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'I remember the two euros to training and the pan loaf of bread and ham for the sandwiches'

Waterford dual star Caoimhe McGrath on the Déise’s ground ownership, and her decision to focus on football in 2021.

Updated May 21st 2021, 12:21 PM

PHENOMENAL. BRILLIANT. Very exciting. The words Waterford star Caoimhe McGrath uses when she’s asked about her county joining those breaking new ground.

Caoimhe McGrath Waterford's Caoimhe McGrath was speaking at the 2021 Lidl Ladies National Football League launch. Source: SPORTSFILE.

In January, it was announced that the Déise will become one of the few women’s Gaelic games counties in the country to own their own pitch outright.

A new facility is being built in Dungarvan after six years of hard work and fundraising behind the scenes, as development continues at Armagh ladies’ field of dreams at McKeever Park in Killeen.

“It seems crazy. It’s 2018 and we’re the only ladies county team in Ireland to have that,” as Orchard chairperson Sinéad Reel told The42 a little over two years ago, when they became the first inter-county side in Ireland to have a base dedicated solely to ladies football. Elsewhere, Cork’s camogie grounds in Castle Road, Mahon, opened in 2012.

Ultimately, the GAA own pitches across the country, and this often causes issues due to the fact that ladies football and camogie are governed by separate organisations.

Understandably, this is a big step. McGrath, a dual player focusing on football for 2021, wholeheartedly agrees.

“It’s brilliant. It was very exciting when I heard the news,” she says, hoping that she’ll get to play there one day, joking that she’ll “hang around” until it happens.

“It’s something that’s been in the pipeline and there’s a lot of groundwork going in since 2015, to the best of my knowledge. Brilliant location and everything, it’s actually just down the road from me here out Clonea way.

I was saying it to one of the girls the other day — I’m actually so jealous of the young girls coming up through and starting at that level. I remember the two euros to training and the pan loaf of bread and the ham for the sandwiches afterwards.

“Just the professionalism and the facilities and everything that are going to be available for those girls coming through, I think it’s phenomenal. It would be very exciting to see where things go in the next few years with it.” 

Recent weeks have brought plenty of positive developments in ladies football, between increased government funding, the historic move of travel expenses being covered by the Association and the GPA merger.

All of this, too, is exciting, with McGrath noticing huge changes since she started out playing at inter-county level.

caoimhe-mcgrath-in-action McGrath in action for the Déise camógs last season. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

“It’s nice to see how far it’s come and it’s nice to have been involved from the start to see how much it has progressed. I think the most significant change would be the fact that when we go to play, we’re just going out to play. That’s the main thing that we then have to focus on.

“It enables us to perform at an elite level and to be more focused on our individual game and our collective game, versus contending with other things like, ‘We can’t get a certain pitch,’ or, ‘We can’t get a certain facility,’ or even the collective gear, so that you come to the match or you come to the training, looking like a team and looking like one unit.”

The unit she has committed to this year is Ciaran Curran’s football one, opting against balancing both with the Déise camogie set-up. This had proved challenging in the past, and going with one for 2021 seemed like the wise option.

“Unfortunately, just due to the training demand and training and match clashes and things, I made the decision just to focus on the football this year.

“I suppose there were certain elements I would have found more challenging than others. I was lucky enough, even coming from the physio background, I’d be interested in acute and chronic training loads and things. I had built up a chronic training load from previous years’ training.

I was able for the physical demands of it. I often found it was quite mentally challenging to juggle two matches in one weekend — or maybe if there were clashes, to be communicating between the two and trying to decide which one I was going to play, or both. What they wanted, I suppose, and coming to a resolution between the two codes.

“That would have been probably the most frustrating side of it, the mentally-demanding side of things. Other than that, you had to be on the ball with everything from nutrition, the sports psych and everything, as you would be if you were playing the one code. But when you add in the second, it felt like I was constantly on the go. There was less down time.

“But I wouldn’t be ruling it out for future seasons or anything, it was just the nature of this season and personal situations and everything that I decided to focus on football for this year.”

The plan now? “Essentially get three wins” in their Division 1A league campaign, in which they face all-conquering Dublin, Cork and Tipperary. “We’ll be going out to every game to win.”

Lofty ambitions, but that’s the aim of the game. For those from the outside looking in, it might feel their league goal shoult be consolidating their top-flight status, but McGrath is striving for much more than that. 

“We would feel confident that we will be retaining Division 1 status this year,” she nods, “we would be aiming for semi-finals. We would be confident that we would be up to that, and hoping that we’d be competing there.”

With “one of the best” dead ball strikers in the ladies game back in their ranks this season in Maria Delahunty — “she’s just brilliant; her accuracy, her consistency and everything. She’s slotted right back in” — they’ll certainly be hell-bent on shaking things up.

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maria-delahunty Delahunty on the ball. Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

That starts against the four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions at Parnell Park on Sunday. They’re under no illusions of how challenging it will be, but they welcome it, confident in their own preparation.

McGrath doesn’t have to look far for motivation. Her grandfather is reading legendary manager Michael Ryan’s new book, ‘The Road from Ballymac,’ at the moment, and she’s ready to give it a whirl afterwards.

There’s plenty to take from the iconic Déise and Ballymacarbry figure.

“I’ve heard the stories down through the years and I’ve heard of the professionalism that Michael Ryan has brought to the teams and when you see what those players have done for the game,” she concludes, witnessing it first-hand in  his guest training sessions.

“Winning the intermediate All-Ireland in 2015 was a huge step for us, but we’ve gotten to the stage now where we’re not happy with just that. We want more and we want to bring Waterford back to the place where they had it, and where he had it.

“He was definitely a man who was ahead of his time in the way he approached things so there is a lot to learn from that as well. It’s just doing the simple things and doing them right and doing them consistently. That does drive belief and drive success.”

Belief is something Caoimhe McGrath certainly has in abundance, and with that, success is never too far away.

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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