'Girls just want to go out and play tough so let them' - Wexford legend Ursula Jacob
INTER-COUNTY camogie defenders may be sleeping a lot easier since Ursula Jacob's retirement last month but she hasn't hung the hurl up quite yet.
Oulart-the-Ballagh only lost an All-Ireland club semi-final on January 31 yet they returned to collective training in the last fortnight so she hasn't had too much time to reflect or regret.
"I don't think it's hit me yet really because the county championship matches haven't come around yet but I'm so lucky that the club is so strong and that I still get to play at such a high level," said Jacobs (30) after ending her 16-year Wexford career.
Club training means the four-time All-Ireland senior winner and Allstar will still be in regular combat with the woman she regards as her toughest opponent ever.
Galway's Therese Maher gets a hat-tip too but for pure, dogged, in-your-face defending she cannot look past Mary Leacy.
"Unfortunately I still have to mark her in club training so I'm not going to get any break from her," Jacob quipped.
"I have never met a human being so competitive, she cannot lose at tying laces! We were doing tackling drills in training the other night and I came home with the arm scrapped off me from her nails."
The great irony is that the brilliant Wexford forward who so terrorised defenders during their run to four All-Irelands (three in-a-row from 2010-12) began her senior inter-county career as a 14-year-old goalkeeper.
"I only got the cast off a broken wrist a week or 10 days before the Leinster U14 final against Kilkenny so they put me in goals and didn't I make a few decent saves and got brought into the senior squad, it was a complete accident!" she laughed. "It wouldn't even be allowed now because you have to be over-16."
Jacob debuted against three in-a-row chasing Tipp, in Thurles, in a 2001 All-Ireland quarter-final that was a curtain-raiser for a particularly famous men's football game between Kerry and Dublin
"Yes, the same day Maurice Fitzgerald scored that sideline! I remember standing in goals and everything looked too big to me and, by the second-half, the place was jam-packed.
"But do you know what? I wasn't one bit nervous," she revealed. "When you're that age you just embrace it. I was more excited than daunted and my sister Helena (then 17) was also playing, which helped.
"We were sharing the dressing room with the Dublin footballers and I soon got over the disappointment of losing. I was like 'Oh my God, there's Jason Sherlock! Oh my God, there's so-and-so!'"
Jacob went on to become one of camogie's biggest 'OMG' players herself.
Clips of her two All-Ireland final wonder-goals in 2011 and 2012 were immediately repeated on her recent retirement and the latter, when she doubled a ball to the top left corner, remains her favourite score.
"If I did that a 100 more times it would probably have trickled into the goalie or I'd have tripped over it but I was lucky. I couldn't have struck it any better and the sod was just perfect for me."
Everyone in her family, including both parents, has played for Wexford but Liam Dunne's sister Fiona, another Oulart woman, was her childhood idol. "She had skill, style and commitment and was so modest. She was so unfortunate not to win an All-Ireland."
Stella Sinnott's arrival as Wexford manager was vital to Wexford's breakthrough in in 2007.
"I'd never experienced professionalism like it, everything changed. Stella just set a standard and we didn't want those standards to slip. When JJ (Delaney, next Wexford manager) came in he brought it up another notch again."
The temptation to swap her hurl for a racquet now is big as Jacob is a massive tennis fan but, for the moment, club camogie is her priority and she made another huge life decision recently.
After studying and working in Waterford IT for the past 11 years she has taken up a new job as clerical officer with Tusla, the state child and family agency, in Bray.
"I loved every single minute of my time in Waterford but I felt it was time to broaden my horizons now or I might never do it.
"It's been a hectic few months but I was looking for something different, a new challenge and it's been so far, so good."
If Jacob could wave a wand for camogie's future she would magic up more media coverage and allow more physicality.
"Seeing the game played in full-flight before a men's league final or championship game is the only way you'll get neutrals interested. The more people see the game the more they'll follow it.
"And I'm not promoting dirty play or anything but maybe slightly tweak the rules to allow a little more physicality," she suggested, citing people's admiration of the 2012 All-Ireland women's final.
"The referee let the game flow, the skill level was massive and it was end-to-end stuff, there was no stop-start. When it's stopping every minute for the smallest flick of a hurl it ruins the game. Girls are fit and strong now. They just want to go out and play tough against each other so let them."
**Find out more about female inter-county players at www.wgpa.ie and through their #behindtheplayer campaign.**