If Scariff-Ogonnelloe are to mark the latest high point in a whirlwind season by winning the Munster senior title this weekend, then their captain will be central to that challenge.
After leading her side to their maiden top flight championship title already in 2019, county star Mairead Scanlan is now firmly focused on the challenge of Tipperary’s Drom-Inch when they clash in Cappamore on Saturday.
Much has been rightly made of the progress the club has made since gaining promotion to the top tier. Memories of their semi-final defeats in 2017 and 2018 were wiped clear when the McMahon Cup was finally annexed this year, and another composed display against Newcastlewest in the Munster semi-final saw them through to the provincial decider.
The captain admits while it has not always been plain sailing for the club, they are eager to take the next historic step.
“It has been a great journey so far this year and it all started back with the league really. We targeted that at the start of the season to try and build confidence and we pushed on from there. We lost out to Inagh-Kilnamona in the final but we won all our five games in the county championship and now here we are in the Munster final. I guess it even goes way back really to when the clubs joined together back in 2012 and even before that. I had Pat Minogue training me since the minor days and we won the junior championship when Scariff were on their own. We pushed on up to intermediate then after the amalgamation happened and onwards from there. There is a huge amount of work that has gone into it since those days and it is great to be where we are now.
Scanlan recalled that the decision for the neighbours to join forces was one borne out of necessity in order to keep the game alive in both parishes.
She said: “It wasn’t really a hard decision to join the two clubs because we genuinely did not have the numbers. When I was minor and U-16 we didn’t have teams and it meant that we simply weren’t able to play the game at my age group. The reality is that we couldn’t do it now either without the two clubs being together because the numbers just are not there playing camogie. It is disappointing in one sense that we don’t have the girls to play but it was a great decision at the time because we all went to school together in Scariff Community College and we were the best of friends with the likes of Susan Vaughan and all the Ogonnelloe girls. We all played together there and won an All-Ireland colleges title so that was a great experience. We went to the All-Ireland Junior Final with the club in 2013 and then came straight back down from senior again so there were a few tough years there. We lost a few players and we struggled for a time. The step up to senior is just huge and we learned so much from it at the time. We thought we were flying at the time but senior was a whole other story. The difference in physicality was massive and we saw that you can have all the skilful players in the world but it’s no good unless you can get them on the ball. Once we came back up again, we were much better prepared because we had worked on the strength and conditioning side of things and we had that little bit more experience”.
It is no real surprise that it is Scanlan who will lead out Scariff-Ogonnelloe for Saturday’s showpiece, as she has been a central cog in the development of the club over the last decade. With sport always being a mainstay of the Scanlan household, she admits it was always going to lead to involvement with the club.
“Camogie and hurling was always in the family. Dad was the principal in the school before he retired so he would have trained all the schools teams. My brother Michael is Scariff intermediate captain and he played for Clare for a few years and my other brother John plays too. I have two older sisters that never really played, they were more into baking and that kind of thing. The club was smaller at that time and it was more that you would play until U-21 and then it would fall away. I am sandwiched between four brothers so I was always out playing with them. I would be the first one out and the lads would follow. We have goals at either end of the back garden and I was always out pretending I was Seanie McMahon which is funny because I never played in defence but he is always someone I really looked up to” she smiled.
The day job sees Mairead working as an accountant in Adare, and she is quick to point out that camogie is a great release after spending the day at the desk. The changing nature of the age profile of the squad and the type of employment available locally has also provided a challenge but like every challenge thrown their way, they have found a way to overcome it alon
“With the way things are gone in terms of where the girls are working, which is mostly in the hospitality sector, we have found ourselves training at 7.45am on Saturday and Sunday mornings. That is just when we can have the best numbers and get a full turnout because everyone is available. Most people might be put off by that kind of time especially at weekends but I think it says a lot about our team because everyone wants to be there and no one is making excuses” she explained.
With the memories of not having a team to play on still vivid for the older crew on the panel, Scanlan feels having a Munster final on the horizon is a special moment.
“It is still a small bit surreal to be honest. We still have the cup down at home and I find myself grinning at it at times. I can still remember a few years ago when we thought we wouldn’t get to even play at senior level and when I was younger I would be looking at the girls playing senior for Clare and hoping I could do that too. Even when we did come together first we struggled for a time so to now competing at that level and winning is a little bit surreal. The support has been amazing from local businesses and even the surrounding parishes who we would normally be facing off against. Everyone seems to be supporting us and there is so much goodwill which is really nice to see. You don’t really get a sense of how many people are following it until you are winning and then everyone is talking to you about it. People are still ringing the house and congratulating my parents and everyone loves to be involved in it. They are enjoying it and enjoying the success and that is a really lovely element of it too” she said.