THE All-Ireland club semi-final this Sunday is the biggest game in the history of Scariff-Ogonnelloe camogie club, not that you would know it talking to centre-back Ciara Doyle.
The ice-cool 20-year-old WIT student is extremely focussed on the task of beating reigning three-time All-Ireland champions Slaughtneil of Derry, but she has an unwavering belief in the ability of her team to create history.
Her club have already had quite a season, landing not only their first ever senior county title, but also their first senior provincial title. While many would classify this as a ground-breaking season, Ciara says Scariff-Ogonnelloe want, and are capable of, more.
“We don’t really care who we’re playing or what people are saying our chances are of winning – we just focus on ourselves and go and play freely and enjoy ourselves. We are a highly determined team and I don’t think there has been one game this year where we have gone out without utter belief that we would win. Lose isn’t in our vocabulary. We respect each other massively, and respect everyone around us. That respect is a huge part of everything, and we wouldn’t get anywhere without that respect.
“We trained Stephens’ morning and it was one of the best sessions we have ever done. Everyone was buzzing. It is new territory for everyone on our panel and it is so exciting. We are all loving training and nearly forgetting about the match, but it is drawing that bit closer now and our attention is focusing on the task ahead,” Ciara explained.
Ciara is solely focussed on Slaughtneil and taking down the goliath of club camogie, but when she casts her mind back, she admits her wildest dreams didn’t even figure plans for an All-Ireland semi-final.
“Oh God, no. It’s absolutely phenomenal to think how far we’ve come this year. At the start of the year we set our sights on winning the senior county title. We’ve worked tirelessly for the last few years to get to that goal. We had to pinch ourselves when we were able to push on and win the Munster title. It was like a dream, but to now think we are going to play an All-Ireland semi-final. That wouldn’t have entered our head at the start of the year.
“Even just thinking about it now, there are four teams left in Ireland, the four best clubs in Ireland and we are one of them. It’s just mad to even think about.
“It won’t mean much, though, if we don’t get over the line this weekend. I know a lot of people said after we won the county that we were in bonus territory, but for us it wasn’t. And now it isn’t, either. We won’t be looking past the semi-final but to think we are one win away from Croke Park. That’s what every little girl dreams of growing up while playing camogie. Overcoming Slaughtneil isn’t going to be easy – it will likely be the toughest battle we have ever faced but we believe we can do it,” Doyle confessed.
Scariff-Ogonnelloe have a predominantly young squad mixed with a few experienced players, as evidenced by Doyle leading the defence at the young age of 20. The Sports Science student has been a real leader for the side in their inspirational run but she is quick to deflect praise. Doyle says the younger members of the squad fear nothing and that is to their advantage.
“In this team, you don’t care who is on the ball, because you that they’re able to do what they have to do with it. The McGees in the corners are unreal, Susan Daly at full-back at just 18 has been brilliant all year. Susan Vaughan coming in at wingback is one of the best players in the country and then Aisling Corry on the other wing is brilliant. There’s a serious backbone to this team. But, when the ball is at the opposite end of the field, our forwards work so hard to ensure it isn’t coming back our way. We have a serious trust in each other, and we definitely have the ability.
“I think every girl in our team has been involved in a county panel so we have that experience which will stand to us, too. We may be a young team age-wise, but we have plenty of maturity when it comes to playing camogie. We’ve played against the best players in the country at inter-county level so that eases any nerves when it comes to this game. If we go out and enjoy ourselves, then there should be no doubt amongst ourselves that we can win,” Doyle expressed.
Scariff-Ogonnelloe were the first Clare camogie club to claim Munster glory in 30 years and Doyle is well aware what a win against the much-vaunted Slaughtneil could do for the sport in the Banner county.
“We want to win this to bring more life back into the camogie aspect of things in Clare. We want to show people that there are really good teams and players in Clare. We hope that our county team gets boost from us and can push on now in 2020. 2019 was an exceptional year for us as a club and we hope we can kick 2020 off in a similar style,” Doyle said.
Doyle shows wisdom beyond her years when she discusses the fixtures calendar and the wider implication for her community that an All-Ireland semi-final brings. Still, it doesn’t hinder a youthful and infectious exuberance in the slightest.
“It has been kind of annoying that it [the season] is dragged out so much. Munster was played in November and the 2019 champions won’t be crowned until March 2020. It’s hard to maintain the buzz that long but we’re lucky that we love playing together regardless. Everyone in the community and county being behind us means a lot. When we won Munster, the crowds that were in Scariff and Ogonnelloe were unreal. We want to win it for ourselves, but we want to do it for everyone in our community and county too,” Ciara concluded.