Julia White was Cork’s All-Ireland hero as she scored the winning point in last September’s camogie final. Having just returned from a series of injuries in time for the semi-final, she’s hoping this weekend for a first All-Ireland series start since 2015.
Q: Did you see you were this week named the most popular camogie player in a survey of 900 sports-playing children by John West?
A: No (laughs), I didn’t see that at all. It sounds a bit crazy!
Q: 37% of the vote, according to the survey...
A: I got the point in the All-Ireland final, but I literally played a total of half-an-hour’s camogie last year!
Q: You haven’t had any benefits from that level of popularity so far!?
A: No, definitely not. I’m teaching as well and none of them seem to have any idea of anything to do with camogie (laughs). So not where I am anyway.
Q: Was the Munster final two weeks’ ago your first game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh?
A: It was my first game in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh. I’d played there a few times before it was brought down, but this was the first time anyone on the team had played there and it was the first trophy that was ever won there. That was a nice achievement.
Q: How was that experience?
A: It was brilliant just to get to play on the pitch, which is magnificent. We’ve a good few home games in the championship, so hopefully we’ll get it a few more times during the summer.
Q: It was originally scheduled as a triple-header with the Cork senior and minor hurlers, but refixed due to “logistical reasons”.
A: That was disappointing.
Q: Is that something you’d like to see more of if they could get over those reasons?
A: Definitely. It’s such a nice atmosphere when you get to play before the men, just to have the crowd. It’s not the nicest feeling to be playing to an empty stadium. At the same time, that’s just a side issue. We focus on playing and it’s a bonus if we’ve got people there. It’s not the be-all and end-all for us.
But, in general, I’d love to see more of those. They’re definitely the way forward to promote the game and get more games on TV. Galway and Clare are playing before the Galway and Dublin Leinster match this weekend so it’s nice to see it happening in other counties.
Q: How did the news of Rena Buckley’s retirement break to the team?
A: We’d been holding out hope that she would come back. She’s such an amazing leader on and off the pitch so it’s not something we wanted to hear. There’ll be big boots to fill but we’ll have to deal with it. Definitely, it was sad to see happen.
I don’t think she was finished, by any means. She could’ve had another few years but we respect her decision. She’s given so much to us all her life, nobody would begrudge her taking time to herself.
Q: What impact did Rena have on your camogie career?
A: When I was younger, she was somebody to look up to. She was an idol and I would’ve known her name way before I was breaking into the team. I’d always have been in awe of what she was doing, and then to be on the same panel as her and play alongside her, it was brilliant. The main thing is her work rate and leadership skills.
There’s no bullshit about her, she’s just really straight up. Everybody on the team would have huge respect for her — I wouldn’t say afraid of her but you wouldn’t do anything to disrespect Rena.
She was inspiring in terms of work ethic. There’s nobody who works harder than her and you’d be aiming for that — you’d probably never reach it but it was a good bar to set yourself. She’s calm under pressure, nothing fazes her. She just does the little things well and that takes care of the big things then. I’ve learned loads from her. She was easy to play with and play under as a captain.
Q: You’ve mentioned playing about half-an-hour’s camogie last year, so is this year first and foremost about reestablishing a place on the team?
A: Definitely. That’s all I’ve been trying to do all year. I’m not thinking past each game. I played the last match and all I’m focusing on is hopefully playing Saturday, playing well and trying to stay injury free. It was nice to come on in the final and score but I’d love to have more of a contribution hopefully being successful this year. That’s 100% my personal goal anyway — just to play.
Q: You missed the 2016 championship with a ruptured Achilles tendon and most of 2017 with a fractured foot. Did that time off the field change you as a player?
A: I’ve definitely become mentally stronger. Speed would’ve been my main game pre-injury and there’s definitely been a dip in it. I’ve had to adapt and I’m playing a different role at the moment — less of the running role and more of a gamemaking role. I’ve been trying to work that into my game. I’ve been working in the gym more trying to get a bit stronger for the tackles and I’ve worked on my striking.
Thankfully that came off in the All-Ireland final, but I’d try to give myself an extra inch with my striking and my touch because my speed has definitely dipped. Even the way we do it in training with Kevin Murray, we’d be taking nine shots before every training session and nine shots at the end of every training session.
I’m not there yet but this year is the first time I feel any way close to being back to myself since rupturing my Achilles in 2016. Hopefully that’ll continue to get better but I’m still having to complement it with the gym-work and the ball-alley.
Q: Facing Wexford in the championship opener is a tough one to start with.
A: Yeah, Wexford have always been a strong team so we won’t be taking anything for granted. You’ve no idea how teams are set before the first round of championship — the league doesn’t give the most accurate account — so anything could happen.
It’s nice that we’re at home and it’s an evening game, so we can relax and won’t have to travel. Hopefully, that’ll be in our favour but we won’t be expecting anything less than a battle.
Cork begin their campaign for a fourth All-Ireland in five years as they host Wexford at Páirc Uí Rinn this evening (5pm throw-in). The Rebels enjoyed a winning start next door at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the Munster final last month, a 0- 19 to 0-6 victory over Tipp.
That win came days after news that last year’s captain and winner of 18 All-Irelands Rena Buckley had retired.
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