Orlaith McGrath in action for Tipperary. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Sister Act

Sport is a family affair for Galway's McGrath siblings

Niamh, Clodagh and Orlaith have all made the breakthrough at senior level with the Tribeswomen.

ST. PATRICK’S DAY always brings good memories to the McGrath household.

Michael – more commonly known by the handle ‘Hopper’ – was a member of a star-studded Sarsfields team that won two All-Ireland senior hurling titles at Croke Park on the traditional club finals day in 1993 and 1994.

An all-action half-forward, ‘Hopper’ played for Galway through the ‘80s and ‘90s, winning two All-Irelands and bagging a pair of All-Stars into the bargain.

The McGraths made a habit of travelling east to Dublin on 17 March, even when the man of the house – the only man in a house of eight – wasn’t playing. Not last Tuesday though.

“We used to go up to the finals with Mam every year because it was a sort of tradition but the last couple of years, as we’ve gotten older and are working or in college, we’ve watched it on TV” reveals eldest daughter Niamh. “There were always Galway teams involved anyway so you’d go up to support them.”

The good genes have passed on to the next generation although with mum, Geraldine a former senior hockey international who is now chair of the Galway county camogie board, it is clear that the talents are coming from both sides.

It was a proud day when Niamh, Clodagh and Orlaith all played on the Galway team that won the All-Ireland U16 title in 2009. All three have progressed to senior although college commitments mean Clodagh (21) won’t be back in this year until May, while Orlaith (19) only returns to the fold next week having suffered a broken finger.

Siobhán (14) is a highly-regarded underage player while Ciara (9) and Laoise (7) are in the developmental stages of their careers.

Niamh McGrath Niamh continues the family tradition. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Niamh (22) has been this generation’s trailblazer, having been called into the Galway senior squad the same year of the U16 success. The law student is a key contributor now.

“Losing the All-Irelands in 2010 and 2011 was pretty tough, but I think 2013 was different. The shape of the panel, there were different girls, more of a younger vibe, a lot of players that didn’t experience the heartbreak against Wexford. They were used to winning stuff underage as well. That combined brought about 2013.

“Last year? I don’t know. We were unlucky against Kilkenny but I don’t’ think we deserved to beat them on the day or anything like that. This year, we have to pick it up a notch.”

They would have guarded against a drop in appetite and intensity as much as they could have, but having gone so long without winning, it was nigh on impossible to prevent the dip, deep in the subconscious.

“Exactly. This year there is a lot more hunger in us compared to last year. You wouldn’t admit it to yourself at the time but a lot of people were content with the All-Ireland in 2013. But we’ve realised you only play camogie for so long and you want to win as much as you can during it. You don’t want to be satisfied with one All-Ireland when you’ve a team that could win another.”

Galway remain unbeaten in the National League after two games. They began with a draw against Limerick and registered their first victory against Tipperary. Offaly are next in line on Sunday and one senses that a win is vital if Tony Ward’s squad is to make the knockout stages from Group 1.

“We were unhappy with the result against Limerick to be honest. We said we wanted to get out of the group at least. Fair dues to Limerick, they were really good, but we weren’t up to par that day. They’re flying fit and fair play to them. It’s brilliant to see them making such a good transition.

“But the last day against Tipperary in The Ragg we came away with a good result. We have Offaly next and hopefully we can push on and get through.”

The Tribeswomen have garnered very little silverware in recent years at senior level given the ability at their disposal – the 2013 All-Ireland is a lone beacon – so bridging a 10-year gap in the League would be nice.

“We haven’t really figured in the League in the past couple of years. It would be nice to add that to the collection. Winning something at the start of the year would build up confidence, especially with the younger ones. Winning things can only be good for a team.

“There’s a lot gone from the panel this year. Those girls gave a lot of service to Galway but we’ve a lot of minors coming through now and hopefully they’ll keep improving and claim their places.

“This year, it seems to be anybody’s game. I don’t see too much between ourselves, Cork, Kilkenny, Clare and Limerick. It’s all to play for.”

Copy provided on behalf of the Camogie Association. 

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