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Susie O'Carroll playing with Kildare in 2016 Ken Sutton/INPHO
VOICES

Susie O'Carroll 'We need to encourage and cherish every player - not turn them away'

The former Kildare camogie star draws a line between the current debacle and her own playing days.

EARLIER THIS WEEK, Kildare were withdrawn from the All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Championship following discussions between the Kildare Camogie county board, the Camogie Association, the GPA and the current panel of players.

The decision came following a dispute between the team and the county board which centred on the executive’s decision to bar players from participating in their club league matches.

Here, former Kildare star Susie O’Carroll draws a line between the current debacle and her own playing days. 

From Division Two league champions in 2004 to not being able to field a team in championship in 2007: life in a ‘non-traditional’ camogie county can feel like walking on a tightrope.

It takes so much effort from so many people to make the smallest step forward but with the slightest misstep, it can all come crashing down in an instant.

I was the naive kid in that league final in 2004 who thought we’d be winning every year. I soon turned into the annoying auld one, warning younger players to not take anything for granted, telling everyone that success does not come easy and it doesn’t hang around long.

An away draw to London in the first round of the 2008 Nancy Murray Cup was the spark that was needed to ignite a Kildare camogie revival.

Starting from rock bottom, we worked our way back up – winning the Division Four league, Nancy Murray Cup (the one below Junior), Division Three league and, to our own surprise, even a Leinster Junior Championship.

By 2013, Kildare camogie was an attractive prospect again. Pride restored in the jersey.

Players were queuing up to get on a panel with the potential of silverware and a real prospect of an All-Ireland final in Croke Park.

A Division Two league final appearance and a Minor C All-Ireland win and the dark days of 2007 seemed a distant memory.

Following the league final, reinforcements arrived to the panel – emerging players from the minor team, a returning stalwart of Kildare camogie, and players who were impressing with their club performances. We had never been in a better place.

Then a mid-season county board ruling came through that put restrictions on how the team’s management could put together a championship panel.

As a result of capped numbers and other seemingly needless directives, some of those players who had joined would have to be dropped against the management’s wishes.

There was no obvious reason for that ruling either. The panel was not large by any standard (well fewer than 30) and the player’s mams – ‘the trolley moms’ as we called them – were feeding us before matches and after training so there would have been minimal additional expense on the county board.

Five years of hard work to get into a position to have players wanting to play for Kildare again and we had already started turning them away.

The year ultimately ended in glory with a Junior Championship final win in Croke Park – our greatest day.

clodagh-flanagan Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

I will always look back on that year with a tinge of regret that we didn’t do more to support those players left behind. Maybe that is why I am writing this now, to support this generation of players where I think I failed the last.

I truly believe Kildare camogie produces players as good as any in the country. We just don’t produce as many and that makes progress so hard to sustain.

This is why we need to encourage and cherish every player – not turn them away.

There is huge work being done at all levels in Kildare camogie: the intermediate club championship is as competitive a competition as you will find; Johnstownbridge won an incredible three All Irelands in a row from 2016 through 2018; Naas like their hurling and football counterparts seem to have a conveyor belt of talent; and Straffan have fielded an adult camogie team for the first time in over 25 years.

I spoke to someone recently at a former teammate’s wedding who told me how their 10-year-old daughter and her school friends had petitioned their teachers to start a school camogie team for the first time. Why? Because she grew up watching her mam’s friend play for Kildare and wanted that chance. These things matter and having a visible county team matters.

Last year, I told a friend who plays camogie in a different county about my concerns for the split season. She couldn’t understand my fears. From her viewpoint, she thought it was a no brainer.

But traditionally, Kildare camogie did not have an issue with clubs not getting their time in the calendar. Kildare county players play club games – they play league games, they play club games the day after county games (and even the same day once), they play club championship side-by-side with the All-Ireland Championship.

Was it ideal? At times, probably not, but it was necessary. Everyone knew it was necessary so that is how it has always been – since I first played senior club championship in 2002.

To hear another unnecessary, mid-season rule was being brought in this year (by the county board, not the team management) to prevent county players playing with their clubs during a five-week break in county games was extremely frustrating.

Rules and calendars will never be able to cater for everyone but we need flexibility within the split season to allow everyone to prosper – particularly those deemed the ‘so-called weaker counties’ (I hate that phrase!).

I don’t know where Kildare camogie goes from here but I hope the Camogie Association, the GPA, the county board, the players and the clubs can work together to ensure that this is the last time Kildare Camogie falls off that tightrope. 

Susie O’Carroll played with Kildare from 2003 to 2017, winning four Soaring Star awards. She captained Kildare to an All-Ireland Intermediate Championship Final in Croke Park in 2015. She was named Kildare’s Player of the Decade in 2014. She currently plays with her club in Celbridge.

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