Tuesday 21 January 2020

Mulcahy plays down Mackey genes as she spearheads Limerick glory bid

Limerick camogie star Niamh Mulcahy loves playing alongside sisters Claire and Judith
Limerick camogie star Niamh Mulcahy loves playing alongside sisters Claire and Judith

Daragh O Conchuir

Nobody knows better than the Irish the role genetics and environment can play in producing sporting superstars. It is why we are world leaders in the thoroughbred breeding world.

There is plenty of evidence of this among humans too, even though unions aren't strategically arranged, unlike the Galileo-Ouija Board partnership that produced latest equine superstar Australia.

Take the Mulcahy sisters, Claire, Niamh and Judith. Their mother Vera played camogie for Limerick and won an All-Ireland club title with Ahane. Their father Ger also lined out for the same club and county, having originally hurled with his native Dromin Athlacca.

Vera is a Mackey. Everyone knows Mick Mackey, one of the most celebrated hurlers of all time, captain twice as Limerick won All-Irelands in 1934, 1936 and 1940. Mick was Vera's uncle and her father John was a gifted operator too, a mainstay of the Shannonsiders' best ever hurling unit. So the pedigree is there.

Claire - recently engaged to Irish rugby star Sean Cronin - returned to the Limerick camogie panel this year and the siblings are enjoying the dynamic of being together with the county for the first time since 2010.

They are all talented but Niamh was prodigious from an early age. A county junior in 2004, when only 14, she made her senior debut the following season in an All-Ireland semi-final against Cork.

Young Player of the Year in 2007, she has gone on to confirm the impression that she was special.

For good measure, Mulcahy turned out to be a brilliant soccer player too, playing for Ireland from U-15 to U-19 and with the Irish Universities at the World Student Games. Five years ago, the time came to make a decision. It wasn't straightforward but camogie and her heritage tugged on her heartstrings in a fashion soccer could never muster.

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She is cool about being the talismanic figure, modestly attributing most of the attention to her being a forward and freetaker. Any pressure, she insists, is internal. And it's the same with the familial history.

"When myself and our two sisters were younger, it would have been mentioned to us a lot but there's no pressure," says Mulcahy.

"It's great that all the family play as well. It's great when you can go home and talk about it, and they understand. If you've had a bad game, they might try to point out a few good aspects, and if you have a good game they'll point out things you can improve on. It's ideal really."

There is pride in the strong Mackey link, but Mulcahy knows it has no bearing now.

"You'd hear plenty about them. There wouldn't have been any footage back then so you're really just relying on the stories people tell you to judge how great they were. But plenty people seem to have the same stories so they seem fairly reliable.

"Just hearing about Limerick winning All-Ireland titles, and Ahane winning a crazy amount of senior club titles. . . We weren't around when Limerick won in '73, so hearing about Limerick's success is always nice."

The 24-year-old primary school teacher is on the lookout for a job after two years temping but camogie is a welcome distraction. She feels that it is time for Limerick to return to the top tier once more and then stay there. They have been a bit of a yo-yo outfit in the past but appear better equipped for the step up this time around, if they make it.

Despite an impressive season in Division 1 of the league, when they only lost out on a semi-final place in a play-off, and a championship campaign that has laid waste to four opponents (with a points difference of plus 76), last year's beaten finalists are wary of Waterford in the first of today's two Liberty Insurance intermediate semi-finals at Dr Cullen Park.

"The matches in the group stages were a lot tougher than the scorelines portrayed. Against Galway, we were actually losing at half-time so we had to come out there and dig deep to get a result," Mulcahy insists.

"In the past couple of years (2013, 2012), we've played Waterford four times and only beaten them once, so we know they're a great team and we know it's going to take an excellent performance from us to come out on top."

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