Veronica Curtin: 'The bus stopped in Athlone and we walked across the Shannon with the cup'

Twenty five years on from their first All-Ireland senior camogie title the Galway team will be honoured for their achievement in Croke Park on Sunday. And Veronica Curtin will still be the youngest in the squad, writes Daragh Ó Conchúir
Veronica Curtin: 'The bus stopped in Athlone and we walked across the Shannon with the cup'

WHEN WEST WAS BEST: The Galway team that won the 1996 All-Ireland camogie final. Back row, from left to right: Ann Broderick, Pamela Nevin, Louise Curry, Olive Costello, Sharon Glynn, and Olivia Broderick. Front row, from left to right: Carmel Hannon, Veronica Curtin, Imelda Hobbins, Martina Harkin, Dympna Maher, and Denise Gilligan. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

It won’t come as a huge surprise that Veronica Curtin, the former wunderkind of Galway camogie, is not a fan of the rule precluding U16s from playing adult camogie.

“I wouldn’t have my All-Ireland medal if the rule was in that you have to be minor to play adult. I don’t agree with it. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”

Curtin will be in Croke Park on Sunday as a member of the Imelda Hobbins-captained Galway squad that won the All-Ireland senior title for the first time in the county’s history, 25 years ago.

Cork were in opposition on that occasion but a four-goal burst, including two on either side of half-time by 18-year-old Denise Gilligan turned a
six-goal deficit into a healthy advantage and Galway held on for the most famous of victories.

Curtin had scored an early decisive goal in the semi-final triumph over Wexford, having made her senior debut at the same juncture 12 months previously.

She was already a junior and U16 All-Ireland winner at that point, having completed the rare double in 1994.

By then, the dogs in the street knew about the Kinvara prodigy. She had exhibited a talent from her early days, her mother told her that when she was two, she could lift a sliotar rolled to her with her miniature hurley.

Fourteen years later, she joined a special group of players in the annals of Gaelic games.

“It’s hard to believe that 25 years have passed,” says Curtin, now a mother of two and special education needs teacher in Portumna.

“The years have gone into each other. Every year Galway get into Croke Park you reminisce on the days you were there yourself. Now we’re all going to be there, you’re going to be thinking back that bit more.

“I just remember the day winning, and I just remember the elation. I didn’t really understand the enormity of it until we got there and we actually won. The celebrations after it, I don’t think we’ll ever forget the bus stopping in Athlone and us walking over the Shannon with the cup. That stands out in my mind.

Galway captain Imelda Hobbins lifts the O'Duffy Cup after victory over Cork. Picture: Ray McManus 
Galway captain Imelda Hobbins lifts the O'Duffy Cup after victory over Cork. Picture: Ray McManus 

“I was only 16 at the time but my parents gave me the freedom to enjoy the celebrations. The celebrations were just enormous.

“The biggest thing for me was the realisation that this wasn’t only a win for Galway, it was a win for Connacht. We were representing the province and the celebrations around the whole province were unbelievable. I remember, being the youngest player on the team, bringing the O’Duffy Cup down to Sean (O’Duffy)’s house in Killawalla, Mayo. Just going to see where he actually lived and the rooms of his house. Then having a plaque memorial put up on the primary school wall.

“So it was a huge occasion for the people of Mayo as well, not just Galway. The O’Duffy Cup was now, for the first time ever, in Connacht. I think that was a real standout moment for me, to be given the honour to go there and to bring the O’Duffy back the home place.”

Tony Ward was the manager and Curtin has a vivid memory of his words after they suffered a 15-point annihilation in the league final against a Cork team captained by Irish Examiner writer Therese O’Callaghan, in Páirc Uí Rinn.

“We were thrashed. I know there was a few people missing with exams that same day and stuff, but there was such a gap between ourselves and Cork. But I remember Tony in the dressing room afterwards saying: ‘I promise we will win the All-Ireland.’ And thinking: ‘Are you serious like?’”

But at her age, she was only interested on playing, making the team. That was the priority. And she did of course.

She has an easy recall of her semi-final goal.

“I just think myself, Denise Gilligan, Martina Harkin and Imelda Hobbins, we had a telepathic understanding of each other. We knew what we were thinking. The ball was going wide, and Martina Harkin put up her hurl and flicked it back in and I remember doubling on it to the net. She said afterwards: ‘I knew you were going to be there.’”

The goals swung the final, Harkin and Dympna Maher adding to Gilligan’s brace.

“A goal will always give you a lift. Denise got hers before and after the break. We went in and the spirits were high in the dressing room, we can do this. Next minute she came out again, and next minute we were lifted again with another goal. Dympna Maher was absolutely inspirational from the middle of the field. When you see someone coming down the field and scoring a goal in an All-Ireland final... it was inspirational really.

And the final whistle?

“I think Martina was the nearest to me. We just jumped at each other and rolled around the ground. It has been shown a few times on television since. I remember everyone that I knew from school — a bus came up from the local clubs — and they just being on the field afterwards. Family and friends, the enormity of it.”

Because that enormity had escaped her until then.

“I was oblivious to it. There was no pressure. I remember Tony saying to me the evening before: ‘How you feeling? I said: ‘Oh grand Tony, don’t be worrying about me. Worry about someone else.’ I was too young to feel pressure.”

That would come in time and the failure to add to her tally rankles, failing to get over the line in five subsequent deciders. She packed it in with Galway in 2012 at 32, with the long-awaited second title arriving the following year.

“To win an All-Ireland you need not only the players but you need the management and you also need the county board. It’s something that we didn’t have, full unity. The year we might have had the good team is the year we might not have had the manager and so on. I go through the years and I could tell you the reason we didn’t win every year.”

Does it haunt her? “It definitely haunts me to feel that the girls that have gone through Galway, were never afforded the opportunity to get the best out of themselves. Systems were put in place a certain year and they would be dissolved the following year. To think that the talent that we had, that we didn’t make more of it.”

Sunday is about the good times though, when everything was just perfect.

“Anytime we get together there’s lots of banter. We got to three All-Irelands and winning one gels a team even closer. We’d a great bond, that panel in 1996. There’ll be a good bit of slagging, lots of fun. There’s a few characters on that team. It’ll be a memorable day and one to enjoy.”

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