'Camogie will always take precedence' - Tipp star ready to step up
SARAH Fryday has learned not to mess with the camogie gods.
It seems that every time she looked like achieving at a significant level in another sport, something got in the way.
Perhaps she was being reminded that bagging a Liberty Insurance Senior Championship with Tipperary was her Shangri-La.
An All-Ireland minor and U16 winner already, the 21-year-old accountancy graduate from UL has been on the cusp of donning an Irish singlet in athletics and basketball, but circumstances have conspired against her.
A prodigious talent from the time she picked up a hurley, and just about anything else she laid a hand on, Fryday’s athletic prowess was honed as a girl on the family farm, when her father used her speed and agility to help round up the sheep and cattle.
When she went to secondary school and “became more of a girly girl”, a few sheepdogs had to be purchased as Sarah could no longer be roped in but sport was always at the forefront of her life.
The Presentation in Thurles was an ideal school for someone with such a disposition and as well as prospering in Gaelic games, Fryday invariably competed in the county cross-country championships, winning on a few occasions
Camogie commitments usually prevented her from participating in the Munsters but in 2011, she was persuaded to give it a lash and won that too. With the team having qualified for the All-Irelands and the top 12 individuals to be selected on a national team, the competitive juices kicked in.
“The race started and I was put flat on my face by another girl” laughs Fryday at the recollection. “I was at the very back, watching everybody run ahead of me. Three kilometres is short, a sprint the whole way really. My trainer and my family were right beside me and shouted to get up and do it.”
So she drove forward, got herself to 15th and then in a late surge, made it to 10th. There was a hint of disappointment about what might have been but the prevailing emotion was satisfaction at having made the Irish team.
“We had all the gear got when we got a phone call saying the budget was cut and they were only taking the top eight. So I kind of left the running at that.”
“If you took the O’Duffy Cup out of my hands, I’d be a lot more sour about it!” she chuckles, but with absolute sincerity.
“Camogie will always take precedence.”
Around the same time, Fryday got knocked out during the final trial for the national basketball squad. She also played county football one year but lost her place in the camogie team, so knocked it on the head.
“There were loads of signs pushing me away from other sports towards camogie. So I’ll take heed of the signs.”
This is her sixth season as a senior player. She has had to endure some soul-destroying defeats, undergoing a tough education. The problem for Tipperary is that there was a generation of girls going through the same experience.
They are beginning to reap the rewards now though, as Tipp pushed Cork all the way in the Munster final last year and reached the All-Ireland quarter-final.
This season they took subsequent National League champions Kilkenny to extra time in the semi-final.
“I remember getting the phone call when I was 16 to go in and play senior and I swear it was like Christmas was after coming early. You’re playing with the likes of Claire Grogan. It was like a dream come true.
“Next thing, people who had given their service to Tipperary camogie and done their time were retiring and you’re kind of stuck in the middle. You have to mature early and there are things thrown at you that you weren’t expecting. Things weren’t going well.
“We were thrown into the deep end and told to swim. It’s just a case now where we’re 21, 22, 23, at this stage we are the older girls on the team and it’s nice.
“We all want to go to a place we’ve never been before, which is up the steps of the Hogan Stand collecting the O’Duffy Cup.”
The maturity and comfort with one another means that they have developed an honesty which has been central to their improvement. That has come into play in the past week once more after a galling 13-point defeat by Kilkenny. It was a harsh lesson about not just presuming things will happen.
“When you’re on such a high going into the Kilkenny match after the Derry game, it really takes you down a peg or two and you have to look at yourself and your team and go ‘Lads, how did we let that happen? That cannot happen again.’
“In the past you were kind of stepping on eggshells around people sometimes. Now, people are expecting more from the girl beside them. If somebody is doing something wrong, if a drill is breaking down… it’s coming with encouragement as well but we’re honest enough and we’re close enough to one another that we know we expect more of each other and that people are capable of it.
“So why not demand it from yourself and demand it from the girl beside you? Because that’s the only way we’re going to drive forward.
“After the Kilkenny match we all had to look at one another and say ‘That wasn’t us.’ We had to take a long look in the mirror and decide are we going to thrive from this now or are we going to die.”
This year doesn’t determine that exclusively but with a return to the last six “the minimum goal”, and the hunger for silverware making them sick of moral victories, beating a side with similar ambitions in Dublin at The Ragg today is imperative.