Despite the curmudgeons, camogie's glass is half-full


LOCKER ROOM:Selling camogie, rather than making everybody in camogie feel happy, is the biggest problem

CAMOGIE FINAL day is a sort of agony of indecision for those who love the game. Should we sell the glass as half-full and in danger of brimming over in the near future? Or should we betray those few people who work so hard at it and say that things could be better. First of all, having the fixture as a stand-alone event in Croke Park. Playing in the vast cathedral in front of 17,290 customers, most of whom are young players, may not create the best atmosphere but the argument goes it is great for the players. This is an archetypal camogie problem. Everybody wants to make everybody else happy.

Maybe it is great for the players. I can’t see it though. Nor can I see how it is great for the sport as a whole to be having the showcase event in front of vast cliff-faces full of empty seats. If I was sitting at home watching on television I don’t think it would make me say the All-Ireland camogie final was one event I needed to attend before my death. And selling camogie, rather than making everybody in camogie feel happy, is the biggest problem.

The plague of course is football. Hurling is hard. Football is easy.

When I Rule The World (Part 1)it will be illegal to show a girl a football before she had done the Junior Cert. Even then footballs would be introduced in controlled circumstances and would carry government health warnings. Hurling is hard.

It is the greatest sport in the world because it is beautiful, visceral and demanding. Too many teams are coached as it is by good- natured people content to just bring a team out. And, at the end of the day, pats on the back for just bringing a team out are too easy to come by. And unchallenged girls drift to the easy addiction of football.

When I Rule The World (Part 2).It shall come to pass that the government will identify and ’fess up to its massive failings in the area of sport for children, but especially sport for girls, and when it increased its funding accordingly camogie would be a special case because hurling is hard. And it has a special part in our culture and history. Hurling and camogie aren’t the same as other sports. They need time and money. And we need them to live if we are to have a distinctive sporting culture.

Camogie struggles. Money is a problem. Not enough full-time development officers and a poor rate of players returning to put back into the game what they took out is another. A seven-team All-Ireland championship is very worrying especially when you consider that Dublin haven’t won a game in two years and lost their championships outings this year by sevens points (Clare), 43 points (Wexford), 17 points (Cork), 32 points (Kilkenny), 20 points (Galway) and 30 points (Tipp). On sheer numbers alone Dublin should be competitive at senior level but this year’s under-15 and under-16 championships in the city each have just four teams competing in the A Division. Good players can’t get good games. And hurling is hard. You need good games.

And yet the enthusiasm! 17,290 people, mainly kids and you could look around or just listen in Croke Park and understand the potential the game has. It is thoughtful and tactical and demands the use of space and speed. A great camogie player has a unique kind of brain. You could see it in Mary Leacy yesterday. She has the breeding of course and grew up as part of a great wave of teams in Oulart but when she got possession at centre back for Wexford yesterday she sprayed it about like a quarterback picking passes. And you could see in Katrina Parrock, at corner forward, her clever use of space .

Wexford’s splendid half-back line suffocated Galway and their ferociousness under puck-outs was a lesson for kids needing to understand the aggression necessary to master the game. Galway were held to three points from play and it was late before Veronica Curtin, a major source of scores all year, made any impact.

When I Rule the World (Part 3).There shall be a number of small changes. If Galway and Wexford meet in a final one county will wear different colour shirts. Shoulder-to-shoulder contact will be permitted in the game. Skirts will be burned in mass bonfires and players will be liberated to wear shorts like normal sportswomen do. On occasions when the average age in the crowd is such that Jedward might cause palpitations, the half-time entertainment shall not be a long cavalcade of Kilkenny oul wans, no matter how fondly we recall them. The hooter shall be purloined from women’s football. The quick play-on option instead of a free shall be stolen from hockey. And penalties shall be different.

The camogie penalty should be one on one. Penalty-taker and ’keeper. From the 21-yard line very few camogie players have the strength required to hit the ball so explosively that the human eye scarcely has time to register its flight. I can’t remember the last time I saw a penalty scored in camogie.

When Jessica Gill was correctly awarded a penalty yesterday by Karl O’Brien, Gill stood over it and saw it saved by the wonderful Mags D’Arcy (how good to see Mags’ mane of hair unhidden by micro burqa and her playing so brilliantly and bravely anyway). The penalty miss was a setback but in camogie penalties seldom result in anything else and any smart back is going to foul a forward and play the odds on a penalty rather than concede a goal.

After that we felt as if we were playing out time. Connolly’s long-range free made the final few minutes exciting but Wexford’s defence was unflappable. The final whistle was greeted by another stunning exhibition of the GAA’s Plan A with no Eastern European-style crowd control methods necessary.

Camogie finals are benchmarks of the game’s progress. In the end it was an All-Ireland final which for the first time in nearly a decade didn’t feature Cork. With respect, that was a good thing. Wexford have been building on the work that brought Oulart five national Féile titles in succession, and the work that made Coláiste Bride so potent for a while, and for the second time in recent years got their reward. They are a nice team to watch especially when they attack with the intelligent movement and quick passing.

For Galway the future is bright. They won their second successive All-Ireland Under-16 title this summer taking the place of Kilkenny as the dominant county at this grade. Kilkenny harvesting the best of their underage sides of recent years will be senior champions in the next few years and so will Galway. That is good for the game. Joachim Kelly meanwhile has brought Offaly to a junior All-Ireland and then an intermediate title in the space of a couple of years. More promise.

Oh go on. We are persuaded. People like Joan Flynn, Sinead O’Connor, Mary O’Connor, Eve Talbot and so on are driving the game on despite us curmudgeons. Half-full. The glass is half-full.