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From Ireland soccer alongside Katie McCabe to Galway's captain in Croke Park

Lisa Casserly leads Galway for Sunday’s intermediate final in Croke Park against Cork.

Lisa Casserly.
Lisa Casserly.
Image: Evan Treacy/INPHO

GALWAY CAMOGIE CAPTAIN Lisa Casserly hasn’t taken the conventional path to Croke Park.

She wasn’t an underage prodigy, focusing instead on soccer. She was a member of the national squad that reached the U19 European Championships semi-final in 2014, alongside Cork star, Amy O’Connor.

Republic of Ireland and Arsenal hero, Katie McCabe was another colleague.

She enjoyed playing camogie for Ballinderreen and after taking some time out from soccer, her grandfather asked her to give camogie a real go for one year to try maximising her potential in that sphere.

And she hasn’t regretted it for a second.

The 26-year-old retains a keen interest in soccer though and watching the televised coverage of the recent European Championships, marvelled at the increase in profile and standard. The same improvements have occurred in camogie, she notes, and while you would always like the graph to spiral upwards at a quicker pace, women’s sport is tracking in the right direction, she contends.

“I do keep an eye on it and even for our own Irish girls, the talent is there and a lot of them are playing overseas and you can see what (ROI manager) Vera Pauw has brought to the team.

“They’re playing (against Finland) in September. The tickets were sold out in record time, in 30 minutes. That’s a massive token to the girls and they are playing brilliant soccer. The standard has definitely come up. It was just a pity not to see them in the Euros but their World Cup qualifying campaign is going brilliant.

“It’s nice to see and so different to when I was playing. Even the coverage that they get. It’s just brilliant. And for the camogie as well. More and more people are talking about it and women’s sport in general. It’s definitely come on and it’s great to see.”

katie-mccabe-celebrates-with-the-match-ball-after-scoring-a-hat-trick Katie McCabe celebrates after scoring a hat-trick for Ireland in June. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With Casserly at the forefront, it may well be Galway who will be the talk of Croke Park on Sunday.

Galway may have secured their position in Sunday’s Glen Dimplex All-Ireland intermediate camogie final (2pm, live on RTÉ2) by winning every single game, unlike opponents Cork, but one gets the sense that it has come as just a little bit of a surprise.

With a massive squad overhaul this year, they would have been buoyed by only losing to a senior team, Antrim in the Littlewoods Ireland Division 2 League.

With Cork, Derry, Meath, Kilkenny and Wexford in Group 2, they were undoubtedly given an easier draw in the championship and capitalised, scoring 11-97 and conceding just 41 points in five games.

They showed a lot of character to edge out a hardened Meath unit by four points in the semi-final at UPMC Nowlan Park last Saturday week and here they are an hour away from leading her young side to the Jack McGrath Cup.

“We’ve had a lot of turnover of players from last year, so our main goal was to just get the minors in, try and get a structure in place and we really just took it one game at the time then from that,” explains Casserly.

Olwen Rabbitte, Clara Hickey, Ally Hesnan and Niamh McInerney were all members of Galway team that lost to Cork in the All-Ireland minor final in March.

They have added real energy and belief to the squad. Casserly is a member of the intermediate panel since 2017 and was called up to the senior squad two years later, garnering two All-Irelands as a sub.

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She, Ciara Donohue and Tara Rutledge are the only survivors from the two-point loss to Westmeath in the 2019 All-Ireland intermediate final, though the long-serving Ruttledge – an All-Star nominee as a teenager in 2010 – is ruled out through injury.

Ruttledge’s absence due to a cruciate ligament injury is a blow but Casserly is more cognisant of the personal disappointment for the Portumna player. That said, Ruttledge is likely to be very visible, and most certainly audible, on Sunday.

“She’ll be a big loss but I just feel for her, as she’s given so much to this intermediate team. She’s going to puck every ball. If you watched the match against Meath, she was up and down the sideline, cruciate or no cruciate. She pucked every ball with us and she’ll definitely do the same next Sunday and I just hope we can get it over the line for her as well.”

Losing their grip on the O’Duffy Cup had to be parked quickly, with the intermediate semi-final taking place the following day. That they did so spoke to the professionalism of the players involved and the excellence of manager, Cathal Murray, who has transformed the westerners from being viewed as consistent only in their inconsistency, to being the most regular winners of national titles (four from seven) in the Sarsfields man’s four full seasons at the helm, having taken over mid-way through 2018.

As well as the two All-Irelands and two Leagues at senior level, Murray has also steered the intermediates to two All-Ireland finals.

“It was a huge disappointment but credit to our management team. The senior girls have been so supportive. The minute that match was over, they were texting us and driving us on. We are one unit in Galway.

“Cathal has brought Galway Camogie to the next level. His professionalism, the way he carries himself and with two teams, it’s unbelievable. The talent in Galway and the competition for places in both squads is unbelievable. When you go down training, sometimes you look and you wouldn’t know whether you’re looking at the senior or intermediate team based on the set-up.

“He has every management at both trainings. He has really brought a lot to Galway Camogie.”

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