. Picture credit: Brian Lawless

“Relief!” proclaims Paula.

“It was sheer relief to have won it. Seeing everyone’s faces at the end was pure joy. I have no doubt we deserved it, never had, but this was something we had worked very, very hard for, for a long time,” she explains.

Shelving the emotion and replacing it with process had helped the girls demonstrate their true potential.

“It was a completely different team. We were much calmer. Looking back, it’s the small things you now notice,” says Siobhán.

Having struggled to sleep the night before the drawn game, Siobhán Convery recalls one of her most treasured memories from the entire year. She has been sharing a room with her friend, Mary O’Kane, when the 3am fears hit.

“Mary couldn’t settle so I couldn’t sleep,” she explains. “She took herself into the bathroom for what was nearly two hours. I was tossing and turning and wondering, almost afraid to move.

“As it turns out, she was actually in there writing a poem for me. I still have it,” she beams.

“Mary would go through a wall if she thought she’d win it for you. She would go to the other end of the planet if it made a difference and I guess for her it was important that she write that poem at that time.”

It was indicative of the bond than existed, a bond developed over years and cemented on the back on a march to their ultimate goal.

The return to ‘the club’ washed away any remaining doubt as hundreds crammed into the social hall to greet the girls.

“Our club support was something else,” declares Siobhán. “We arguably could have had to travel on the day, on the Sunday to the matches but it was never an issue. The hotels were booked without a second thought. The

Waterford team had actually travelled up on the days of the games but our club backed us and saw that no stone was left unturned.”

“It was so professional,” agrees Paula. “There was never any debate to be had. No distractions.”

“As part of our preparations,” reveals Siobhán, “Henry Downey spoke to us one evening after training. I’ll never forget it.

“He said: ‘Girls, in 25 years’ time when any of you meet, there will be an instant connection between yourself and that player that you won the All-Ireland with.’”

There’s still eighteen years to go, but you get the feeling Henry was right.

Lavey 2009 Panel: Ciara Boyle, Aedin O’Neill (nee McVeigh), Kathleen Taggart, Ciara Mullan (nee Ward), Siobhan Convery (captain), Ceara Dougan (nee Cushnahan), Alana McMullan (nee Ward), Edelle Dodds (nee Henry), Attracta McPeake, Denise McShane (nee McCann), Teresa McElroy, Claire Conway (nee McCloy), Helen O’Neill, Mary O’Kane (nee McGrellis), Paula McCann (nee McCloy), Joanne Godard (nee McCloy), Donna McGill, Shauneen McCann, Irene Cushnahan, Eimear Murphy, Faoiltiarna Ward, Rachel McMullan. Management; Damian O’Boyle, Michael McShane, Orla McCarthy

lavey 123

Dreams do come true…


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