# Sister Act
'It's so strange going out on the pitch and not seeing her there'
Camogie and hurling is a way of life for the Farrells of Thomastown and Kilkenny.

Kilkenny celebrate after the game Tommy Dickson / INPHO Anna (l) and Shelly (r) on their team-mate's shoulders after the 2016 All-Ireland final win. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“EVERYONE’S RARING TO go,” Anna Farrell smiles as she looks out onto the Croke Park turf.

Over the past three years, the Kilkenny star has lined out for her county here on four occasions. One All-Ireland final win over Cork in 2016, back-to-back one-point defeats to the same side in 2017 and 2018, and the most recent of them all, the 2019 league final loss to Galway which ended their bid for three-in-a-row.

She settles into her seat, happy out with a mug of tea in hand. Used to drink 17 cups a day, she laughs. Cut down to 11 now, thank God.

The league final defeat is tackled first. 

“I don’t think we really knew whereabouts we were until we hit the league final,” she tells The42 at the 2019 John West National Féile launch. “Galway just absolutely blew us out of it. They were the much better team, there was no way we could deny that.

“At least it’s happened now, that we could see that we have so much to work on.”

Plenty of time before championship to right the wrongs though. Ann Downey’s charges will return all guns blazing. Bouncing back, raring to go; they always are.

“Especially when you lose like that up in Croke Park, it’s a huge motivator for anyone who’s playing,” the 26-year-old adds.

But then the last two heartbreaking, agonisingly close September defeats come up in conversation and she’s forced to think about it all a little more.

Perhaps it’s a motivator during the year, but then again, circumstances are different as winter falls.

There’s time for soul-searching as the troops are rallied to go again. And maybe, then, that’s slightly tougher off the back of a loss.

“I know myself even after you lose a few All-Irelands, you think about it for the next few weeks after,” she ponders. “Then you try to go away from it altogether and go back to the club, play away there and try and win as much as you can with them.

“Try and use the drive in the club set-up, that’s what I usually do anyway. Then by the time the club finishes, you have a couple of weeks to think: do you want to go back? Do you have another year to push yourself and give up the commitment that is in the county set-up? There’s not much you can do outside of it.

“I always look at it — if I’m enjoying it, I’ll go back. If I’m not enjoying it, I’ll just stop. That’s the end of it.

John West Renews Féile Sponsorship Until 2022 Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE Anna Farrell at this week's John West Féile launch. Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

“Usually after losing, you go back and push yourself as much as you can. It’s still hard to motivate yourself when it’s happened a few times by such little margins…”

There we go.

0-14 to 0-13 last September, Orla Cotter’s free coming as Cork’s winner in injury-time.

0-10 to 0-9 the previous year, the Rebel’s prevailing thanks to a 67th-minute Julia White point.

“It’s just an absolute puck of a ball between all the teams there,” she picks up, casting her mind back through the league. “Galway beat us, Offaly nearly beat us; there’s no one that’s really out in front.

“Everyone is kind of there and thereabouts. I’d say it will be a brilliant championship. I think everyone is a lot closer than they have been over the last few years.”

Prior to this year, Cork and Kilkenny had contested the last three All-Ireland finals and two league deciders, establishing themselves as the top two, if you like. Even at that though, Farrell was a firm believer than anything could happen on any day against any team.

And she absolutely still is.

While she decided to go again this year, and give it another shot, her sister Shelly opted against it and set off to a Land Down Under.

“Shelly’s in Sydney now at the moment,” she smiles. “She’s gone travelling, and Meighan was actually away for the Galway match as well. She was in Cambodia at the time, she’s travelling around Thailand and that.”

You must be jealous of them?

It must weird without them?

“I don’t know what to do at training now, it’s just me going in!” she laughs.

“Look, sure they’ve given up their lives for it for the last few years. I think they deserve just to go away and enjoy themselves, and then come back fresh. Meg will be back now after travelling for a few weeks, and she’ll come back in raring to go. 

“She was going for six weeks so she should be back coming into championship. That’s plenty of time for her to get fit, once you have that bit of a break.”

