Tribes On Top

'I looked at my mother, she was in bits. I was like, 'Will you pull yourself together, woman!''

Galway’s camogie and ladies football teams are facing into two big All-Ireland final Sundays, and Sarah Dervan is delighted to lead the senior camógs.

THE OUTPOUR OF emotion afterwards showed just how much it meant. 

sarah-dervan Galway captain Sarah Dervan. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

There were tears — of joy — cheers and warm embraces all around as Galway finally banished their All-Ireland semi-final demons and booked their Croke Park decider spot three weeks ago. 

In the process, Cathal Murray’s Tribeswomen dethroned Cork, bringing the Rebels’ drive for three in-a-row to an immediate halt at the Gaelic Grounds. 

A day that Galway captain Sarah Dervan will never forget after so many years of falling at the final hurdle.

“I looked at my mother, she was in bits,” she laughs now, hoping that today will be another one of those days to remember, with Galway contesting both the senior and intermediate deciders at Croke Park. “I was like, ‘Will you pull yourself together, woman!’

“It was so tense of a game, it could have went either way up until the last minute. I think Mam actually left [the stand] three or four minutes before it was over. She couldn’t handle any more, she wasn’t able for it.

“Look, we’ve been trying to get past the semi-final stage for the last number of years and it was just brilliant to finally get there. To say, ‘We are up there, we are good enough.’”

The star defender is keen not to dwell on it too much, stressing time and time again that the job is nowhere near done. But they’ll definitely take a whole lot from that one as they prepare to face 2016 champions, and 2017 and 2018 runners-up, Kilkenny in the decider.

Look, it’s not an achievement getting to Croke Park for All-Ireland final day… it’s only an achievement if you win. 

“We have a massive task ahead of us in Kilkenny. This is their fourth final in-a-row so it’s going to be a challenge. We know we have to improve. We can’t just settle on the Cork game, we know we have areas that we need to look at and improve on.”

Self-belief was absolutely massive ahead of that hard-fought last four battle, and no doubt, the same will apply ahead of today’s big 4pm throw-in.

Some of that belief and confidence surely came from their league final win over the Cats at HQ in March, too, as Galway ended their silverware drought and lifting their first national title since 2015.

That day, they brought another powerful dominance to a conclusion, pulling the curtain down on Kilkenny’s four in-row-bid. Afterwards, Sarsfields defender Tara Kenny spoke brilliantly about being mentally stronger this year.

sarah-dervan-celebrates-with-the-trophy Dervan and her side with the league crown. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“People have looked at us sometimes nearly like we’re spoofers or bluffers but we’ve worked hard this year and we’ll keep the head down now,” she said.

And Dervan is well aware of how important it was for them to shake off those unwanted tags and show their true character on the biggest stage when it mattered most. They’ve certainly done so this year between the league final win, their All-Ireland final four success and much more.

“It’s massive,” she says. “It’s testament to our management team, what they’ve done with us and the belief system they’ve put into us as players.

They trust us, believe in us and they way they can manage and coach us is unbelievable. Look, we’re hoping we can replicate all that belief again the next day.

Cathal Murray’s name is one that comes up time and time again in conversation with the Galway camógs. He’s over both teams, with the Connacht county hoping to repeat the history of 2013, when Tony Ward steered the intermediates and seniors to All-Ireland glory on the same day. 

There’s five survivors from the 2013 senior team and six, she reckons, from the intermediates, with many coming through and forming the back bone of the 2019 charge. 11 girls now double up, and tog out for both sides.

The two panels train together under Murray, and there’s huge value in that. 

It’s great,” Dervan continues. “Our management team don’t leave any stone unturned for us. They put their heart and soul into it, and we’re feeding off that.

“I’m delighted for the intermediates. They came up against a stiff challenge in Tipperary [in the semi-final] and it was great that they started the day off on a good note for us. 

“It was a bit of a shame that we couldn’t go. I was on Twitter and listening to Galway Bay FM seeing what was going on. I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ it was saying goal and I was like, ‘Agh, for who, tell me!’

“We’ve all grown very close and we all know each other so well now. It’s just brilliant that nobody’s left out.”

For 31-year-old Dervan, camogie has always been a constant, and a way of life in her family. A four-time All-Star herself, her father Jackie won a Celtic Cross with Galway in 1980 and her brothers Cathal and Conor have both donned the maroon at senior level.

sarah-dervan-and-ann-dalton Kilkenny's Ann Dalton consoles Dervan after last year's All-Ireland semi-final. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

She’s one of the most consistent defenders in the country now, of course, but that didn’t just happen. Her breakthrough wasn’t exactly a straightforward one, she found it hard to make the cut in her early 20s.

Her college situation may not have helped in that sense. Dervan went to UL and played camogie there at first, but then things changed.

“I played first year and second year. I won an Ashbourne and we won Freshers. Then I decided…”

She stops to laugh, and then explains why she was absent for two more years.

“This is awful soppy I suppose but you know, UL take the camogie very, very seriously and they trained all Christmas and all winter.

I’m an awful home bird, I would always come home during the week and every weekend at college and I probably couldn’t handle not being able to come home, and coming back up at Christmas and that. I just said it wasn’t for me. 

“Look, UL are a fantastic camogie college and I thoroughly enjoyed my first year and second year but just like that, I decided not to play.”

With that brought opportunity, though, and more time for her beloved club, Mullagh, who mean the absolute world to Dervan.

Sure, my club are my everything,” she smiles. “Mullagh have been extremely good to me, they’ve always picked me up when I’m down. They always drive me on. They have massive belief in me.

“I’ll be always forever grateful for them no matter what. No matter what went wrong with county, they were there waiting for you, to pick you up and drive you on again… it’s brilliant.”

It’s where you start, it’s where you finish up; and Dervan will always have a special place in her heart for the club, and parish, in the south-east of the county.

laura-ward-and-sarah-dervan With intermediate captain Laura Ward. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

It’s a huge day for Galway today with two teams gunning for glory in the capital, and the fact that Tim Rabbitt’s ladies footballers are also in an All-Ireland final next Sunday just adds to it all.

With Dervan friendly with their captain, Tracey Leonard, they’ll be hoping the county can take three cups home to winter in the West.

And the buzz around the county at the minute says it all.

“It’s brilliant,” Dervan concludes. “I’d know Tracey, she’s a lovely girl and her dedication to it is just unbelievable.

“It’s massive to have the three ladies teams in Croke Park. There is a massive buzz but it’s important that we block a lot of it out and focus on these 60 minutes. They’re the most important 60 minutes of our lives so that’s all that matters at the end of the day. 

“Look, it’s a big day. It’s great to have the two teams in it [tomorrow]. It’s brilliant to get to Croke Park but you have to win in Croke Park.”

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