Bringing it all back to Belfast


INTERVIEW JANE ADAMS: Tom Humphriesprofiles the full-forward who starred last weekend as Belfast club O'Donovan Rossa claimed their first senior All-Ireland title

IT'S LUNCHTIME on the Falls Road and in Manny's it's business as usual. Fish fried by the shoal, chips heaped by the ton. Jane Adams, a genuine superstar of her game, has scarcely a chance to breathe. Yesterday, between herself and her sister Laura, they managed to drop her mobile phone into a deep fat frier. It was the first slip Jane had made all year.

You hear an avalanche coming before it hits you. So it was with Ballyboden St Enda's and Drom and Inch in this year's All-Ireland camogie semi-final and final respectively. Word of Adams's genius was widespread but in a solecism of epic proportion she had been left out of even the nominee list for the previous year's All Stars. Perhaps . . . She took Ballyboden for 2-11 after a bad start to the day. Then in the final last weekend she hit the favourites Drom and Inch from Tipp for 2-9 as O'Donovan Rossa consummated their years of promise and won their first national senior title.

Were that all there is to Jane Adams her story would be a yarn worth airing but O'Donovan Rossa and Jane Adams are a love story.

Jane doesn't just work in Manny's; she and her sister own the two branches of the business and the name appears on the jerseys of Rossa's camogie teams. Ask anyone how long the girls have been sponsoring themselves and their passion and they will say the same thing, forever really, but the names have been on the jerseys for the past couple of years.

Last Sunday they got back home having dispatched the bluebloods from Tipperary and the club was a heaving sea of people. A senior All-Ireland coming home to the Falls Road. For a club which has known so much trouble and disappointment through the years it was flower blooming from arid rock. The crowd parted, making a guard of honour for the team as they roared them into the clubhouse. Jane Adams noticed there were more men crying than girls.

She went to Rossa when she was a 13-year-old with a head filled with images of DJ Carey after a childhood of playing with boys. Carey was the main feature in her dreams but Grace McMullen of Antrim and Marie McAleenan of Down crowded the picture too.

They went to the Féile that first year. Winning out down in Limerick in 1995. Four of the girls started last Sunday against Drom and Inch plus a whole clutch of younger sisters.

That year her impact was so startling that she went straight into the senior team as a goalkeeper.

You wonder about the wisdom of a 13-year-old playing senior camogie in a county final against Dunloy even in goal. There was no stopping her. She wanted to be on that team. She broke through as a 13-year-old and has been there since.

"They probably were warning me that I could be killed. I wasn't listening at this. No way."

She remembers that final against Dunloy. Another sliotar whickering past her ears as Dunloy pushed home and her backside planted in the mud.

Team-mates put out their hands and dragged her to her feet and told her not to worry. So there she stood, an imp covered in mud and losing her first county final.

She was too young to care about defeat. She loved this. They lost plenty before they learned to win. They made the breakthrough in 2000 and have won seven titles since but the push to All-Ireland glory was agonisingly incremental.

Jim Nelson, who brought the Armagh hurlers to the All-Ireland final 19 years ago came in and brought the girls professionalism. Nelson showed them what they were lacking. They went training three nights a week, did a lot of body pump work which not even county teams were doing at the time. He taught them how to prepare and how to believe and how to survive in a game which is increasingly physical and increasingly fast.

Nelson moved on a year ago and as so often happens the promised land was reached without the man they had started out behind.

One of the first duties of the week was to bring the cup to Jim Nelson and to thank him.

"To us it means everything," says Adams. "We have always been there or thereabouts. From 2000 we have been getting to semi-finals and finals and not being able to win. We were beginning to wonder if we just would never be good enough.

"It will bring a lot of the kids in Antrim and Ulster on, we hope."

Would they ever be good enough? Last Sunday gave them the answer but it was slow coming. They lost a semi-final to the eventual winners, Freshford, in 2005. They lost to Freshford again in the All-Ireland final the following year. Last year they went out against Cashel of Tipp in the semi-final. The Rossa's had half an eye on the final. Cashel just blew them away.

"They just seemed to be that wee bit more prepared. We were thinking maybe that we had been at this stage before and this was the year we would win an All- Ireland."

For a short time Jane Adams was the kid planted on her ass in the mud again. The team pulled each other up though . This year was always going to be different.

Quirkily she started playing Gaelic football this year for St Paul's - a strange move for a singularly dedicated woman who believes that the big ball game had overtaken camogie for a while there. "Yeah" she laughs. "I get a hard time in the club for playing football but camogie was always number one and every time there was a choice to be made camogie won out."

Camogie wins out. Every time. Whatever the banter, when your full forward is racking the numbers which Jane Adams racks and is sponsoring the team from the pocket of herself and her sister, the ground is shaky for anyone wishing to poke fun at her for playing a little football.

The sponsorship business is something she almost needs reminding of when you ask her.

"All of us give everything for camogie. Whatever we have. It wasn't like we were asked or anything, it was just something natural to do."

The rewards have started coming for Jane Adams at last. An All-Ireland senior medal and a camogie All Star award this year. She has her sights on a revival for Antrim next. It baffles her as much as others how Antrim can have a strong club scene but languish in the junior All-Ireland championship and lower divisions of the league structure.

" If we want to go out and compete with the best we have to go through what we have to go through. There is no point in complaining. We have to get a programme and go out and do whatever we have to do to win."

The most common misconception about Jane Adams among the many who talk of her in terms of awe and wonder is the notion that she is Gerry Adams's niece or daughter.