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‘We know how easily a chance can slip away’ – Kilkenny’s Claire Phelan

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Kilkenny camogie player Claire Phelan. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Kilkenny camogie player Claire Phelan. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Kilkenny camogie player Claire Phelan. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Claire Phelan was reared with Brian Cody and those September Sundays. In the Marble City it seems strange to see the great man striding without his manager’s cap.

The King of the Castle. Who stole away in the dead of night.

“He made our childhoods,” says Claire. “We had All-Ireland finals nearly every year, which is something special. Amazing.

“Kids in Kilkenny grew up with that year after year, and that has such a big influence on hurling and camogie in the county.”

The Downey twins also walk across the Nore. And they are still there. Angela and Ann. Giving their time.

“They have put so much in, between playing and managing,” remarks Phelan. “And Breda Holmes is there as well. There’s several of the past players involved with Kilkenny camogie.

“The Downeys have brought it to a new level.”

In times past, Bridie McGarry wore the number 6 jersey for Kilkenny. One of the most accomplished centre half-backs in the sport, one who was selected on the Team of the Century.

Now Phelan occupies that position as she prepares for Sunday’s Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship final against Cork.

All week, the chat in the elegant Langton’s Tea-Rooms has revolved around the match. And can one of Cody’s pupils, Brian Dowling, sees the O’Duffy Cup being adorned with black and amber ribbons.

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People are predicting a good final. Especially after the two semi-finals, both of which certainly crackled. Kilkenny worked hard to overcome the champions, Galway. Their defensive display was the foundation.

“It was a difficult game. That’s what we expected. We were delighted to get over it. Getting back to the All-Ireland final was a big goal of ours at the start of the season. We have had to cope with losing players from the squad and injuries, so it just meant a lot to get back to the final, and, hopefully, we can have another day to remember.”

The counties know each other well. “We have met Cork loads of times. There have been good days and bad. It’s all part of the journey, I suppose.

“We realise how easy the chance can slip away. How quickly the games actually go by. You really have to be tuned in and concentrating. You have to be ready, and be in the best possible shape that you can be.

It was under Ann Downey that Claire made her championship debut in 2011. She has seen the changes in the sport.

“When I started playing inter-county, there wasn’t much outside of actually just going training in the car and coming back.

“Now, in fairness, we get our food after training, and if we need anything, like recovery or things like that, it’s all sorted. We have great use of pitches. Whatever we ask for, we get.

“It’s slowly building but surely. I have no doubt that in 10 years’ time we’ll be saying better things again, so it’s important to have the game going in the right direction.”

Claire is doing more than her bit. She’s a primary teacher at Clara NS. She is helping to bring the next generation through.

“It’s all about just keeping the kids coming through. Keeping them interested in camogie and hurling.”

No doubt, they’ll all be there cheering her on in Croke Park on Sunday.

And after that, Claire has another big day to plan for. She’s getting married in December.

But one step at a time. Maybe on the Hogan.


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