International Women’s Day is always an occasion for celebrating powerful women. Sarah Carey certainly qualifies for that today, and not just for her brilliant camogie skills.
She is in the last two months of her social care degree at Limerick IT so is juggling her thesis and completing a pile of assignments with training and playing for Limerick, whom she will captain in the Littlewoods Ireland National Camogie League Division One semi-finals on Sunday.
Victory on Mother’s Day would have particular resonance for the 25-year-old Patrickswell defender as she is juggling her finals and elite sport with being a mum to a particularly active toddler.
“Nicky is one-and-a-half now. He’s running non-stop at the moment, up to everything,” she grins proudly. “He is just gas, a real character and sometimes we just sit down to laugh at him!”
It’s hard to know when she even has a minute to sit down nor indeed his dad either, as her boyfriend Tom Condon also stars, at corner-back, for the Limerick senior hurlers.
“We both actually train the same nights with the county,” she explains.
“Tom goes straight from work to training because they have to be there very early. Our training is very late the last few weeks because we’ve changed pitches as we couldn’t see what we were doing on the last one.
“We’re not training until 8.30pm now so that means I can put Nicky to bed and move on to training afterwards. We’re blessed because he’s really good. Once he’s down he’s asleep for the night.”
They are blessed, too, to have “amazing support” and a small army of babysitters offering their services. Nicky is the first grandchild in her family and then there’s her county teammates who are “obsessed” with him.
“The team bought him his first jersey! It has number 6 and ‘Mammy’ on the back of it but he probably only got three games out of it,” she laughs at her child’s rapid growth rate.
Young mothers often quit elite sport at this time due to their hectic workload but Carey decided: “I’m not going to have the opportunity to play for Limerick forever so I’m taking it now when I can. It’s very busy at the moment but it’s really worth it.
“When I first found out I was pregnant, my mother said ‘we’ll be there 100% to support you so you can go back to your camogie’, because she knows what it means to me.
“I was shocked at first, especially as I played a league game against Cork and discovered three days later that I was 13 weeks pregnant.
“But I think being so fit really helped,” says Carey. “I flew through the pregnancy, really loved being pregnant, but I really missed the camogie too and found it really hard to watch the matches.”
So badly that she bawled when she had to miss out on the 2016 Munster final and almost didn’t go to watch Limerick run vaunted Cork to within two points.
So badly too that, “in a moment of madness”, Carey returned to play in the 2016 county final just a month after giving birth. “I just couldn’t get back fast enough once I was able and came on in the end of the county final against Ahane.
“The deal was that I could come on for 10 minutes if we were leading by a few points but Tom didn’t talk to me when I was going out the door with my gear,” says Carey. “Nicky was only four weeks old. It was a moment of madness really but worth it. I was OK and we won.”
Becoming a mum may have forced a hiatus in her sport and studies but now she’s immersed in both again and her return for Limerick last summer was surely a factor in their famous first Munster senior final victory over Cork.
Carey is a gifted centre-back, capable of forward surges that are often reminiscent of her dad Ciaran in his prime, and she is part of a talented Limerick team who just can’t get over the line sometimes.
This will be their fourth league semi-final in a row yet they’ve still to leap that penultimate hurdle.
Carey’s only major honours still are an Intermediate All-Ireland in 2014 and last year’s precious Munster senior.
A draw with Waterford last time out put them through to Division One’s last four on score difference but they have already taken one massive scalp this season. “We have some serious talent and some great leaders but we’ve been stuck at this point,” says Carey.
“Our squad is made up of a handful of really experienced girls and then a big gap to the younger girls who I think are nearly afraid to speak up at times, but I think we’re finally gelling together.
“Beating Kilkenny in our group was a huge boost — that’s the first time I ever won against a Kilkenny senior team.
“We just need to keep that standard up, that’s our downfall and it’s in our heads really. We can be amazing in one game and then drop the next day out. We need to find consistency.”
Once again it’s the reigning All-Ireland champions who stand between them and a league final. “Of course you’d look up to Cork but we can’t fear them,” she says.
“They’re the standard we want to be at and I can’t wait for this game. Hopefully now we can gel together, be consistent and get more confidence.”
Limerick play Cork at Cork IT on Sunday while Kilkenny take on Galway in St Rynagh’s, Banagher (both games throw-in at 2pm). Both Division 1 semi-finals will be streamed live on the Littlewoods Ireland Facebook page.
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