Sunday 17 December 2017

Model of excellence

Camogie blueblood Una Leacy is looking to lead Wexford’s All-Ireland assault from the front

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

UNA LEACY has more reasons than the obvious one to want to win her second Gala All-Ireland senior camogie title on Sunday.

At 22-years-old, the Wexford star is pretty much the embodiment of the post-Celtic Tiger generation. Bright, bubbly and well educated, the only restrictions on her future are the nation's increasingly apocalyptic economic forecasts.

She qualified in social science from UCD last year and has interesting ambitions, which include seriously contemplating a career in the army. But right now she is selling satellite TV deals, a confessed stop-gap to fill in time before she heads off Down Under this winter.

Leacy figures that she may as well get the travelling bug out of her system early and says that an All-Ireland medal would be the perfect send-off. Yet the experience of the last two summers has taught her that life is never quite that easy.

Four years ago, the world was her oyster. She was only 19 yet, in front of a crowd of over 33,000, she scored two goals in the opening 16 minutes of an All-Ireland senior final to kick-start the end of Wexford's 32-year-old title drought.

She hails from real camogie royalty. Her mum, Margaret O'Leary from Buffer's Alley, was a three-time All-Ireland winner with Wexford, and Una's older sister Mary, the Model girls' totemic centre-back, proved an inspirational captain in 2007.

The family is deeply immersed in a famous club that features more than one hurling dynasty. Oulart the Ballagh's senior camogie team currently features five sets of sisters: the Leacys, the Kehoes, the -- Atkinsons, the Morans and the Jacobs. They've won six of the last seven county titles and landed their first Leinster crown last year.

It's probably no coincidence that, when they lost the 2008 county final to Rathnure, Una Leacy was in hospital, recovering from an appendectomy. The club provides 13 players to the Wexford seniors and intermediates, who are chasing a big All-Ireland camogie doubleon Sunday.

Back in 2001, Oulart's boys and girls both won the premier division of Feile, the prestigious All-Ireland U-14 competition that, annually, franks the GAA's future stars. That actually wasn't such a big deal for the girls, who won an astonishing five premier Feile titles in succession from 1998 to 2002.

Yet even by their lofty standards, little Una Leacy was exceptional, the only kid in the club who was on all five of those Feile-winning teams.

"Una always shone and stood out a lot at underage, though she was actually quite small for her age when she was younger," reveals Oulart secretary Bridget Moran.

If Leacy was small then, she is tall and strong now, which is the hallmark of this Wexford team that impressively powered past last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists Kilkenny in the semi-finals.


Even JJ Doyle, the man who took over their management from Stellah Sinnott this year, has been struck by their strength and power.

"Up the middle we have a lot of tall, strong, fit, physical girls like Una. I've stood in some training sessions and sometimes you'd be sorry. It's like painting a target on your back," he laughs.

Sinnott says Leacy's "physical presence on the ball and an absolute bullet of a shot" are what set her apart.

"Una got a goal against Tipperary in last year's league final -- she struck it on the turn as it was coming down. That was the best I've ever seen on a camogie pitch," Sinnott recalls.

And yet there's been heartbreak aplenty in Leacy's still nascent sporting career. On Sunday, Wexford meet Galway, whose injury-time goal dethroned the Model girls in the 2008 semi-final. In '09 they got to the last four again and led at half-time until Briege Corkery and Cork took flight.

"It wasn't as if we weren't up for it in 2008 and '09, things just didn't go right for us on the day," Leacy reckons. "We've a new management and a new trainer this year, which has freshened us up. The intermediates and seniors all train together and that's also created a lot of competition for places."

The fact that their seniors and intermediates (managed by Karen Barnes) train collectively is seen as central to both teams not only successfully defending their Division 1 and 2 league titles but also progressing to All-Ireland Sunday.

"We wouldn't be holding too much back!" Leacy quips of their feisty training matches.

Under Doyle's management, she has a new role. She is no longer such a goal-grabbing, front-line attacker, but more a play-making half-forward. She is also now team captain.

And Galway?

"We got a good win over them in the league down in Wexford, but in the championship (round-robin) they snatched it in the last minute with a late free," Leacy says. "We know Galway are a very good team; they're up and coming and very hungry for success after losing the final back in 2008.

"They're going in very confident after beating Cork. We know ourselves we have to be very up for it, but we want it as badly as them, so it should be a very good game."

Irish Independent

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