Niamh McGrath, 24, is daughter of Galway legend ‘Hopper’ and hockey international Geraldine, and is joined on the Galway squad that play Kilkenny in today’s Liberty Insurance All-Ireland senior camogie semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds (7pm) by sisters Clodagh, 23, Orlaith, 21, and Siobhán, 16
Q: Where are you based at the moment?
A: I’m training to be a solicitor with William Fry in Dublin. It’s hard to keep it all going. I go home every Tuesday during the Championship for training. Most weeks we train on a
Friday so I get down for that as well, and
anything we do on a Saturday and Sunday. Your week is so routine. You get to Dublin on Sunday night, get ready for the gym session after work on a Monday or a Wednesday, get all the gear packed for Tuesday, go down and up again, then down again on Friday. You’re living out of a suitcase nearly. They’re really understanding in work, they’re all about the work-life balance. It’s not that big a sacrifice anyway. There’s a lot of people worse off and it’s great to be able to play.
Q: What are your earliest memories?
A: It wasn’t necessarily just camogie. We’d go to all Mam’s hockey matches when we were younger. She gave up international hockey when she had us but she used to play for Greenfields in Galway and would bring us along. Dad was playing with Sarsfields until around 2002 and Mam used to be working so we used always be down at Sarsfields training too.
Q: Did you know they were high achievers?
A: Not really. You don’t pay much heed to it. They’d be very modest. You’d just know from people talking around the club that people would have a lot of respect for them. They’d never blow their own trumpet, our ours either!
Q: What were the games like at home?
A: We had small matches out the back. Me and Clodagh against Siobhán and Orlaith. Siobhán would be a bit small but Dad would be playing as well. We were always outside. Dad was over us as soon as I was around eight, with the Sarsfields U10s team and he’s been with us ever since.
Q: Winning that first county senior title with your sisters and Dad, and then getting all the way to the All-Ireland final in March must have been fantastic.
A: That was the best day ever in my camogie career, to win a first county championship with the club. I was the eldest on the team and it’s the same group of girls. From that group at U10, we went up and won everything. With another group of stronger players beneath us, we eventually won the senior final. We have such a strong club now built up from nothing. They’re going for their fifth U16 in a row this year and we did three-in-a-row minor last year, so the future is bright.
Q: You are the eldest of six girls. Ciara and Laois are still very young at 11 and 9 but you were joined by Clodagh and Orlaith when Galway won the U16 All-Ireland in 2009, and again four years later when annexing the senior title. Siobhán joined up during the summer and made her first start in the quarter-final against Tipperary. What’s that like?
A: You don’t really know any different. Three of us are so close in age, we’ve always played together. It’s nice to be playing with your sisters. They know where you are, they know how you play. It’s more natural. And Siobhán coming in this year, it’s just the same.
Q: Were ye worried about Siobhán starting her first game so young? Were ye ready to step in if she got a dig?
A: Of all of us, Siobhán does not need any protection whatsoever! She’d be stronger than me to be totally honest. She’s so cool, calm and collected, she doesn’t lose the head at all. Nothing fazes her and she’s well able to look after herself. She has a good attitude too, a great workrate.
Q: What’s the atmosphere like in the county?
A: It’s been very sad the last week or two with Tony Keady’s passing. That has dampened the hype about. He was such a character. Dad and himself would have gone way back. They were the same age and they played with each other right through vocational schools until they retired with Galway. There would have been great rivalry too as Killimordaly are our next door neighbours.
Tony had a great interest in camogie. He was at our quarter-final and travelled up from there to Dublin for the hurling semi-final. He was so proud of his daughter Shannon making the Galway U16 team this year. Your heart would go out to them.
The hurlers have taken the pressure off us a bit but in Galway, the hurling and camogie community is so united. Even in my own club, all the senior hurlers go to our matches. In our county final there were two and a half
thousand there and the same for the replay. There’s great support for camogie.
Q: Former teammate Molly Dunne retired last year and has moved straight into coaching, with her brother Mark taking over as manager and former Galway and Dublin hurler Niall Corcoran coming in as well. What’s it like with Molly taking that new role?
A: She’s a brilliant trainer. She motivates you brilliantly. You’d really have respect for her as a woman who has done it all. She’ll be a future manager definitely. There’s no shortcuts when Molly is around. And despite being teammates in the past, you wouldn’t cut corners. There are boundaries there. She’s a selector now.
Q: What about Cork?
A: We did well against Tipperary but we’re under no illusions that Cork are a complete, utter, and total different kettle of fish. They’re so dominant in the past couple of years. They’ve been in nearly every final in league and championship. The system they play is so tough with the sweeper and the running game breaking out of defence. But we’re going well and hopefully we do ourselves justice. Hopefully we’ll hit the ground running. There’s been too many games where we’ve underperformed at the start and faltered on the big occasion, haven’t done ourselves justice with the calibre of players we have. If we give a performance, we’ll see how it goes.
Q: Have ye talked about tendency to underperform on the big stage?
A: We have talked about it and tried to address it. We just have to try and get harder, more aggressive and not let the bigger teams dominate us. It seems to be that we can beat them up along but not when it matters on the big day. There’s a good vibe now though and it all depends on the day. We’ll give it everything we have.
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