It’s All-Ireland camogie finals weekend and despite some critical commentary on the game (or the rules) over the past year, there is a good buzz about Sunday, generated from an exciting championship with plenty of positive talking points.
Camogie and Ladies Football bring a triumvirate of games to decider day, positioning their lower-tier competitions on a par with the flagship senior final.
So, supporters, and management and players especially from several counties, Galway, Kilkenny, Kerry, Limerick and Westmeath will be having the weeks of their lives, focusing on performing and winning in Croke Park.
This approach is a demonstration of respect and acknowledgment for every adult competition and it offers a progression route for growing, ambitious counties like Kerry and Westmeath.
It is classic hurler on the ditch talk but winning or losing on Sunday will not define any player. After all, some of the greatest players ever to play our games don’t have senior All-Ireland medals.
Think of Declan Browne, Glen Ryan, Ciarán Carey, Ciarán McDonald, Ollie Canning, John Galvin and Ken McGrath and also, Sharon Treacy, Deirdre Murphy, Sarah O’Connor, Vera Sheehan, Fiona Corcoran, Jane Adams, and Eilish Gormley.
There is albeit, a slight caveat for the latter group as some have won All-Irelands at junior and intermediate level.
I often wonder where does that sit with the players involved, a useful consideration given the McDonagh, Ring, Rackard and Meagher competitions in hurling and the possibility of the second tier in football. I put this to Deirdre Murphy from Clare, a friend and a colleague from our WGPA days.
At 17, Deirdre played in an All-Ireland senior semi-final in 1997, and despite a loss, felt at home at the highest level, and looked forward with ambition and an established team, to the years ahead.
A loss to eventual winners Tipperary that next season (Clare did win intermediate in 1999) and again in 2000 followed.
Meanwhile, that same Tipperary team lost a league final by over 30 points in 1999, went on to enhance their coaching team, defeat Clare in that year’s championship and won five All-Ireland titles with one of the greatest teams of their generation.
It is worth noting games between Clare and Tipperary prior to 1999 were close with both pushing forward with realistic goals to be All Ireland winners.
It worked out for Tipperary whereas for Clare, the loss in 2000 pre-empted a slide down to junior ranks in 2003.
It is clear that from her first day out in 1997 to her last in 2014, Deirdre’s ambition was for Clare to win an All-Ireland senior title — junior championship wasn’t where she, and others, wanted to be.
And, as is often the case when you regress, it’s hard to move forward again and it took Clare five years to win the junior grade while also enjoying regular trips to Croke Park to feature on All-Ireland final day.
From there, Clare, on paper seemed to progress, one senior championship win in 2009 and in 2010, the latter with close encounters against Galway and Tipperary.
Two wins and two close calls followed in 2011, and then in 2012, they celebrated a Munster final win against Cork for the first time since 1944. (Cork would get their revenge in the All-Ireland quarter-final a few months later)
For Deirdre, and likely the others in that group, Claire McMahon, Moira McGrath, the Lafferty’s, Clare Commane, Laura Linnane and Chloe Morey, that Munster Championship win was the highlight of their careers.
2012 was perhaps the closest Clare came to the ultimate breakthrough. And now seven years on, they are still waiting for that combination of circumstance, turning points, results and players.
In the interim period, Clare have remained on the wrong side of those results despite the serious effort by all involved.
Clare were unlucky to draw against Kilkenny in 2017 when a win would probably have been a turning point for a talented group while injuries to key players has made progress difficult in the past two years.
For now, Deirdre and Clare players, current and former have to make do with watching the All-Ireland finals as neutrals but you feel, especially in the company of Deirdre, that there’s plenty of reason to believe that eventually Clare are, in the words of Ger Loughnane, ‘going to do it’.