The Cork intermediate side have travelled a longer road than most to reach Croke Park this September.
Their journey, involving as it did, incorrectly signed regrading documentation, letters of rejection from the Camogie Association, and a late night arbitration meeting in Thurles, has made the final destination that little bit sweeter.
Back in early February, nine Cork players — Sarah Fahy, Niamh Ní Chaoimh, Amy Lee, Katelyn Hickey, Leah Weste, Sarah Buckley, Finola Neville, Lauren Callinan, and Rebecca Walsh — were informed by Camogie Association Ard Stiúrthóir Joan O’Flynn that their regrading applications had been turned down on the grounds that they printed — and not signed — their names on the relevant paperwork. A number of the same players had regraded from senior to intermediate the year previous, having also printed their names on that occasion, and no trouble was encountered. Cue uproar.
“Once again the Camogie Association have managed to embarrass and insult the sport and players. #shameful,” tweeter Gemma O’Connor. “Outrageous,” was senior captain Ashling Thompson’s take on the matter.
Commonsense eventually prevailed and the nine were cleared to play for Cork’s second team.
The league, though, had concluded by that juncture and so they’d have to wait until summer for their first competitive match of 2016.
“We made a mistake. It was our fault, technically,” reflects Cork captain Niamh Ní Chaoimh. “We didn’t do what we were told. It might have been a silly mistake in a lot of people’s eyes, which it was. We were lucky enough it got rectified. Thankfully, common sense won through.”
She added: “We closed the door on that once it had been resolved and drove on. We knew at the start of the year what we wanted to do, the regrading issue was just a small bump on the road. We got over that and then tore on for the rest of the year.”
Kildare, All-Ireland finalists in 2015, were taken by a double-scores margin in their first game on July 2 and when Meath were edged out the following weekend at Trim, Cork had successfully navigated a path past two of the outright favourites for the All-Ireland.
Galway, Down (fixture conceded by the northerners) and Laois were subsequently overcome to progress the Rebels to a first intermediate decider since 2009 — all but two of the nine players whose season initially appeared in turmoil start tomorrow.
“This year was about getting to the final after what happened in last year’s semi-final against Kildare. We had an unlucky injury the week before — centre-back Sarah Buckley stood on a sliotar during the senior semi-final warm-up and went out over her ankle. The team got rejigged as a result.
“We really believed we were good enough to get to the final and the fact that we didn’t perform on the day was the worst thing. We choked. We froze. When you play useless, you are left with nothing but ifs and buts. It took a long time to get over.”
Corner-back Ní Chaoimh, a teacher at Gaelscoil Uí Ríordáin in Ballincollig, is chasing her sixth All-Ireland medal, but this would be the first not achieved from the confines of the Hogan Stand. “I won four ladies football medals (2011-14) and I was part of the senior camogie panel last year. I was a sub for the five of them and all those times when I was sitting there, I just wanted to get out and play. The goal is to have a medal where you can say, ‘I started, I was on the field for the win’.
“That’s what would make it special and that is where the motivation lies. That has been a motivation for years.”
A Lee; L Coppinger, L Weste, N Ní Chaoimh (Capt); J Crowley, S Buckley, S Harrington; C Sigerson, J Barry; K Hickey, S Fahy, F Neville; R O’Shea, L Collins, C Sugrue.
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