It is hard to believe, given her enduring brilliance and renowned seriousness for preparation and playing, but Anne Dalton actually turned down two invitations to step up to the Kilkenny senior camogie panel.
First time around, she was 16, immersed in St Lachtains’ remarkable All-Ireland three-in-a-row run and stressed enough trying to get time off from her summer job for the club without adding to the pressure.
Two years later, there was the Kilkenny’s All-Ireland minor-winning crusade, and enjoying the craic that followed the Leaving
“I was focused on having a good summer and it was the best decision I ever made,” she reflects, laughing.
Some might have considered her disinterested. Hindsight proves it was a mature call, the scratching of an itch that proved the foundation for a career which yielded five All-Stars and a coveted senior All-Ireland.
For most of her 11 years, she has been among Kilkenny’s very best. Her magnificence as sweeper was pivotal as Kilkenny ended a 22-year wait for All-Ireland glory. An attack-minded player by inclination, an exceptional high-scoring midfielder, it took a significant degree of acclimatisation but she grew to accept the new job and to turn a deaf ear to the more traditional observers that criticised her and the tactics.
A previous career in soccer with Evergreen provided her with the tools to master the position, even if it was subconscious at first.
“My first year, the year we won, I probably didn’t have a notion what I was doing and was probably playing with gut instinct.
“Last year, I knew my role. If I saw the opposition hitting the ball a certain way, I knew I had to get over there. Looking at it, I was like ‘Jeez, this is just a soccer role. That is all this is.’ Maybe the years playing centre-half in soccer helped me and gave me a better understanding of it.”
She remains passionate about soccer (especially Man United and Barcelona) and is heading to next month’s El Clasico at Camp Nou, having previously experienced one of sport’s incredible occasions at the Bernabeau.
United became her team because of an older sister’s infatuation with Ryan Giggs.
The number 11, worn by the Welsh winger, remains her favourite number. The wizardry of Lionel Messi attracted her to Barcelona.
“He is from another world. You cannot teach what he has. No matter how much they train, you can’t teach the instinct he has. Watching him, Iniesta, Xavi; unbelievable... I get in trouble for shouting at the telly. When they beat PSG 6-1, I don’t know how the guards weren’t called that night. The neighbours must have thought somebody was being murdered in the house I was jumping around so much.”
And all the while Dalton, the camogie player, is learning and improving
“From soccer what you’d be taking is the movement. Let’s say (Luis) Suarez, who’s backing into the defender, has his hand on his chest. He knows where he’s going but the defender doesn’t know. He’s just going to give the defender a little nudge in the opposite direction he’s going — if a corner-forward does that, you’re giving yourself two yards.
“A simple thing that has come into camogie, hurling, and Gaelic football — if you hit a wall, and come back with the ball and recycle, reset and go up the other wing. That’s soccer. It isn’t all forward, forward, forward. You spray it to the other side, even if you’re not making any yards. The sweeper role I’ve been slated for the last two years is essentially a soccer role, which is maybe why it comes more naturally to me than someone else. Maybe it’s a controversial question… to play hurling or camogie, are they there to entertain or win?
Am I going out for someone in the stand to say ‘that’s a savage game’ or to win? I understand it. I would feel the same way watching hurling at times, that it doesn’t look great, but I get why they’re doing it.”
Dalton turns 30 next month and while still operating at the peak of her powers, especially enjoying the return to midfield through the Littlewoods Camogie Leagues, she acknowledges time is against her. That has sharpened her focus.
“I’d lie if I said I wasn’t thinking about the end. My legs will decide when I finish up. That could be next year, that could be three years down the line. I’m at the stage where I’m looking at Sunday’s League final and I’m thinking it could be the last knockout game I’m playing.
“Where it’s focusing me more is off the pitch. What you sacrifice. I use the word sacrifice loosely. I play camogie, it’s a choice. No-one is forcing me to do it, I choose to do it, so I’m wary of the word ‘sacrifice’. But if I want to stay up and watch a film and I’ve a match two days later — as a 22-year-old, it wouldn’t have registered with me and I’d have watched the film. Now I’d be thinking: ‘What are you doing? You’ve a match in two days. Go to bed.’ That’s where it’s shifted.
Camogie League Division 1 final: Kilkenny v Cork
Tomorrow: Nowlan Park, 1.30pm
Referee: Ray Kelly (Kildare)
TV: Live on TG4
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