WHEN Niamh Keane returns to work in Caherciveen next week, the Clare full-forward would love to have an All-Ireland medal jangling in her pocket.
Employed as a physiotherapist at a medical centre in the West Kerry town, the Banner Ladies player cannot escape talk of football. Definitely not over the past two weeks in The Kingdom. Not that she is attempting to though. In fact, Niamh has embarked on a recruitment drive of sorts, encouraging her patients to lend their support to Clare from 2pm on Sunday.
“As long as you’re talking football down there, the patients are happy. They’re all going to have their Clare flag out next week, they tell me,” she said, before predicting dire consequences if her new friends in Kerry don’t back Clare for the day.
“I’ll be very tough on them if they don’t tune into to TG4 on Sunday to support us,” the Roslevan girl laughed.
With a few of the Clare intermediate football panel based away from the county, a significant time and travel commitment is necessary to represent Clare.
“A lot are based around Clare, although during the year Emma O’Driscoll was in Clonmel, Sineád Kelly is in Dublin and a few of the girls are in Galway and Limerick. But they always came back for the sessions during the week; Carmel Considine, Denise Walsh and the girls in college, which is a huge commitment,” Niamh notes.
“This is my first year out of college playing. When you’re in college it is hard to get out and to give the commitment, especially when you’re finishing up the year, final year projects and all that kind of stuff,” she added.
Niamh is training once a week with a Kerry ladies’ football team but heads for the ferry as early as she can on Fridays.
“I’ve been training with Southern Gaels during the week. I work late some evenings so I get off early on Fridays and get the ferry back, because usually we’re training back west,” she said.
Twelve months ago, Niamh came on as a substitute for Úna Downes during Clare’s All–Ireland final defeat to Tipperary. This season though, she has nailed down a regular starting place at full–forward. It’s a role she has taken to, although it’s a significant change from playing in the half-forward line.
“I think it’s good to be in there because I can come out and create a bit of space for the girls inside. The two of them need a lot of room to do what they need to do. I can come out and go back in, which means that I get to do what I like to do, which is get on the ball, take it on and mix up the game a bit,” the Clare number 14 explained.
Prior to losing last year’s final, this Clare team were beaten in two successive semi–finals. They are eager to trade that losing feeling for a winning won. Conversely, the dark days have perhaps hardened them.
“A lot of us were back training about two weeks after the All-Ireland because we were so bitterly disappointed with what happened. It totally fell to pieces on the day, we didn’t do ourselves justice,” Niamh feels.
“In a way, it’s a culmination of two, maybe four years work for a lot of us. I absolutely can’t wait for it. I’ve been waiting 12 months for this,” she reflected.
Clare started their gym programme last November and returned to the training field on January 9. All to help ensure they would be playing All–Ireland winning football, as the evenings close in during the ninth month.
“You get goose bumps thinking about it. I remember listening to a Cork camogie player last weekend saying she has seven All–Ireland medals. We’d love one. To get that would just be an amazing achievement. To see Louise Henchy lift that cup would be an amazing feeling for everybody,” Niamh forecast, hoping that a four-year odyssey will culminate on the steps of the Hogan Stand, the cup, rather than their heads, in their hands.