'It was the best thing I ever did. When I came back, I just appreciated it more'

Kilkenny joint captain Meighan Farrell is back and looking to make it third time lucky in the All-Ireland senior camogie final.

meighan-farrell Kilkenny co-captain Meighan Farrell. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IT WAS SOMETHING Meighan Farrell always wanted to do. 

And when the opportunity came around, it was one she grabbed with both hands. 

Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam. A six-week trip with five friends, a break from the continuous, intense, year-long cycle of camogie back home in Kilkenny. It really is a way of life for the Farrells of Thomastown, after all.

“It was the best thing I ever did,” she smiles. 

“I would have always loved to go on a J1 but I never could with the camogie. You can’t really go in the middle of summer. This was just as good. It was the longest I’ve ever been away from camogie, to be honest.”

She’s 24 now, but for as long as she can remember her entire life has been about club and county, county and club. Chasing the All-Ireland dream with Kilkenny and with Thomastown means it’s pretty much non-stop. One year just rolls into the next.

Of course, the chase is most definitely back on with Farrell and her Cats team-mates hoping it’s a case of third time lucky in pursuit of the O’Duffy Cup on Sunday. 

But amidst all the hype of Croke Park, of their shot at redemption, of their opponents Galway, it’s nice to just look at life away from the four white lines.

The travelling; what was the highlight?

She pauses.

But then a smile comes to her face as she looks back to April and May of this year.

“I’d say Cambodia was probably my favourite place,” she tells The42. “Thailand was more touristy, Vietnam was unreal but Cambodia was just so behind the times.

miriam-walshe-and-meighan-farrell-with-hannah-looney Facing Cork in last year's final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Cambodia had like dirt roads and stuff. We couldn’t believe it. Just so different to what we have over here. Thailand is after coming on a lot more. It was a really good experience.”

What about the people? Many say they’re the friendliest you’ll meet. And Farrell can vouch for that.

“Oh my God, they’re so good. The Vietnamese were so sarcastic, always taking the piss out of you. They were real helpful, it was good. They’re really about the community so that was nice.”

Sounds pretty familiar. 

The trip was planned so Farrell wouldn’t miss a whole pile of camogie; the very end of March until the second week of May. But with the date of the Division 1 league final moved so it could be played as a Croke Park double-header, Farrell’s perfect plan fell apart.

Everything was booked and organised, so she had to stick with the original schedule and obviously miss the league decider showdown against Galway.

“Disaster,” she frowns. “I literally just missed it.”

So that was a pretty different experience — not only missing out, but being away from the entire set-up — one would imagine? Very much so.

“I was just sitting over in a hotel in Cambodia watching it,” she recalls. “It was streaming on the phone, I had the girls watching it with me and we were all just there shouting at the phone.”

While there, she kept the fitness up. Farrell knew she couldn’t let the good work of a tough, tough winter go to waste. Ann Downey and her management team gave her bits and pieces to do, but they weren’t down her throat by any means.

“They wanted me to enjoy it as well,” she nods. “I was doing a few sessions on the beach, a different setting but it was still tough.”

The last few years have been incredibly taxing. From the elation of ending a 22-year wait for All-Ireland glory in 2016 to the gut-wrenching lows of the last two Septembers and those late, heart-breaking one-point defeats to Cork at the death, the Cats have been through the mill.

the-kilkenny-team-dejected Dejection after last year's final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

It’s mentally and physically draining, and with so much time, effort and sacrifices involved at club and county level, the time away from it all was a blessing for Farrell.

Self-admittedly, it got to a stage where she was just going through the motions.

“You never want to be going training like that,” she continues. “You want to be going to training wanting to run yourself into the ground. When I came back I kinda had a bit more appreciation for everything. 

“I just couldn’t stop thinking about camogie when I was coming home. Before I was coming back, I was like, ‘Jesus, I need to get back now’. Then when I came back, I just appreciated it a bit more.”

Not only did it help her camogie, it gave her a helping hand in her academic and professional life. A Childcare Studies graduate, Farrell is working away in a hotel, not sure what path to follow, but travelling showed her that teaching may be the way to go.

