Sport Camogie

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Captain McCormack confident Westmeath's time has come

Westmeath captain Mairéad McCormack. Photo: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Westmeath captain Mairéad McCormack. Photo: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Daragh Ó Conchúir

Mairéad McCormack is on the sixth floor of Croke Park, surveying the pitch as it is being lined by the ground staff. The conversation has turned to the Westmeath forward line, of which she is a leading member.

On the Camogie Association's preview show Camogie Talk, Dublin player Zoe Couch referred to the fluidity of the Lakesiders' attacking unit whose movement and interchanging between the likes of McCormack, Megan Dowdall, Sheila McGrath and Pamela Greville have caused problems to opposition defences.

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It's easy to predict that such tactics will be very well suited to the open spaces at headquarters.

"We train in Raharney pitch a lot of the time. I don't know looking down on it, but they say it is the same size pitch. I would rather run around Raharney than doing laps of this pitch!" says McCormack laughing. "We are used to space. Our game plan . . . we hope it works out with the space. But you never know."

Camogie in Westmeath has been on a steady upward curve, with today's appearance in the intermediate decider helping to raise it even further. Winning the junior title in 2012 and following up in the Premier Junior five years later was impressive but what has been significant is their immediate comfort as they took their place in the intermediate grade.

The maroons have shown their readiness for the second tier when reaching the Division 2 league final last year so it's no surprise to see them back at Croke Park.

They held the upper hand throughout their semi-final win over Down although they were hanging on a bit at the end before prevailing by the minimum margin.

Still, you had to expect a rally from last year's finalists and Westmeath's ability to hold on was noteworthy, a testament to the doughtiness of their defensive effort, as well as the attacking threat that had put them into such a commanding position.

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That the game was streamed live online had not escaped them and if there was a little added tension because of that, it should stand to them with the prospect of playing on live television for the first time today.

The sense of achievement after that game was considerable and it would have been wrong to pretend otherwise but manager Johnny Greville brought his charges back down to earth fairly quickly.

"We had an intense training on Tuesday which we needed to blow off the cobwebs," says McCormack. "But everyone was buzzing, you could feel the adrenaline off everyone. Johnny is just keeping us grounded and focused on what is at stake. We have reached Croke Park, that is the aim but to win it is the real aim.

"We are doing great but we are trying to keep as grounded as possible. You don't want to come up here and flop on the day. We just want to keep focused and drive on."

Before establishing herself as a Westmeath regular and becoming team captain, McCormack was better known as a footballer for a long time, but two serious injuries to her left knee at 16 and 18 prompted a rethink.

"I used to play county football from underage up until senior. Then I tore my cruciate twice. During that time I was contemplating going to camogie. One of my sisters, Joanne started county camogie. Watching her playing, I decided that I was going to start.

"I have probably been playing eight or nine years now. But not as many as some of the rest of the panel. Pamela Greville has been playing senior camogie since she was about 13. There are some players that have been there an awful long time. I have been there for the stint that Johnny has been there. I don't think I have had a better manager. He is phenomenal."

She turns 29 next Saturday and hopes to celebrate with the Jack McGrath Cup as a special guest.

"We played Galway at the start of the year in the league as well, and drew with them that day. We lost by a point in the group stages of the championship. What is a point? It is only a puck of the ball. We have to forget about it.

"It is nice knowing a little about them. They know a lot about us as well. We just have to ignore that and play the game.

"It is one score, it could have been worse if they had beaten us by 10 points. We might not have had the belief then but we have huge belief in the panel now. We know it is in our grasp."

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