Gailltír goalkeeper Ciara Jackman a warm order with her hot water bottle

‘I don’t mind looking silly if it means I can catch the ball or hit a puck-out a bit better’

From Shane Curran's homemade kicking tees to Dónal Óg Cusack's sliotar manipulation, the tales of inventive GAA goalkeepers chasing the marginal gains that influence huge games are legendary.

Ciara Jackman possesses that same enterprising spirit and when the Gailltír goalkeeper runs out in Thurles on Saturday for the AIB All-Ireland club camogie intermediate final, chances are she'll have her trusty hot water bottle with her.

It came in handy on a freezing cold March day at Croke Park in 2019 when she clutched to it like a lifeline to keep her fingers from seizing up. The Waterford representatives lost the intermediate final to Clonduff of Down that day but came roaring back 12 months later, beating St Rynagh's to the title.

Almost two years on, the two clubs will meet in the intermediate decider all over again this weekend and with wind, rain and cool temperatures forecast, the hot water bottle is sure to make an appearance.

“I have it at most matches,” said Jackman. “We were only talking about it in training the other day that we felt we were fortunate enough with the weather but that in the last week or two it just seemed to be getting a bit nippier. I don’t mind looking silly if it means I can catch the ball or hit a puck-out a bit better.”

The thing is, she doesn’t look silly at all. The wonder is that more goalkeepers don’t do it, instead of standing shivering for minutes on end, wondering when exactly hypothermia may set in.

“I suppose there’s a bit of a thing that goalies are a bit insane, maybe that’s just me feeding into it,” said Jackman. “But even if I’m as busy as anything in a game, I’ll still be grabbing it. Even the girls in the full-back line, anytime there’s a free they’d be in hogging it.”

If it’s another game of inches on Saturday, the hot water bottle could just be the difference.

You don’t need to explain to Jackman how fine the margins can sometimes be. When they beat Rynagh’s in that 2020 final at Croke Park, her two sisters, Trish and Una, were central figures in a late smash and grab that secured the match-winning goal.

Four minutes into stoppage time, club and county icon Trish launched a long free down to the Hill 16 end goalmouth which was gathered up by a Gailltír player and fed to substitute Una. She was only on the field minutes and this was her first time to catch the ball but her shot was arrow-like and pierced St Rynagh’s hearts.

Do or die

Ciara, figuring it was do or die, had charged upfield to offer herself as an outlet for a cross-field pass from Trish but was ignored.

“I was near the Hogan Stand side, about halfway up the field,” she recalled. “I was calling for Trish to pass me the ball but she wouldn’t hit it to me! Thankfully it paid off.”

Gailltír ended up winning 1-13 to 0-13. They beat St Rynagh’s the previous season in the semi-finals too so they’re aware that they’ve poked the beast several times at this stage. Jackman suspected the clubs may end up meeting again this weekend in what is the final of the much delayed 2020 All-Ireland series.

“Once we won the last All-Ireland, we knew you had to win the two in a row to get up to senior, so we knew there was a chance that we could see Rynagh’s again because they’re such a formidable team,” said Jackman.

That's the other carrot that a win on Saturday would bring for Gailltír – who are four-in-a-row Waterford champions and three-in-a-row Munster intermediate winners – promotion to the senior ranks.

“Ultimately that’s the big goal, we’d love to get the chance to have a go at the kingpins of camogie from across Ireland,” said the final-year PE and Biology trainee teacher. “But we don’t have that opportunity at the minute, we have a massive match ahead of us before we can even think about the senior ranks.”