A Wexford Camogie legend decided it was time to draw a line under her inter-county career earlier this year. Ursula gave us some of her time to reflect on a glittering career in the Wexford jersey and an amazing insight into a player that has amassed All Ireland titles from just about everywhere possible in Camogie.
(Thought this was published in March, but it was accidentally hidden as I got to grips with the new website)
All Ireland Feile Success:
What was it like to go and represent your club at the national competition and experience success at a young age?
It was an absolute honour to represent my club and county at Feile na nGael. I have nothing but fond memories of Feile. I was very fortunate to play in three Féile, losing in the All-Ireland semi-final to eventual winners, Templemore (Co. Tipperary) in Waterford in 1996 and winning the All-Ireland title in 1998 versus Templemore, by a last minute point (4 goals 6 points to 4 goals 5 points) and beating Milford in 1999 (1 goal 10 points to 2 goals 3 points). Those victories were made more special by the fact that Féile was held in Co. Wexford in front of home supporters. The parish as a whole celebrated the win and little did we know that the club would go on to win a record-making 5-in-a-row that has never been equaled.
Your parents played a big role, how important was their involvement and support?
My mam and dad have played the biggest and most influential role in my playing career. I have learned so much from them in relation to sport. Dedication and commitment to training, practicing and perfecting the skills, desire to win, “never- give- up” attitude, respect for management and other players and graciousness in victory and defeat were some of the characteristics they instilled into me and my brothers and sister from an early age. They were always my biggest supporters and I will always be so grateful to them for helping me become the player I am today.
What in your opinion were the biggest factors in Oulart/The Ballagh’s Feile Success?
Undoubtedly, the main factor in our success was that we had a core group of players who were highly skilled and motivated to win every game possible, together with a tremendous amount of behind the scene work from mentors such as Margaret Leacy, Aidan Moran and Ann Kirwan who put us through our paces and kept the group of players together.
Who from your club Feile days are you still lining out alongside for club? How many players from your underage club team went on to represent Wexford at senior level.
Many of our successful Feile teams are still playing senior with both Oulart and Wexford. Players like Mary and Una Leacy, Ciara Storey, Karen Atkinson, Shelley and Stacey Kehoe, Shauna Sinnott and Stacey Redmond are just some of the girls who progressed up through the ranks with both club and county and all have contributed massively to our success over the years.
Having won schools All Ireland A title, what sort of commitment was involved in this and was it difficult to get the balance right between study and sport?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing with my school, Coláiste Bríde. Elva Moriarty, a brilliant organiser and motivator, was the driving force behind camogie in the school, and she along with Jimmy Guinan steered us to massive success at both Junior and Senior Level. Huge commitment was expected from us and we used to train a lot during lunch times but also after school. When we were endeavouring to win our first senior schools All Ireland, Elva invited in Martin Storey and Fran Fitzhenry and they brought training to another level. They played a massive role in helping us achieve our dream of winning a Senior All- Ireland. We were almost like an inter- county setup such was the standard of training and organisation. I never found it hard to balance sport and study because on the evenings I wasn’t training I made sure to do the extra bit of study! I always regarded taking exercise and playing sport as a good thing anyway because I always had a clearer head to study after it. Furthermore I have always noticed that people who do well at sport are usually high achievers in academic fields too and go on to have successful careers.
What advice would you give to a secondary school student now who is committed to playing club, county and schools camogie/sport.
I think it’s important to get a good balance between all the demands. No player can train 7 days a week because they will only suffer from burnout. The best advice I can give is to prioritise whichever competition is most imminent and then shift your focus to the next competition when that pops up. Also, it is vital that there is good communication between the various coaches/managers so that they are aware of the competing demands placed on the player and by doing so they can get the best from you! Everyone wins then.
Third Level Camogie
You were part of the WIT ‘Golden Era’ as a player and subsequently as management;
What level of commitment is involved in third level camogie to gain success?
Third Level camogie has become as professional as Inter- county set ups and I think a lot of WIT success came down to the professionalism of the management team and the desire and commitment of the players. I was lucky enough to experience both sides of the coin- I was a player at first who came into a setup where my sister, Helena along with James Meagher (Kilkenny) were both so pivotal in bringing camogie in WIT to another level. They both had a massive influence on me and helped me win two Ashbourne medals as a player. Subsequently, I became involved in the management setup as I was still working in the college. This gave me a great appreciation for anyone who gets involved in the management side of things. The hours of preparation, organising and planning that go on behind the scenes were massive but I was lucky to be involved with like-minded people like my sister, James Meagher and Conor Phelan who were willing to do this in order for the team to be successful. And I can’t forget the continuous support, encouragement and affirmation provided by Dr. Sheila O’Donoghue a pivotal member of the WIT GAA Club. We put in massive amounts of work but we got far greater reward with all the successes (6 titles in 7 years).
Describe your fondest memory of Third Level camogie.
I have been very fortunate to have so many wonderful memories from being involved in WIT. As a player it would have to be our first Ashbourne Cup win versus UCD. They were the favourites going in to the final and they had All Star players throughout the field whereas we were the underdogs who maybe, had lesser known names. But as a team we were willing to die for each other on and off the field and in the end we won through a lot of heart and pure determination. From a management perspective the 2013 Ashbourne Cup final between WIT and UL will probably be considered one of the greatest games I ever witnessed. The game itself went to two periods of extra time before WIT clinched the title. It was absolutely wonderful to be involved on such a historic occasion (WIT 5 in a row).
