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Family values drive on Jacob

NOT even some make-up can hide the fresh cut that is mending over Ursula Jacob's left eyebrow -- but she didn't get a lot of sympathy for it at home, she explains, laughing.

No surprise really, because four stitches over your eye probably counts as a mere scratch in the famous Jacob household in Oulart-The Ballagh, where hurling/camogie is the second religion.

But how Wexford's 26-year-old full-forward got it is revealing. Her team-mate Noeleen Lambert clipped her through the helmet during the county semi-final against St Martin's a week ago.

Jacob's father Mick (a three-time All Star) and her brothers Mick and Rory would never have suffered a similar injury.

Yes, they've all played senior for Wexford and would have picked up multiple injuries over the years, but a county senior hurling semi-final would simply never be held two weeks before the All-Ireland final.

And that's one of the reasons that convinces Jacob that the county's female players -- the reigning All-Ireland senior camogie champions who have won two titles in the last four years -- work just as hard, if not harder, than their male counterparts.

"At this stage of the year it's just as intense for us as the boys," she said. "We're training three nights most weeks with Wexford and then sometimes you're one or two nights with the club as well.

"We played the county semi-final last week and played two club championship games, on Tuesday nights, during the seven weeks of the group stages.

"That'd never happen with Wexford hurling," she points out. "When the lads are with the county it's solely with the county until they're finished. They get to mind themselves more than we do."

But Jacob is not complaining, thanks to Wexford's new-found success.

After breaking a 32-year gap with their 2007 breakthrough, they contested both the senior and intermediate finals last year, beating Galway in the former and losing to Offaly in the latter.

They're back in both deciders again on Sunday and completing the Jacob family's 'set' is her younger sister Helena, who wears the No 1 jersey for the intermediates and is also back-up goalie for the seniors.


Both sides train together, which many believe is a huge factor in Wexford's rise to prominence, and it isn't just the Jacobs who bring the strong family feel to the Model's success.

Across the two squads are five O'Connor sisters from Rathnure, including senior wing-back Aoife, who is married to Declan Ruth.

There's the inspirational Leacy sisters Una and Mary, Karen and Coleen Atkinson and even three sets of twins: Shelley and Stacey Keogh, Lenny and Bernie Holohan and Lisa and Linda Bolger.

All of that has helped create a strong family atmosphere in the Wexford camp, but their unity is not accidental. Manager JJ Doyle, who took over from Stella Sinnott last year, leaves absolutely nothing to chance and took over the intermediate side this season too. Doyle famously took them on a bonding session last year to Lilliput Adventure Centre, where they did assault courses and ended up wading through rivers of mud together.

"I don't even know where it was, somewhere in the midlands!" Jacob laughs. "It was very enjoyable, but I had to throw out every single piece of clothing I wore there afterwards."

Doyle enlisted a former middle-distance athlete, Gerry McQuaid from Monaghan, to take care of their fitness and he brought people like Mickey Harte and Liam Griffin in to give them motivational speeches.

He has also invited several former county hurling stars to give specialist help at training and Jacob confirms that the likes of Tom Dempsey, Ger Cush, Adrian Fenlon and Gary Laffan have all helped out on different occasions.

And Jacob, who has a masters in sports psychology and has been playing with the county since she was 15, is the first to appreciate what Doyle does to keep training fresh.

"When you're getting to All-Ireland finals it is easier," she admits. "It is always easier to go training when you're successful."

She is now working in accounts at Waterford IT where team-mate Kate Kelly is actually her boss. Her sister Helena and forward star Katrina Parrock are also among the WIT crew who travel to training together.

Wexford train just as hard as they play and now there's a chance at a two in-a-row against a Galway side who are hurting badly after last year.

"Yeah, it is a little bit like Kilkenny and Tipp, Galway will be out for revenge," Jacob notes.

"There were only two points in it last year, but they've changed things up a good bit, positionally, since then and they beat us very heavily when we met them in the group stages."

The Tribeswomen's 2-14 to 0-9 victory in Enniscorthy in that championship opener certainly raised eyebrows and signifies that Wexford can expect a major backlash on Sunday.

"They just absolutely hurled us out of it that day, but they got two goals too that mightn't have gone in another day," she says.

"We couldn't pinpoint what went wrong, we were just stuck to the ground, but it certainly wasn't complacency or anything, because no one would go in against Galway with that attitude.

"That game was a bit of a disaster, but maybe it was no harm either."

Irish Independent