Kerry camogie - an underdog story

Jackie Horgan jokes that she has ‘turned’ her family by now.

Kerry camogie - an underdog story

By Cliona Foley

Jackie Horgan jokes that she has ‘turned’ her family by now.

Truth is, the third-year PE student who is captaining Kerry to camogie history tomorrow, was a relatively recent convert to the small ball herself but is now a converted zealout.

“My house would be a big football house alright, but I’ve turned them to camogie,” she grins.

“I played football until I was about 16. Then one of my good friends, Aoife Behan, who was only U14 at the time, brought me back training with her one night and I just loved it straight away.” 

Football may be king in the Kingdom but, in that staunch hurling enclave of North Kerry, camogie has taken root in the past decade and thrived against all the odds.

A Division Four title in 2015, when they also contested an All-Ireland Junior A final, and a Division Three title this year have all been part of the arc that now finds them on the cusp of history.

Tomorrow’s All-Ireland premier junior final against last year’s beaten finalists Dublin is the first time a Kerry camogie team has played in Croke Park.

The county only has one senior club (and only two minor) with 27 players so Clanmaurice also doubles up as the county team.

That means they have no local league or championship to play in.

Throw in their geography, and a spate of recent injuries, and their achievement becomes even more remarkable.

“We’re like a little family really and we just get on about it. We enjoy it, it’s fun,” Horgan enthuses.

“Clanmaurice used to play in Limerick but when we won the junior title we didn’t go senior because we wouldn’t be able for it. So now we just train and play with the county and play in Munster with the club.

“There’s eight men’s hurling clubs in North Kerry and we’re from all of those but play as ‘Clanmaurice’. Like I’m from Crotta whereas other players are from Lixnaw, Abbeydorney, Ballyheigue, and others,” Horgan explains.

Clanmaurice were good enough to contest the All-Ireland junior club final last year which they lost to Kimessan (Meath) in a replay. But many of this club/county team have garnered huge experience and impressive reputations in the ultra-competitive world of third-level camogie.

Before she graduated from the University of Limerick, Patrice Diggins memorably won Player of the Match in the 2016 Ashbourne Cup final.

Niamh Leen and Horgan are still figuring prominently for UL where Horgan shares a house brimming with inter-county stars like Waterford’s Beth Carton and Tipp’s Grace O’Brien. Kerry’s players may not have the same profile but they all happily make the long trek home for training on Wednesdays and Fridays, in Causeway or Kilmoyley.

“The hardest thing is the location,” says their coach Gary O’Brien, whom Horgan credits, along with team manager Stephen Goggin, for their progress.

“If you’re playing a challenge game anywhere, it’s a minimum one hour’s drive from where we are in North Kerry,” O’Brien notes.

“But you get used to it and the players are so committed. They’re there every night and make it very easy to work with them.”

This summer they topped their group on goal difference and beat Roscommon well in the semis, a re-match of their Division Three final. They have also racked up an impressive 5-50 in four games despite an unlucky run of injuries. Goalkeeper Alanna Maunsell broke her hand, corner-backs Liz Houlihan and Michelle Costello broke their thumbs and Brid Horan fractured her foot in training.

But you get the impression they’d all happily play in plaster-casts tomorrow for this unprecedented and unique Kerry/Dublin All-Ireland.

Horgan says: “I came to Croke Park when I was eight or nine to watch an All-Ireland and thought it was unreal.

“If anyone ever asked me what my dream was, it was to play in Croke Park and now we’re going to be playing there in an All-Ireland final. It’s a dream come true!”

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