Three-in-a-row camogs setting Slaughtneil’s lofty standards

Three All-Ireland titles in a row. In any other code in Gaelic games, it would be hailed as the astonishing achievement it is, but so much of the Slaughtneil camogie story is hidden from view.

Three-in-a-row camogs setting Slaughtneil’s lofty standards

Three All-Ireland titles in a row. In any other code in Gaelic games, it would be hailed as the astonishing achievement it is, but so much of the Slaughtneil camogie story is hidden from view.

For the last number of years, their ambitions and tilts at All-Ireland glory have been celebrated. Much of their history has been told, but of the three strands of the club, camogie has been more stagehand than centre-stage.

Ask those within the club, however, and they will confide that the camogie contingent dictates standards within the club.

The camogs train every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday on the pitch. They have an app on their mobile phones, which they use to log their two compulsory gym sessions. If anyone misses a pitch session, they have to do it at another time, under the supervision of two others.

“The training would usually last anything from an hour and 20 minutes to an hour and 40,” says team manager Damien McEldowney.

“The girls have their own gym programmes. Ollie Cummings (strength-and-conditioning expert in Maghera), does up a gym programme and updates it every six weeks.

“So, they go to his gym once every six weeks and he runs through the programme, and then they go themselves on other nights, or during the day, whatever suits them, twice a week. One of the nights would be upper body, one of them would be lower.”

It’s not just the accountability, although that makes managing the team a pleasure rather than a chore, but it is the culture of ‘doing extras’ that has delivered such success.

“At times, you have to hunt them from the pitch,” says McEldowney.

“A couple of girls, Louise (Dougan) and Tina (Hannon), they stay on and work on frees after training and we are shouting at them to get the lights turned off. They have so much dedication themselves, it makes our job so much more easy.”

That kind of talent on the pitch has been matched by the calibre of management on the sideline. For a while now, aspiring county managers have been managing ladies’ football teams, but camogie teams copped that long ago.

When Slaughtneil won their first Derry camogie championship, in 2012, it was under the management of PJ O’Mullan Jr, who, earlier the same year, had managed Loughgiel Shamrocks to the All-Ireland hurling club title.

When they stepped away, in 2014, the replacements were the late Thomas Cassidy — father of three playing sisters, Brona, Aoife, and Eilis — and Dominic ‘Woody’ McKinley, who has managed Antrim as joint manager with Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton for two stints.

This season has been like every other. They have asked big questions of themselves, and have found that the club matches that commitment. While the club senior hurlers and footballers have embarked upon training weekends away to prepare for All-Ireland semi-finals in February, the exact same courtesy is afforded to the club camogs.

On a training weekend to Kilkenny a while back, they all attended Mass in the city on Sunday morning and received a tip of the hat from the man on the altar.

If Slaughtneil are doing all they can, that is also being replicated by Down’s Clonduff, who won the intermediate title.

Over the last few weeks, they had Tipperary hurling manager Liam Sheedy in to deliver a talk, as well as current Antrim hurler Neil McManus.

With ten of the Down panel that reached last autumn’s All-Ireland intermediate final, they have a good share of players who are used to a certain level, but, as selector Ursula Quinn explains, “nothing comes easy and I would say our girls do as much as any intercounty camogie team, or intercounty football team, in terms of commitment and dedication to training.”

“Preparation, too, was a big thing for us this year, down to the finer details, strength-and-conditioning, food, nutrition, all that.

“We targeted it more than any other year, but those finer details maybe made the difference.”

She added: “We would be three or four times a week on the pitch and our girls are doing a lot of gym work, a lot of strength-and-conditioning under a brother of mine, Francis.

“Even within the club, outside of county players, that’s the level the girls want to be training at. We have said it so many times: when you go down to the pitch you want to go and you want to do a good, hard session. When you are giving up the commitment, you want to train hard and you want to train hard because you have big aspirations for yourself and for your club, and you know that is going to take hard work.”

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