Camogie’s National League celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and it is fitting that the inaugural victors, Tipperary, are back in contention again after a lengthy spell in the doldrums.
Despite that initial success however, they have only won the secondary national competition one more time, as part of a famous double in 2004.
The All-Ireland is the last occasion. Tipperary have won major silverware at senior level. They reached a couple of deciders in both league and championship subsequently, but after Cork thwarted them twice in 2006, a once great team began to break up, the glory days over. Underage success has given them an impetus once more and following the All-Ireland minor and 16 double in 2011, and another U16 triumph three years ago, a new batch of players have brought the Premier back to league semi-final next week.
The manner in which Cahir have progressed should not be underestimated. For a Tipp team to travel to Croke Park and win again, as Cahir did in the All-Ireland intermediate club final last month, would have infused belief.
Difficult though it is to imagine in a county of such tradition and swagger, that priceless commodity had been in short supply.
The Cahir story is remarkable. It is a story of perseverance, of fortitude; of making something happen by sheer force of will. It took two years to record their first score and despite being on the receiving end of another hammering, they celebrated it almost as wildly as when Catherine Neary presented Aisling McCarthy with silverware in the Hogan Stand. It was a major milestone, a key step on the path to competitiveness and then winning.
Cahir is a football town and indeed 17 members of the victorious camogie squad were part of the ladies football panel that failed by just two points the previous December from delivering the first leg of what would have been a remarkable All-Ireland intermediate double.
Marie Casey and Mary Howard have been there from the beginning, when they started with an U12 team in 2001. When Casey talked about “the most amazing journey” since, she wasn’t over-egging it.
Her daughter Aoife, 25, is the only survivor from that team, and at 25, is slagged off for being an OAP by the rest of the dressing room.
“It wasn’t until 2003 that we got our first score, from a free, and our kids went bananas on the pitch.
“Even now, when you meet the girls that are gone, they’d still say it to you. “‘Do you remember that first point?’
“Mary and I had to play once to field a team. Another time we were playing junior B in Cahir and I hadn’t enough players and I had to put my own 10-year-old in goal, ‘cos at that stage I wasn’t going in, in case I’d get a belt, so I put her in! We just had to do it. You couldn’t put anyone else’s kid in but sure you’d put your own in.”
That 10-year-old grew to be centre-forward in Croke Park. Carol is now a six-footer and like Aoife, plays with the conviction of her mother — the conviction of winners.
The younger crop flew through the grades from C to A and when they filtered into the adult team, the junior B crown was annexed in 2012.
This year, they will be playing senior camogie for the first time. Possessing the confidence of being All-Ireland champions, and having a wonderful age profile, there is real excitement about what they might achieve.
“Going back to when they won the championship, the girls said ‘Hey Marie, we could win Munster?’ I said ‘We could.’ When we won Munster, they said ‘Are we going to Croke Park?’ I said ‘We’ll try.’”
They succeeded. Tipp, with an increasing Cahir influence, will be hoping to do the same.
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