Slaughtneil are on track for a third AIB Senior Camogie Club All Ireland title in a row and the team’s success has inspired the next generation to pick up a hurley.
At the end of February, the club held a ‘meet and greet’ for the parish to come along and show their support for the team. This year’s event was aimed at children so they could ask their local heroes questions and it was their excitement that highlighted the importance of the occasion for the players involved.
“It was lovely. All the wee’uns there buzzing for it and they probably don’t even understand how big a deal it is”, smiled co-captain Gráinne O’Kane.
“They’re just asking you the simplest wee question that means everything to them.
“It definitely brought you back to earth and brought you back to why you’re doing it and focussing on what’s important.”
O’Kane grew up less than half-a-mile from the local pitch in Slaughtneil which is the epicentre of the community, as is the case with many rural areas. Even now to pass the time, she will walk down to the grounds to “go for a puck about” with her friends.
For as long as she can remember, she had a hurley in her hand, and yet even with a GAA-mad community, O’Kane had to look outside their borders for her heroes growing up. Far outside.
“When I was growing up, I would have been looking at the Kilkenny hurlers and thinking ‘they’re my role models and who I want to be like.'”
One of the main aims of the 20×20 campaign is to make young girls more aware of potential female role models who they can aspire to be like. That responsibility is something O’Kane takes very seriously, especially when it overlaps with her work.
“I actually work as a youth officer so I would be working in the community with a lot of the children. It’s lovely to see them come up asking who’s training?
“Having the younger girls come up and asking ‘who’s playing well?’
“It’s great for the girls to have girls to look up to now too. “
At this stage, Slaughtneil is strongly associated with success at club level in camogie, hurling and football. However, that was not always the case. For the camogie team, a new chapter began four years ago and it is something they never take for granted.
“We wouldn’t have thought we’d get out of Ulster three years ago, it was a huge achievement for us, never mind going on and winning two more All-Irelands. So it’s fantastic.
“And we weren’t in Croke Park last year, so it makes it even more special. It’s every player’s dream to play in Croke Park so it is an amazing achievement. People say you’ll not appreciate it until you’re old and retired so it’s class.”
Slaughtneil face St Martin’s of Wexford in the AIB Senior Camogie Club All Ireland on Sunday, March 3 in Croke Park.