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'It's never too late' - captaining Kilkenny in an All-Ireland final at 31 after eight years out of camogie

Lucinda Gahan is skippering the Cats for their Croke Park showdown with Galway on Saturday night.

KILKENNY CAPTAIN LUCINDA Gahan had some concerns about her age when she went back to play camogie. 

lucinda-gahan Kilkenny captain Lucinda Gahahn. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As an underage player, she enjoyed plenty of success in Cats colours. She captained a minor side to All-Ireland glory in 2005 and added further titles to her cabinet in 2006 and 2007.

Another All-Ireland triumph followed in 2008, this time with the Kilkenny intermediates. She was part of the senior set-up from the age of 16, at a time when former Kilkenny manager Ann Downey was at the helm.

But Gahan wasn’t around for Kilkenny’s All-Ireland victory in 2016, their first senior crown in 22 years. By that stage, she had made her way to foreign shores with a degree in psychiatric nursing, taking in trips to Cardiff, and Sydney before returning to Ireland in 2018.

It was a time of economic recession and more opportunities were available abroad. 

There was little camogie activity for her to tap into on her travels, although she did take up Gaelic football and marathon running.

Now at 31, she’s captaining her county into an All-Ireland decider, an honour which has well surpassed her expectations.

“I just can’t believe I’m here as captain of the Kilkenny senior camogie team,” she says.

“It’s what you dream of when you are a young girl. You are brought up playing camogie, all you do is play camogie. At that age and you see the senior players, that’s your goal.

“When I was 20, 21, when I went away, I never would have imagined that I would be back at this level.

I’m 31 now and you question when you come back, ‘Oh, I’m too old to come back.’ You never are. And, there’s still a lot to achieve at that age, it’s never too late.

“Even just settling back in again, getting to know people again, all the social inclusion. It’s good for your mental health, physical health – there’s just so many benefits.

“It’s one of the main sports in Ireland, and look it’s great for youngsters. I remember at that age, it’s all I knew and all I played. Just the team spirit as well, so much happiness comes from it.”

In the absence of camogie, running offered Gahan a new outlet to set goals for herself. The focus wasn’t about working herself up to a race-winning speed, but more about pushing her own physical limits.

In that spirit, she boxed off the London marathon during during that period. But it was a sport she did mainly for fun. It left her yearning for the competitive edge she got from camogie.

“I probably didn’t play for around seven or eight years,” says the Dicksboro player whose first game back in competitive camogie was a club championship game last year.

“I was really nervous coming back to the club playing my first game. Was I going to be able to play as well as before? It made me more determined.

“I trained hard, to keep up with the fitness levels. The women are so much stronger, faster now. I enjoy it and I have no regrets.

“We played Thomastown, they are a very strong team. I just went out and did my best, and was relieved at the end that I was still able to play okay. It does make you more determined.

“You feel like you have a lot to prove having been at this level years ago at underage.”

Kilkenny are preparing for their fifth consecutive All-Ireland final appearance this weekend, and their seventh in all since 2013. It’s also their second year-in-a-row to face Galway in the decider having lost out to the Tribeswomen in a thrilling battle last year.

The stats around this game — and indeed Kilkenny’s bad luck in finals — have been produced many times already. They have a lot of hurt in the locker.

Gahan may be a relatively new arrival to the dressing-room but she absorbs the pain of those losses along with her team-mates.

No-one’s going to forget about the last few years, especially the girls that are in there this year who went through all that. They’re not going to forget it. They want an All-Ireland title again. 2016 is still a few years ago, we want to get more out of it.

“Just grateful that we’ve come so far because there was a lot of uncertainty throughout the year. We’ve had to stay prepared. We didn’t know when we’d be back. I think we’ve got used to no crowds in the stand.

“The focus for us is on the game and everyone is trying their best to make it as normal as possible this year so that’s good.”

kilkenny-players-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Kilkenny players celebrate at the full-time whistle after their semi-final win over Cork. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

In the run-up to the final, Kilkenny created a Go Fund Me page in an effort to help with the financial pressures that come with All-Ireland preparations.

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Manager Brian Dowling recently spoke to RTÉ about the thinking behind the page, saying that it is an alternative fundraising idea to replace conventional practices that are unavailable to them due to Covid-19.

Their target was €5,000, but at the time of writing, the page had over €12,000 in donations. Gahan concedes that it’s a bit frustrating for an inter-county team to still be in need  of such fundraising measures, but it is also grateful for the goodwill they’ve received.

“It is a lot of money,” she says. “I suppose at the start of the year, back in January, we did our own bit of fundraising which a lot of people have supported but it is amazing when you are in need. It’s mind-blowing how many people out there are in support of camogie and will back you up.

“I suppose we’re so lucky that people are so supportive in that sense. But I remember years ago playing, we didn’t have that support then. It was much harder.

Kilkenny’s place in this year’s final was hard-earned. Against their old rivals Cork, they rallied back from a six-point deficit in the opening eight minutes to grind out a narrow win.

The patient manner of their comeback typified the strength of this side’s character, going some 21 minutes without a score in the second half as they held firm against wave after wave of attacks from Cork.

Gahan was among the subs for that compelling encounter in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last month, having recently shaken off the effects of a hand injury.

After missing out on the glory of 2016, she wants to be the one walking up the Hogan Stand steps on Saturday night to lift the O’Duffy Cup. 

The ultimate reward to cap off her second coming in camogie.

“We always believed we could get past them but it was a big boost. In the league we didn’t have everyone at that stage and they beat us by a good bit. We know how hard we are training and we believed we could get there.

“There is strong competition for places with a large panel there. It’s disappointing not to have played. I had an injury, I broke my hand back in January, but that’s fine now.

All this hard work, this is what you do it for. You want to get somewhere, you don’t want to just get knocked out and go back there next year. You want to get all the way to the end.

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