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'It's a great time to be playing hurling and camogie in Limerick' - Aiming to realise another All-Ireland dream

Treaty camogie captain Grace Lee is leading her side into battle at Croke Park on Sunday.

GRACE LEE WAS on Hill 16 when Limerick ended their 45-year long All-Ireland famine in 2018.

grace-lee Limerick junior camogie captain Grace Lee. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“A great day and a great weekend, I was in the middle of it all for a few days,” the Treaty camogie captain smiles looking back to that glorious August afternoon. 

This Sunday, she’ll be in the middle of it all in another sense, as she leads her side into battle in the All-Ireland Premier Junior camogie final against last year’s finalists Kerry.

A constant influence in the forward line, Newcastle West star Lee will be gracing the hallowed turf of Jones Road for the first time ever — like the majority of her team-mates — and her excitement shines through more and more as she speaks of their journey. 

In fact, an All-Ireland final will cap off a big week in the 25-year-old’s personal life. Working as a trainee solicitor with law firm Holmes O’Malley Sexton, Lee started her six-month stint in Dublin’s Blackhall Place on Monday.

“I’ll be camped outside Croke Park for the week,” she laughed at last week’s All-Ireland finals captain’s day.

With Holmes O’Malley Sexton’s offices in Limerick, Cork and Dublin, Lee found herself on Leeside through the summer. With that, came living down there and travelling up and down for training. 

“It’s been fine,” Lee, who studied in UCC and played Ashbourne there, says. “It’s been great, really. Work were brilliant and let me out early if I needed to get away. The drive probably got a bit easier as we started winning more games. I didn’t mind putting up the mileage when it looked like we might make Croker.”

It really was all about Croke Park, and that dream became a reality when Lee’s rising side powered past previously unbeaten Roscommon in the semi-final 

“We approached the Roscommon game as ‘One more hurdle to Croke Park.’ That was the goal at the beginning of the year and when the final whistle went it was a bit surreal, to be honest. It’s not always you’d make your goals.”

An extremely young team, Lee is the eldest. A bit mad at just 25, she agrees, and it really hits home when she says a few girls have school on Monday morning after the final. “They’ll surely deserve a day off,” she grins, with Michelle and Noelle Curtin among those in their Leaving Cert Year.

It was actually 17-year-old substitute Shauna D’Arcy who put the icing on their semi-final win with an absolute rocket of a goal in the last minute to send Limerick into the showpiece.

“She was only on the pitch and it was her first ball,” Lee grins. “Sinead McElligot made a brilliant catch, saw Shauna had slipped in and Shauna did the rest. It was the confidence of a 17-year-old to come in and go for it.”

That really was a fairytale moment for Limerick, who fielded both junior and senior teams at inter-county level this year. The junior set-up only came together around January, Lee explains, with St Pat’s clubman Colm O’Brien getting a group together. 

Lee, also a talented footballer with her club Monagea and senior county champion in 2018, is forever grateful for the work O’Brien put in. 

“He made phone call after phone call. He could see the potential there where the rest of us couldn’t. Only when we got together we realised there was a right good bunch of girls there.

“He was with us for the entire league campaign and then he got a new job so he was moving. Kevin Connolly from Galway took over. He was with the minors and there was a number of minors coming onto the panel so it was probably no harm with the transition.”

The transition was a smooth one, for sure, and one helped, in fact, by their Division Three final loss to a stronger, more experienced Kildare outfit. 

They took serious learnings from that day, and have went on to right the wrongs since. “It was great experience and it instilled a bit of confidence in us as well to realise, ‘We got to the Division Three final, we are no joke here coming up to the championship,’” she adds.

From there, she looks back on the tough games against Sunday’s opposition Kerry on home soil, Waterford in Bruff, and another win over Offaly.

“We didn’t sail through any game to be honest, including Roscommon in semi-final. I don’t think anyone imagined winning until Shauna’s goal. A goal can change a game in camogie.”

The relationship with the senior side, who bowed out of their own championship at the quarter-final stage, is definitely a good one.

grace-lee-with-emer-mcnally Lee facing Roscommon that day. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“It’s a help,” she continues, giving a special nod to the four players she lines with at club level. “They set the standard and we’d all like to get the call-up so we know the standard that’s expected.

“We’d all know them well, they’re great to support us too, there’s no division.”

“It’s a great time to be playing hurling in Limerick between the camogie and hurling and the public are getting behind both,” Lee beams. “People are much more aware of camogie as well so it’s been great.

“People are wishing you luck and you’d still be taken aback, it’s really being promoted in Limerick and it’s been brilliant.”

And with Roisin Ambrose, Rebecca Delee and Niamh Ryan the three dual inter-county players, the junior camóg’s will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of their All-Ireland junior football final win last September.

“We’re getting there,” she smiles.

To do so and get over the line, Lee would be alongside four of her Newcastle West clubmates, so that would make it extra special. But just getting to Croke Park in the first place is an achievement to savour for Grace Lee.

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Emma Duffy

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