But Shelly, she’s gone for the year after captaining the Noresiders in 2018.

“There’s no returning yet anyway,” Anna frowns. “You’d always miss Shelly. She’s only 10 months younger than me. We’re very close in age and we would be best friends anyway.

“It’s so strange going out on the pitch and not seeing her there. A lot of the time, we would link up well together because we’ve played the whole way up.

Shelly Farrell with Gemma O’Connor Tommy Dickson / INPHO Shelly in action in last year's decider. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“At least I had Meg there, but now she’s left me as well! Now I’m just on my own in the car going to training. It is strange, but sure like everyone there are your best friends anyway.

“The majority of the girls there, I’d hang around with them outside the camogie anyway so it’s fine — but I’ll be happy when she does come back!”

It’s been well documented, but it really is a family affair for the Farrells of Thomastown. Anna — the eldest of the sisters — Shelly and Meighan are joined by fellow camogie star Eimear, and two-time All-Ireland winning Kilkenny hurler Jonjo.

While she was the type to play everything and anything in her childhood, it always came back to the beloved camogie. Almost a religion in the Farrell household, hurling — as it is in Kilkenny — is, and always has been, a central part of family life.

It’s still all go at the minute even with two of the sisters flocking the nest, as JonJoe runs an Easter camp, Camp na Laochra, and Anna works away in Bank of Ireland in Kilkenny alongside team-mate Anne Dalton and the one and only Henry Shefflin. 

She just can’t get away from it, especially not at the minute with a manic few weeks ahead.

“It’s tough to find a minute now, even to go and see everyone when everyone’s training at all different times. We’ll be grand.

“It’s kind of worth it then when you do get to sit down together and talk about what’s been going on. Sure that’s all we ever talk about — camogie and hurling! It doesn’t really go too much further than that.”

A standard GAA family, as it is in most people’s houses. A way of life in Thomastown.

The club scene is picking back up after a Leinster final exit last year, with league getting up-and-running towards the end of the month. 

“Club is always the priority anyway, it’s the main one,” she adds. “Club is where you’d always put as much as you could into.”

It’s a long year, tough on the non-county players too as they wait and wait for game time.

And then it’s pretty insane when Kilkenny are out of action and Thomastown are in the thick of it. But as Farrell mentioned previously, that’s a good distraction after painful defeats on the inter-county scene. A good way to drive on.

Just like they’ve been doing following their recent league final loss.

Amy O'Connor with Anna Farrell Gary Carr / INPHO Anna on the ball in the 2017 final. Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

Unable to get pitches for much of the early stages of the year, Downey’s side spent most of their training time indoors; in gyms, halls and on astro. Trying to get their hurling up to scratch in those situations has been difficult but with pitches now, they’re pushing on.

And next up is, of course, Galway in the Leinster championship.

“We can’t get away from them!” Farrell laughs, pointing out that just a point has separated them in the last few All-Ireland semi-finals.

“Every single time there’s a point or a goal between us, that’s it. There’s nothing more. Galway are unbelievable. The players they have are absolutely unbelievable.

“They obviously clicked and worked really hard this year. They were so impressive against us. We couldn’t get near them. They were so so fit and so hungry for the ball, like. And playing with confidence.

“Hopefully we can try and emulate that as well. Obviously when you’re playing with confidence, you’re going to enjoy it and I think that’s what we need to do now: play with a bit more confidence, don’t think about other teams or any further than the next match.”

She concludes: “At least we can see again are we doing enough to rectify what we did wrong in the league final. It’s going to show us exactly where we are.

“Everything seems to be going well at the moment, everyone is really pushing themselves at training. There’s a lot of young girls after coming in, and a few from the intermediate panel too. Hopefully we’ll get a good mix together and push on for championship.”

Kilkenny camogie star Anna Farrell was on hand to launch the 2019 John West National Féile, and to announce the sponsorship renewal for a further four years until 2022.


Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Andy Dunne to preview the Champions Cup semi-finals and all the week’s news on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:

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