Champion of camogie's cause
Limerick legend Ciaran Carey is banging the drum for his daughter Sarah's sport
AS a relentlessly hard-working GAA duo, it's not surprising that Limerick hurling legend Ciaran Carey and his daughter Sarah, captain of the Limerick senior camogie team, both forgot that today is Father's Day.
A few minutes into our chat last week, it became clear that the pair have just one thing on their minds. She's determined to shake up this year's camogie championship and he's prepared to back her all the way.
"I'm here with Sarah, she just asked me to come up with her and it's hugely important to show my support," said three-time All Star Ciaran, the stand-out talent on the Limerick team that won Munster titles and reached All-Ireland finals in 1994 and '96.
"I remember when she started off playing with inter-county teams at under 10, under 12, under 14, under 16, I brought her to all the sessions and she progressed from there to senior and I go to most of her matches.
"She has turned out to be an athlete on the field. She has her own style and she is very good at reading the game, holding her position and she can pop over a score as well."
Although he is reluctant to admit it, Ciaran - regarded as one of the greatest hurlers not to win an All-Ireland senior medal - has had a significant impact on his daughter's sporting interest.
From his career as a player to managing ladies' and men's sides, Sarah has carefully studied, and tried to replicate, her father's skills on and off the pitch.
Reminiscing on her childhood, Sarah loved going to his matches, watching him play and witnessing his ability to get the best from players.
"My dad was a massive influence, I had no choice but to go the games. I loved going and watching him in action," said Sarah, who started out playing with a boys' team at her hometown club, Patrickswell.
Her parents also regularly brought her to camogie games.
"When I was seven I remember watching Aoife Sheehan and Vera Sheehan in All-Ireland finals and Munster club finals. Seeing them definitely made me dream about one day playing for the county," she recalled.
Sarah can pinpoint the exact moment when she knew for certain she wanted to be a player at the top level.
It was Sunday, October 7, 2007, when, against the odds, Ciaran Carey managed Limerick to the All-Ireland senior 'B' camogie championship in Páirc Uí Rinn.
"I was so proud of my dad but I was raging I wasn't on the panel, I was too young at the time but watching it drove me on," said Sarah, who went on to win two county titles with her father as manager.
"That was unreal. People talk about how great he was as a manager and I was able to experience that - and I've never come across another like him."
When asked what makes him unique, she noted his "passion for the sport" and how he "treats every player the same. He has no favourites, he doesn't choose the one that is the best. He'll choose the weaker player and improve them. He is an experienced player, and he had a lot of ups and downs in his career."
Playing in the same centre-back position as her father also has its benefits. "He understands the position so I'd ask him for a couple of suggestions. I always listen to his advice and take it on board," she said.
Just like Ciaran, whose incredible solo effort against Clare in 1996 led to a score often described as "the greatest winner ever scored," Sarah thrives on pressure.
"I try to play to the best of my ability in every game and improve myself at every match, even at training sessions I push myself to the end. I love pressure," she said.
For Sarah, a final year student at Limerick Institute of Technology, one of the biggest challenges in the game today is financial.
"There is definitely better financial support for the lads, they might be given a hand to get a job or get grants and scholarships for college, and there are huge differences in mileage for training too," she said.
"It's been getting better in the last two years but even so we still get nothing compared to what they get."
The Granagh-Ballingarry player also admitted that she has experienced some sexist remarks about playing sport over the years. These criticisms include camogie being labelled a "masculine sport" and stereotypical comments about girls teams being "groups of bitches".
"You just have to put the slagging behind you, I think a lot of it was due to peer pressure. It has made me tougher and stronger in the long run," she stressed.
After winning last year's All-Ireland intermediate title, beating Kilkenny in the final, Sarah believes her side are well equipped to give the senior championship a good rattle this summer.
"We are finally at the highest level, this is where we want to be and it's where we intend to stay," she said.
Despite her growing success and Ciaran Carey's camogie achievements, the father-daughter duo claim the understanding of the game has just "slightly progressed".
"In 2007, the poor girls would be getting cups of tea and sandwiches and biscuits from the boot of a car. So while the profile appears to be hitting a higher standard I believe recognition has to come up to that level also," said Ciaran, who argues that the GAA have a duty to push it forward.
He suggests, as an example, that inter-county camogie matches could be played before provincial finals. As so few teams get to perform in Croke Park, he also believes the GAA should consider running the provincial camogie finals at the stadium too.
"People that don't go to camogie matches are missing out on an outstanding spectacle," he said.
"It's extremely skilful so it's very important to have them playing before big inter-county hurling games and football games where people can actually have a taste first hand. They'd have no choice but to sit down and watch."
Following on from the success of last year's Our Game Your Game campaign, the Camogie Association and sponsors Liberty Insurance are calling on all parents and families to pledge to bring daughters, nieces and grand-daughters to sporting fixtures.
Looking back, Ciaran - who retired from inter-county hurling in 2005 - says the biggest highlights of his career are its "longevity," and his "never-throw-the-towel-in attitude". He wants the same for his daughter.
"At this stage people are tip-toeing around it but camogie needs to be driven through a few more rounds because of the effort the girls put in," he said, adding "any inter-county camogie girl loves the sport equally to Henry Shefflin and Joe Cooney, it's that simple."
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