Who is the stand out player you played alongside in WIT and why?
Over the years, I was privileged to play with some of the top players in Ireland during my time with WIT. The likes of Ann Dalton, Katie Power, Sarah Anne Fitzgerald, Denise Gaule, Colette Dormer, Lorraine Keena, Katrina Parrock to name but a few. However, the top of the pile would have to be Patricia Jackman from Waterford. She was and still is one of the greatest camogie players in Ireland. Her skill, athleticism, professionalism, commitment and all round presence on a training or playing pitch, will probably never be matched by any other player I ever played with. Any sports person, in any discipline, could learn a lot from her!
What few words of advice would you give to a college going camogie player?
It’s simple- the minute you arrive get involved in the camogie club or any club in the college! It’s the best way to help you settle into college life and the easiest way to meet new people and make friends. Undoubtedly I became a better camogie player because of my involvement in WIT because the standard was so high and the coaches involved were the best in the country.
Your earliest memory of taking to the field for Wexford, opposition, venue and what was it like?
My earliest memory of playing with Wexford seniors was my debut against Tipperary in an All Ireland quarter- final in Thurles. I was still under 14 when I was brought in to the panel to play in goal! I remember it was my first time playing in Thurles too and I just felt the whole arena and field was so big. Tipperary, at the time were All Ireland Champions, so we were always going to have an uphill battle and unfortunately we lost on that occasion. Our game was played before the famous Kerry/ Dublin match where Maurice Fitzgerald scored the unbelievable point from the sideline. It was such a nice experience to play in front of a big crowd and an even better experience to share a dressing room with the Dublin footballers!
What Wexford player did you look up to/aspire to as a young player?
When I was younger, the player I always looked up to and aspired to be like was Fiona Dunne. She was an incredible player for both club and county and was so unlucky not to win an All Ireland with Wexford. She was so versatile and had every skill of the game and I was lucky enough to line out beside her with my club. She was such a leader and when she spoke you could hear a pin drop. To this day, she is still there supporting us. Another person I always looked up to was Martin Storey. He was such a brilliant player and inspirational leader and has given back so much to both camogie and hurling in Oulart-The Ballagh.
What was it like to get to play in Croke Park for the first time?
It was an experience I will never forget. Running out onto the field before the 2007 All Ireland versus Cork was something I will always cherish. Looking up into the stands and seeing the sea of purple and gold flags was incredible. The atmosphere and experience of playing in Croke Park is so different to any other pitch in that you have so much space and the surface is like carpet! You’ve no excuse but to hurl well!
Describe what it meant to you to be Captain in 2011?
It was a great honour for me when I was given captaincy in 2011. To me, it was something I took very seriously and wanted to lead by example. I didn’t think I was above any other player and didn’t get carried away by it but I always tried (whether I was captain or not) to lead by example. Walking up the steps of the Hogan and accepting the cup on behalf of the teams was something extra special. To be honest, I think I was more nervous about making the speech than the match itself!
Your match winning goal against Galway was special and for many people, their greatest memory of you in a Wexford jersey. What is your favourite moment for Wexford and why?
Obviously winning any All Ireland is going to be special and the feeling you get when the final whistle is blown is incredible. I think one of my favorite moments in a Wexford jersey was when we won the 2012 All Ireland and the final whistle was blown and I ran about 50 yards to hug my sister, Helena who was sub-goalie! She was the first person I wanted to see as she was there with me through everything during the years and it was just a sense of pure satisfaction that we had achieved the 3- in- a- row. Also, I absolutely loved going to Crumlin Hospital with the cup to see all the kids. It’s tradition that after every All Ireland the champions pay a visit to the hospital and I always made the conscious effort to go. It was always so nice to be able to put a smile on their faces and the experience would put a lot of things into perspective and make you realise how lucky you are.
Who was your toughest opponent?
Over the years I have played on some of the best players the game has ever seen so it was never an easy task to try get a point let alone a goal! To be honest I don’t think I can look past my club and county team mate, Mary Leacy. She has consistently been Wexford’s best defender over the past decade or so and she is the best reader of a game and with such a will to win. Unfortunately for me I still have to mark her even more in club training now so I don’t get a break from her at all!!
Have you any plans to fill the time you now have free? Bucket list?
Everyone is telling me about all of this free time I’m going to have but I think I’ll be kept pretty busy still training away with the club! Hopefully we can still achieve success at that level. I might get in a bit of travelling too as I haven’t ever experienced a real summer holiday and I hope to get a chance to attend a music festival or concert or two.
Any other particular moments you’d like to share? Shinty, Gael Linn etc?
Having been narrowly beaten in a number of Co. Senior Finals it was wonderful to win our first Wexford senior title in 2003 when my sister Helena was captain and to win ten more titles to date. Added to that our club has won six Leinster Club championships and two All-Ireland Club championships and are still striving for more success. I feel very fortunate to be playing at such a high level with my club, especially even more so since I have retired from inter-county. I enjoyed representing Ireland at shinty during the Centenary year in 2004. I was selected on a Secondary School All Star Team to play Scotland in an exhibition match and this was such an honour. I have also been fortunate enough to represent Leinster in the inter-provincial competition (Gael Linn). I always enjoyed this experience as you got to play with other top players from Leinster counties.