Cork camogie star Katrina Mackey grimaces when she recalls the squad’s overnight bonding session on Spike Island this summer.
Last year, coach Paudi Murray organised an adventure training day trip for his panel, but given the exodus of so many key veterans, a longer stint was required to help bridge the gap between his new recruits and the remaining stalwarts from the 2014 All-Ireland-winning team. And so they headed off into the darkness.
“It was horrendous,” the Douglas forward laughs. “For the first hour they let us walk around and have a cup of tea. I suppose it was luring us into a false sense of security.
“But, then we had to trek around the island carrying rifles and sacks with rocks in them, weighing nearly 50kgs on our backs. We only had military ration packs, which we had to cook ourselves, and it was freezing in the tent.
“I’d seven jackets on and I still couldn’t get warm. But, the hard work stood to us. There’s such a gap in age between the older and younger girls, that trip definitely helped bring us together as a team.”
Last year, Katrina and her twin sister, Pamela, would have been some of the youngest players in the squad, but now they’re veterans at just 23 years of age, after the departure of Joanne Browne, Jennifer O’Leary, Angela Walsh, Annie Geary and Sara Hayes.
“Their absence is huge,” says Mackey of the exodus. “They’re irreplaceable. Players had to step up then because there was no option but to. The past year I think myself and Pamela have become leaders. It’s funny because we were one of the youngest 12 months ago, but that tells you a lot about the transition.”
Twice Cork have played, and lost to, their All-Ireland final opponents Galway this year, but Mackey believes things have changed since that last defeat.
“Losing to them in the League final was probably a lack of experience. They’re quite strong and physical, and we should have beaten them in the championship game. We found out at breakfast that Eimear O’Sullivan was out with a knee injury and I think her absence and experience threw us a little bit.
“But, with every game the younger players who have come onto the squad are playing better, and you could see that in the semi-final against Kilkenny,” added the chemistry and forensics graduate.
Katrina’s twin, Pamela, was named MVP in the semi-final for her defensive display against the Cats, but for her it was the collective effort which was a defining moment in the season.
“It was a massive win,” admits Pamela. We were the underdogs going into that, no doubt, because Kilkenny had been trashing everyone in the group stage. But, our workrate won it.
“Their forwards are really skilful and were doing damage in the first half, but mentally we were tougher and that boiled down to how hard everyone worked in the second half.”
Both have learned to relax in the lead up to the All-Ireland final, but on the day itself they’ll use a trick or two from sports psychologist Canice Kennedy to focus them further.
“Canice did some work with us this year and last, and I’ll read through his stuff the night before the game,” says Katrina.
“It’s just to try do little things to focus the mind during the warm-up, like counting the number of passes you give or make, and just to really hone in on something specific so that you’re not getting overawed by what’s going on. Everyone’s bought into it, so hopefully we can get the job done against Galway.”
Meanwhile the Camogie Association has confirmed that Hawk-Eye will be in use at Sunday’s All-Ireland finals.
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