Coming back into the Kilkenny fold then, they were looking to right the wrongs after that league final defeat to the Tribeswomen, and subsequent end to their bid for four-in-a-row.

Championship was just around the corner, so it was all go.

“It was so hard to get back in, like. At training, everyone was just passing you out. I was like, ‘Why did I go?’” she laughs. “No, in fairness, the trainers helped me so much. They didn’t need to be doing separate stuff but they did.

“Only for them.”

The management team get a hell of a lot of credit, and rightly so. 

Farrell points to them when she’s asked about coming back after the past two gutting September defeats. Bouncing back after the lows hasn’t been easy, but they’ve certainly soothed the pain and helped the team move on this year.

“Maybe last year we were thinking about our losses more so,” she explains. “This year, we’re just concentrating on the match ahead of us.

“They’ve kind of taught us this year to forget about any other year. It’s done. They would drive you on anyway. When you lose a match, you always have that with you, but they’re after showing us that it really doesn’t matter about last year. 

meighan-farrell-and-stacey-quirke-celebrate Celebrating the All-Ireland final win in 2016. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“It’s instilled in all the players now and nobody’s concentrating on anything else only the next match. The lads that have come in this year, they’ve really driven that into us, that mentality that it’s about what’s in front of you, not the past.” 

The tough winter of training they put down is really paying dividends, and it’s clear to see that the players are really enjoying their camogie at this stage of the races. 

And enjoyment; that’s what it’s all about after all, despite the fact that so many lose sight of it. 

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She says: “It’s hard to enjoy something that is so serious. It’s gone so serious, you kind of forget about enjoying it. But now management are teaching us to actually remember that it’s just a match at the end of the day.

“You really do need to enjoy it because that’s when you play your best hurling. When you’re concentrating on a certain aspect of something, you just get a bit flustered and you don’t really get to perform.

“But everybody just goes out and gives it their all now. We’re all working really well together and kind of gelling so it’s really working this year. We’re hoping that we get over the line.”

The Farrells, of course, are synonymous with Kilkenny camogie. It’s always been the three sisters, Meighan, Shelly and Anna, flying the flag. Then, their younger sister Eimear lines out with the club, as does their older brother, JonJo, who has also played for Brian Cody’s hurlers.

As she says herself, “At home it’s just about camogie and hurling all the time. That never really stops. There’s something always happening.”

This year brought a change, though, with Shelly living in Australia. She’s loving it, Meighan assures, disappointed she couldn’t factor in a visit on her own big adventure.

The sisters always counted themselves lucky to have the three of them going training together, and it perhaps hit Anna the hardest while the other two were away. 

Even at that, they mightn’t realise just how weird it really is until the tomorrow morning, which is always guaranteed to be a manic one in the Farrell household.

“It’ll be strange,” Meighan agrees. “But you know, after all year, you’re kind of used to it now so it’s grand. It would be nice to have her [Shelly] there again but she’s having a great time where she is. I’d say she won’t really mind.”

sarah-dervan-and-meighan-farrell With Galway captain Sarah Dervan. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

She may though, when she sees Croke Park in all its glory on the TV Down Under, as her band of sisters take to the hallowed turf 60 minutes away from All-Ireland glory once again. 

A different final pairing to the past few years, but a rivalry that definitely came to the fore in 2019 after Galway’s league final win and Kilkenny’s revenge victory 11 weeks later in their championship opener, it’s a reunion Meighan is relishing. 

“We’ve always had a battle with Galway,” she grins. “It’s always been there. It’s tit for tat, you never know who’s going to come out on top but it’s always a good free-flowing match. We always get to hurl against each other, so we’re excited.”

With a slightly somber mood in the county after the hurlers’ decider loss to Tipperary, Farrell is hoping her side can lift things. 

She one of the 85,000 at HQ a few weeks back and praises her county for doing so well this year, but realises the spotlight is now on her side.

Over to ye, so. 

“Hopefully, to bring something back to Kilkenny anyway would be great.”

That, it would.

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