Camogie All Stars - Inaugural match a blend of craic and competition
The 2016 Liberty Insurance Camogie All Stars cruised to a 10-13 to 7-8 win over the 2017 All Stars in the inaugural Liberty Insurance Camogie All Stars match in Madrid.
On a bitterly cold evening in Hortaleza, a district just north of the Spanish capital’s city centre, the All Stars gathered in front of a majority Irish crowd mixed with Liberty Seguros employees at Hortaleza Rugby Club. Also in attendance were two journalists from Spain’s biggest sports newspaper, MARCA, to film the match and interview players with a view to promoting the game locally.
However, for those thinking that an 11-a-side exhibition match with rolling substitutions would be nothing more than a lighthearted puck around… guess again.
As the players were getting ready, Cork and 2017 Team Manager Paudie Murray was flicking through his pre-match notes that he had scribbled down on a small piece of paper.
Murray scanned the notes every few minutes as he hovered outside the dressing room waiting until his players were ready.
When he finally arrived in the changing room, his message to the players was clear and concise; outwork the opposition, limit turnovers and go long and as often as possible from the puck outs.
If Paudie was responsible for providing the tactical aspects of the operation, sister and goalkeeper Aoife was charged with providing the humour.
“I’m delighted for us all to be here but when did we ever think we would be in this circle?” said Murray to an outburst of laughter.
“Paudie is taking it quite serious giving us all the instructions but we have to have a bit of craic as well.
“We have to have a bit of fun because we’re all going to f**k up, I know I’m going to f**k up at least four times.
“I know we’ve been here and there and everywhere the last two days but this is the real night here that we all come together and have a bit of fun.”
Reduced players on a rugby pitch was always going to lead to a high scoring game, and while conceding 10 goals certainly makes it look like Murray fulfilled her pre-match prediction in one sense, the seven-time All Star made the play of the game on a night that was not kind to goalkeepers.
When Galway’s Rebecca Hennelly was brought down in front of goal with the 2016 All Stars threatening to pull away after some early scores from Ann Dalton and Orla Cotter, Murray denied the latter with a spectacular diving save, pushing the ball off the line and away from goal.
Part of Murray’s pre-match speech involved predicting her own mistakes, the other part involved making it clear to everyone that they were to have as much as craic as possible.
So when Cork teammate Orla Cotter stepped up to the penalty spot, this was about as good an opportunity as any to mess with a player she’s won six All-Ireland medals with.
“I dare you, I dare you,” said Murray pointing her hurl up towards the top corner.
“She was blaggarding away as usual,” said Cotter after the match.
“She knows I don’t take penalties. She’s our penalty taker but she stopped it so she’s delighted, she let me know about it too.”
The theme was consistent throughout the night. When nine-time All Star Kate Kelly was taken off during the second-half she smiled at 2016 manager Ann Downey and said ‘thanks for that Ann, I only had to run the 20 metres’.
When it was Ann Dalton’s turn for a spell on the sidelines, Downey was asking her what she was trying to do when she botched a one-on-one with Murray.
“Ah sure you know I start messing when we’re well up.”
Dalton had scored five goals at that point and was by far and away the best player on the pitch.
At the end of the game she turned to myself and a colleague asked what the score was.
“I’m not sure, I lost count after a while. Ann seems convinced you’ve won,” I replied.
“We’d be 10 goals down and Ann would be trying to convince you we won.”
If Murray was meticulous in his pre-match preparation, Downey was just as focused on the sideline as she marched up and down the pitch barking instructions at her players.
Even with the game in the final minute, and her side up by 11 points, she was shouting at Collette Dormer to get in position and face up to a free.
It doesn’t matter if it’s in an All-Ireland final at Croke Park in August or an exhibition match in Madrid at the end of November. Standards seemingly never drop.
Despite the impression that the scoreline may give, the game was played in a competitive spirit on the pitch, while in the clubhouse afterwards, that competitiveness turned to kindness as gifts were exchanged between the All Stars and the local GAA club, Madrid Harps.
In return for a helping hand in organising a post-match function at the James Joyce Irish Pub in Calle Alcala, members of the Harps club received a box full of cones, sliotars and hurleys. The kit and equipment was provided by Liberty Insurance and the Camogie Association in the hope that it may help cultivate a Camogie team in the city.
Camogie President Catherine Neary underlined at the start of the tour that this trip was about the players and celebrating their achievements. It very much is.
But the championship season exposes a player’s heart, courage and commitment. An All Stars trip exposes their humour and their kindness.