"We’re a hurling house here. If you don’t play hurling you’re not allowed back in!”
Sarah Dervan is a prominent character in a wonderful story that illustrates with absolute clarity the benefits of camogie for young girls.
With a father (Jackie) who won an All-Ireland as a member of Galway’s history-making squad of 1980, going for a puckaround became as natural as breathing to Dervan and her two brothers Cathal and Conor, both of whom also played at senior level for the county.
“We’re a hurling house here. If you don’t play hurling you’re not allowed back in!” she laughs.
When the clan grew up, the Dervan parents, Ita and Jackie decided to bring some youthful energy back into the house and do some good in the process. So they looked at fostering. Shelly and Roma are 13 and 12 and thanks to a stable, loving home as well as a supportive, nurturing community, are flourishing.
Camogie is playing a big part in that.
“My mum always wanted to do it. She’s a caring person I suppose and we’ve all gone a bit older. We have Shelly five years and Roma about three. They go to all the matches though they don’t like the journeys. That nearly kills them.
“I was involved with the club U14s this year, helping with the training, and they had huge interest. They’re just part of the furniture around Mullagh now. Everyone accepts them and they accept everybody and it’s going pretty well for them, thank God.
“Hopefully they’ll stick with the camogie ‘cos it’s great for them. They’d never played any sport before until they started camogie when they came to us and they love it. Especially when they’re driving me mad!”
She’ll play it down but Dervan plays an important part in the process too as she still lives at home (“they couldn’t get rid of me”). She is a good role model for her foster sisters, just as she is for plenty of other young Galwegians. But it was her parents that took on the responsibility and her admiration for them is total.
“They’re great. They do their best for the girls and the girls come first. You have to look out for them as much as possible, take care of them and hopefully lead them down a good path.
“The camogie seems to be helping mighty with them. The friends they’ve made; it’s brilliant for them. It’s great for them to get out and do stuff and play matches.
“Two years ago Shelly won an U12 medal and it was the best thing ever, going home in the cars beeping the horns and then Supermac’s afterwards. It’s mighty for them. Once they stick with it they’ll learn huge life values I think.”
The vigour oozes out of the 27-year-old in a conversation dominated by belly laughs. Little wonder she is such a hit with the local children.
“You’d be a small bit hesitant taking a team when you’re playing county and club yourself but oh my God, I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. They’re the best young ones. I think they’ve helped me as much as me helping them as much as possible.
“They’re great craic. You go through the whole emotions with them. You’re devastated when they’re beaten. We got beaten in the summer league final a couple of weeks ago and I was heartbroken. I was nearly crying myself.
“Being involved with an underage team is mighty.”
You can imagine the influence such a bubbly, enthusiastic, infectiously-positive individual would have. As one of the best centre-backs in the country, she has plenty to offer too.
After a season that never really got going although they did reach a Liberty Insurance All-Ireland semi-final, Galway seem back on track this term. Whether it was a hangover from the long-awaited All-Ireland success of 2013 that lingered, she’s not sure, but with an infusion of new blood, the westerners are real contenders again.
They won the league and emerged from a group including All-Ireland champions Cork and Wexford with 100% record. But if there was wiggle room in the round-robin format, the safety net has since been removed for the Model County rematch at Nowlan Park tomorrow week.
“Even though we beat them in the championship already, this is where Wexford shine. They have had players injured that are back and had an extra game on Monday (beating Dublin in the quarter-final), while we haven’t played since the Limerick match (on July 18). We can’t take anything for granted.
“All-Ireland semi-finals come down to performance. Who wants it more on the day? Who has the bigger appetite? Who’s willing to die for that ball?
Wexford have huge players in their team. They have had a couple of injuries and they’ll be back fully fit. I think they have something like nine players from Oulart-The Ballagh (who beat Dervan’s Mullagh in the All-Ireland club final last March). It’s going to take everything to beat them.
“We’re doing the right preparation and hopefully we do come out right on the day but we’re under no illusions about what’s in front of us.”