There is a long tradition of camogie in Kildare and the game has undergone a stunning recovery in recent years, after a period in the doldrums.
Back in 2009, they were a junior A team operating in Division 4 of the league. Now, they are a leading Division 2 side that is just a game away from the senior grade.
“A lot of it is down to how close the girls are,” says Róisín O’Connell. “We’ve nearly the same group of players that have come together since before we won junior A in 2010. Three years later, we won the premier junior.
“A lot has to do with the commitment, determination and aspiration the girls have. We’re like a little family. We’re tight together and all want the same thing. New girls came in this year and they’ve really added to the panel.”
The 27-year-old Johnstownbridge player has plundered many of the vital scores as Kildare garnered the Nancy Murray Cup and the Kay Mills Cup to advance to intermediate, as well as Division 4 and Division 3 league silverware. Now though, the poacher has turned gamekeeper once more, returning to the goalkeeper position she held when breaking through to the panel towards the end of the last decade.
“Obviously I like to be outfield and the last day in Croke Park (2013), I was in my element running around. But this time my job is going to be to protect the goals and keep the backs in line.
“That’s my job now. Before it was about trying to score but now it’s to save them and by God, I’ll be doing my best to make sure nothing goes past me.
“I was wary at the start. I was nervous and hoping I wouldn’t let the girls down but I wouldn’t be anywhere without Niall Lanigan. He has worked with me from the start and got me to have belief in myself.
“He’s so positive every time I go out to play. Even if I make a mistake, we talk about it, we deal with it, we learn from it and we move on. Even when I play outfield now with the club, I’ve way more confidence than I ever had.”
O’Connell’s mother Nuala (née Malone) was named on Kildare’s camogie team of the century and her father Jack, selected on the hurling team of the millennium. Just as her talent comes as no surprise, neither does her versatility, having also played football for Kildare and won numerous county honours with Ballykelly. She is also a basketball talent, having enjoyed national success with Portlaoise.
Right now though, all the focus on Waterford in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland intermediate camogie final at headquarters on Sunday.
“We’re delighted we’ve got to Croke Park, the paradise of hurling, but we’re really gunning for Waterford. We need payback because we’ve had two tough games against them this year (in the league semi-final and the championship) and two games we didn’t really perform in. So it’s about going out and doing ourselves justice. We know in our heart and souls if we go out and perform, we can do it.”
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