Monday 24 October 2016

The lesser-known Kingdom team aiming for glory

Published 21/08/2015 | 02:30

Kerry star Michelle Costello and team-mate Elaine Ryall
Kerry star Michelle Costello and team-mate Elaine Ryall

Half of Kerry will be headed to the Big Smoke this weekend to follow their football heroes, most of them unaware that the county is contesting an All-Ireland final at the same time elsewhere.

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Camogie is still in its infancy in the Kingdom, so few outside North Kerry's hurling heartland know much about the players who will contest their second All-Ireland junior 'A' final in three years in Moyne Templetouhy on Sunday (2.30).

Leading them by example is county captain Michelle Costello, a one-woman zealot for the small-ball game.

The 29-year-old is not only the county corner-back, she is also joint manager of their minors and, as a science teacher in St Joseph's SS in Ballybunion, among those working hard at promoting camogie and hurling in the Kingdom's secondary schools.

And on top of all that, she is also secretary of the county's camogie board.

So not only does Costello train and play herself and train underage teams, she is constantly taking phone calls, sending emails, booking buses, organising venues and referees, going to meetings and liaising with the provincial and national bodies about developing the sport locally.

"I just do what needs to be done," she says, a happy pragmatist who accepts camogie's lesser place in Kerry's starry Gaelic firmament.

"We're headed to North Tipp on Sunday to play Carlow while everyone else is heading to Croke Park but we're well used to it," she explains with a chuckle.

"On the August bank holiday weekend it was the same. Kerry (senior footballers) were playing Kildare while we were away playing our own semi-final.

"But we have our own little band of loyal supporters, they'll be with us again on Sunday and will have taped the (men's) match so we can all watch it later."

Costello's personal journey reflects the great strides that Kerry camogie has made in a very short space of time.

She is from a family of seven girls but, in her youth, there was no camogie in Abbeydorney so she played hurling with the boys up to U-16 level.

Some future Kerry players like Olivia Dineen and Sarah Murphy honed their skills by travelling up and down to Limerick to play with Newcastlewest, but Costello had given up the game by her late teens and did not take it up again even when she arrived at the University of Limerick.

"Camogie was huge in UL but the players were so good. I just wasn't confident enough to play there and I only started playing again a few years ago," she reveals.

Kerry only has one senior camogie club.


Clanmaurice, an amalgamation of several north Kerry clubs, is only four years old but growing numbers indicate it could now divide and multiply.

The club provides the entire county team but there are now, crucially, three other underage camogie clubs (Tralee, Causeway and Killarney) - and the latter, in such a football heartland, is particularly encouraging.

Clanmaurice's seniors have thrived thanks to the generosity of their next-door neighbours.

"Limerick let us compete in their competitions. We won the Limerick intermediate league and championship last year and competed in their senior league this year and LIT also run a summer league which gives us games," Costello explains.

Limerick clubs aren't allowed use their county players in it but we can and we won it this summer."

Such initiatives are vital if Kerry camogie is to make its next great leap.

They won Division 4 of the National League this year, their first senior title nationally but, with several counties unable field to field teams, that turned out to be a mere three-team competition between themselves, Meath and Carlow.

Kerry have since beaten Cork in the Munster final of junior's second tier, but the All-Ireland series, once again, was a three-horse race between themselves and their closest rivals. Having beaten Meath in the semis they now face Carlow, whom they beat by three points, in the league final.

Costello, by her own admission, is the team's self-effacing mother figure.

"Yes, it's true, they do call me 'Mom' sometimes," she laughs. "We actually had a team bonding thing last night, went to the amusements at the Rose of Tralee and I wouldn't let any of them go on the bumper cars in case they got injured before Sunday!"

Young team-mates like Jessica Fitzell, Aoife Behan and Jackie Horgan are only 17 and getting the sort of competitive opportunities Costello never had.

"We have so much talent, some of them would be stars if they were in any other county," she enthuses. "Patrice Diggin and Sarah Murphy both play Ashbourne Cup for UL, that's how good they are. Patrice made the UL team when she was in her first year there.

"These girls will definitely play in Croke Park some day, they are good enough. It's just a question of making steady progress and getting into the intermediate ranks," insists a woman who has done more than her fair share to put Kerry camogie on the map.

For more profiles of the women hoping for All-Ireland glory this summer see www.wgpa and follow their #behindtheplayer campaign.

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