THIS season three new clubs have entered the Antrim camogie leagues. They talked to Séamas McAleenan about their different set-ups and the season ahead.
A NIGHT out with a few drinks among the girls was the catalyst for re-booting camogie in the Látharna Óg club according to club secretary Danielle Bergin.
“GAA activity in Larne had ceased around ten years ago and there was nothing happening until three years ago when the men got together and started hurling again.
“I think the girls could see that the men were enjoying it, even though they probably were losing more games than winning. It was about the social aspect as much as anything.
“It was kind of a spur of the moment decision for camogie. A few of us were on a night out and thought it would be a great idea to get out playing. We stuck a notice on the club facebook account and the response has been great.
“We have around 35-40 adults keen to play. Now there wouldn’t be too many that have much experience of actually playing camogie. But we are all up for the challenge.”
That happened towards the end of last summer and there was just enough time to get a couple of training sessions in before lockdown hit once more.
“It is a pity that all activity has been cut for the last six months. A few of the men are helping to coach us and getting us doing wall ball sessions on our own and then there are zoom classes for fitness and we are out running. All that is keeping morale up.”
Off the pitch too there has been a lot of preparation done so that they can hit the ground running when the green light is given.
“We have sorted sponsorship and have a new kit coming in the next couple of weeks and just a week or two ago we got a grant from Mid and East Antrim Council to buy equipment.
“We are well aware that we need to get underage coaching under way too and bring players through. So we are preparing ourselves to start with kids of primary age.”
The Látharna Óg grounds out on Bruston Braes lay idle for the best part of a decade. But now the new season should see plenty of activity as both hurling and camogie prepare to cross the lines.
DAVITT’S entry into the Antrim leagues has been more incremental according to Terry Parke who is chairman of the juvenile section of the west Belfast club.
“We haven’t had ladies’ games in Davitt’s for quite some time. There may have been a camogie team for a year or two 30 or 40 years ago.
“We had girls playing along with the boys up until under 12 and then some of them would continue their playing career with Gort na Móna or some other clubs around here.
“We opened the new playing facilities a couple of years ago and under age membership has been growing. Then I suppose Gaelfast gave it a boost as well.
“So this year we are entering an adult team and then teams from under 8 through to under 12. Chris McNally and Alan Rainey have been working hard getting structures in place at juvenile level and we have been playing go-games for the last couple of years now.”
Obviously the cost of camogie equipment as well as club membership can place a burden on a new team.
“We have managed to get a small grant from the council and we are offering helmets and hurls at a subsidised rate to our young players. We are fairly pro-active in seeking sponsorship and we try to make playing for our teams affordable.”
Parke has been a coach in the hurling end of the club for a number of years now and will continue with the under 17 hurlers while doubling up to take the under 12 camogie team.
“I find working with girls very rewarding in that they listen well and try to practise the skills. However I am obviously, like a lot of others in the club, double and treble-jobbing.
“We have 25 to 30 adult players there and we will be looking for a number of them to get involved with underage teams going forward. In fairness I think they will.
“Where would we like to be five years from now? Well, those under 12s will be coming through to the adult teams. So I would like to see us competitive at junior level with aspirations of getting up through the grades.”
FURTHER along the Falls’ Road St Gall’s for the first time have entered teams at each age group up to under 12.
But it is not the first time the club has been associated with the game of camogie. The Deirdre camogie club flourished in the area for nearly 70 years and was the backbone of Antrim All-Ireland teams for much of that time.
Deirdre won 10 Antrim senior titles, including six in a row in the 1960s and they twice reached All-Ireland club finals.
“Yes, there would have been a strong connection there,” says Elizabeth Gilchrist, secretary of the Ladies’ section in St Gall’s.
“Deirdre was a camogie-only club without a pitch and St Gall’s allowed them to use our facilities here. Sadly Deirdre dropped away around 20 years ago.
“In recent years we would have had girls playing football and hurling with the boys up until about the age of ten. We have had football through all the age groups for a number of years now, but girls interested in camogie had to go to other clubs.
“In the past few years there has been a demand for camogie and over the past couple of years we have managed to get coaches in place,” says Gilchrist.
“Gaelfast has had an impact, particularly in respect of providing equipment for coaching sessions. Alfie Hannaway and Antóin McCaffrey are working with Gaelfast and are club members here and they have pushed things on. Alfie is our under 10 camogie Development Officer.
“We have a number of schools in our catchment area and there is coaching happening in them as well.”
St Gall’s were all ready to press the go button this time last year when COVID-19 struck. When sport eventually got the go-ahead it was decided to delay entry into the county leagues for a year.
“Yeah we felt that it just wasn’t right, there was too much uncertainty.
“It would be our intention to bring the girls through as dual players and retain them in both codes for as long as possible. From this group of under 10s and under 12s we hope to get our first adult camogie team and then the others coming after them will be able to filter into that team and hopefully strengthen it.
“It’s a long term project.”