Camogie certainly isn’t coming into a new season under the radar.
The backlash over the proposed playing calendar has generated plenty of debate and division since the weekend.
Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: 2021 will be a landmark year for the sport.
Last month, Congress voted to introduce new playing rules. The changes are largely seen as a game enhancer and should improve it as a spectacle. Some of these playing rules were trialled last year and the feedback was positive.
They include taking a quick free from the hand, more contact is permitted, dropping the hurley is not allowed while the hand-passed goal is no more.
All are seen as a significant step in the right direction.
Nine teams, divided into three groups, vie for honours when the Littlewoods Ireland National Camogie League Division 1 gets underway next weekend. Four of these have new managers — Dublin, Limerick, Offaly, and Waterford — and all will be looking to make their mark.
One of those is Susan Earner, who became the first female manager of the Offaly senior camogie team. Her appointment makes her the only female boss in the top division. An All-Ireland senior winner with Galway in 2013, the former goalkeeper is looking forward to the challenge and to see how the new rules pan out.
“The girls are training at a completely different level,” she says of the contact rule.
“They are concentrating a lot on building their physicality, building their speed and building their strength.
“The previous rule didn’t really allow for them to express themselves to their full capacity, so definitely I am in huge favour of that new rule and I think also it will help to give the game a bit more flow because the game is under a lot of criticism at the moment with the amount of frees.
“It is one thing that is differentiating the hurling and the camogie. The hurling is a lot more free-flowing, a bit more heavier tackles. If you are watching a camogie match and you count the amount of frees, it slows down the game completely. It makes a mockery of what the girls have trained for.”
Admittedly, there is a fear the rule might be open to different interpretations.
“A lot of players are wondering what minimum contact really means. We are really hoping that consistency is key here, that referees will all be on the same wavelength. I know they will all be coached but people’s interpretation can be different.
One rule, in particular, gets a warm welcome from the former goalkeeper.
“I’m delighted to see the hand-passed goal gone,” she laughs. “But it is a great one to score and a really good skill to have. We won an All-Ireland with one.
“Ailish O’Reilly scored a hand-passed goal that won us the 2013 All-Ireland. But as a goalkeeper, it is impossible to defend.
“I do notice the girls now who are brought up for 10 or 15 years and coached to drop the hurl, I think they are finding that one a little bit tricky to adjust to. At training you see them doing it and you say, ‘nope — you are not allowed to do that.’”
Earner brings plenty of experience as a coach, so what is different in her job now?
“I’m manager, so this is very much a new role for me. I would be more used to coaching teams. It is a very daunting task for me to try and gather the best players in Offaly and bring them to the highest level they can.
“I am enjoying it. I did find it tough enough during lockdown to try and motivate the girls.
“They did the best they could. The girls are buying in and they seem to be enjoying it now that we are back.
“We have a bye the first weekend. We are in a group with Dublin and Kilkenny and we are trying to instil some confidence and for the girls to believe in themselves. We are hoping we can build a bit of momentum through the league.
“Dublin are a very competitive team and Kilkenny are obviously All-Ireland champions. All we can do is compete, see how it goes and learn from it.
“I’ll never forget the hammering we got off Galway last year but you learn from the best. You are never going to improve playing the weaker teams. So that is what the league is for, to try out a couple of different positions and players. It is just a bit unfortunate it is short.”
The formation of the league is based on geography with Clare, Limerick and Galway in Group 1. Cork, Tipperary and Waterford make up Group 2 while Group C comprises of Dublin, Kilkenny and Offaly. The games will be spread over three weekends in May. The final is pencilled in for June 19/20.
The action throws in on May 15 with All-Ireland champions Kilkenny up against Dublin. All-Ireland finalists Galway meet Clare whilst Cork and Tipperary lock horns.