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Set for a 13th campaign with Limerick and savouring a first Munster senior title

After two historic wins with club and county, Niamh Mulcahy anticipates a big summer for Limerick camogie.

MODEST IS JUST one word which springs to mind as you listen to Niamh Mulcahy speak.

Limerick's Niamh Mulcahy Mulcahy lead Limerick to their first-ever Munster senior title last month.

At the age of 27 and in her 13th year of service to the Limerick camogie side, it’s she who continually grabs the headlines and receives the credit, mainly because of her prolific scoring.

She’s not the biggest fan of the limelight though, and one to play the attention down.

Two weeks ago, Mulcahy captained the Shannonsiders to their first-ever Munster senior title as they overcame provincial kingpins Cork.

The Ahane clubwoman acknowledges the achievement, of course, but there’s a long summer of action to be navigated yet.

“It was a great day for Limerick camogie in general,” she smiles. “The county has never won any sort of a senior title so to be the first team to do it was special.

“There can only ever be the first team once so it was great to be part of it. The gap between Munster championship, that final and the All-Ireland championship is so short though.

“It was weird that day because you’re coming off the field like ‘Championship, the main part of the year hasn’t even started yet and we’re here thrilled.

“We enjoyed it that night, but we were back to training the Tuesday and it was kind of forgotten about.

“It was probably something the panel as a whole will maybe dwell on come the end of the season, whenever that may be. The rest of the county is still buzzing. All teams are in their own little bubble, and we’re no different so it’s all guns blazing now for Offaly next week.”

On the day, Mulcahy scored 0-11 of her side’s 1-13 and was subsequently named Player of the Match.

Yet again, she acknowledges the achievement and the accolade, but this time, she is much more apprehensive to accept the praise.

“I was pretty much mortified to be named Player of the Match because I was just hitting frees. That’s my job as a free-taker.

“The reason we won that match was because we kept a clean sheet, and we kept a clean sheet because all the backs did their job, and even further out the field at midfield.

“I feel sorry for the backs in general because it always seems to be the forwards that tend to get all the credit.

“You see it especially in camogie. Most of the time after a match, it’s the one report from all the games that filters out and all anyone wants to know is who scored whatever.”

Her 25-year-old sister Judith lines out in the half-back line, while the third of the sisters, Claire has also fulfilled her inter-county duty, but hung up her boots two years ago.

Niamh Mulcahy Limerick are in a group with Offaly, Cork, Wexford and Tipperary. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Not only has it been a successful period on the Limerick front, the Mulcahy sisters also steered Ahane to their maiden senior title in their lifetime at the start of May.

“Ahane hadn’t won anything since I think the 70s,” she continues. “We had been in quite a few league and county finals recently so we were thrilled to win that finally.

“Winning with the club, it’s that bit different. It’s special in different ways when you’re playing with girls that you’ve grown up with and you’ve played from U10 up with.

Looking back through the years, Mulcahy first linked in with the senior inter-county team at the tender age of 15.

Also a talented soccer player, she represented Ireland at underage level and at the World Student Games, but camogie was always closest to her heart.

She’s been a mainstay in the set-up ever since that first season — in which they reached the All-Ireland semi-final but were ‘annihilated’ by Cork — and has donned the green jersey for every single championship campaign that followed.

“I’m on the panel 13 years, but if I go to someone saying ‘I’m 27 and playing county,’ it’s just like ‘Oh you still have plenty left.’

“Age in camogie, I think is really only a number. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

“I suppose it crosses your mind [to take a break], maybe after a bad loss or when you’re not enjoying the winter training and things. But I guess, you’re going to be retired long enough that you kind of want to have no regrets.

“If I didn’t play this year and were looking on at a Limerick team that won a Munster final, you’d be regretting your decision big time. I’ll play for as long as I’m enjoying it and for as long as someone wants to pick me on a panel.”

A primary school teacher in Caherline, she thanks her job for freeing up valuable time, and allowing her to dedicate her spare hours to mastering her trade on the training pitch.

“I can finish school at 3 o’clock and I can go down to the field with a bag of 50 sliotars. I can have a session done and be home and  showered and have the dinner eaten by the time other girls are coming out of work.”

Mulcahy’s free-taking is her trademark, but something she doesn’t like to dwell on too much.

The Munster Player of the Year in 2016 finished second top scorer in that All-Ireland championship with an impressive haul of 2-49.

Again, her textbook free-taking is something she plays down when it’s brought up.

“I wouldn’t even say that I have a style. Even in school now, if they ask you to take frees, it’s nearly embarrassing standing up. What I do mightn’t necessarily be the right way.

“I’d be quite an anxious person and a worrier in general. And I suppose, you get games where they go brilliant and you’re trying to think, ‘What did I do there?’ And then you get games and they don’t go so well.

“I think it’s a confidence thing and it’s about backing yourself and I guess, knowing that management and the players around you have confidence in you, gives you more confidence than you’d have in yourself anyway.”

This year is shaping up to be one of the most exciting All-Ireland championships in years.

Under the watchful guidance of Anne Downey, Kilkenny ended their drought, and Cork’s dream of three-in-a-row as they ran to glory in Croke Park last September.

As Mulcahy puts it, before last year it was a case of ‘When are Kilkenny going to win?’ It’s a question of when, not if.’

This year, she feels that it will be a much different story. As a player who’s directly witnessed the game evolve and become much more competitive, she’s confident in the ‘chasing pack’ closing the gap that Cork and Kilkenny widened last time out.

Aisling Thompson and Niamh Mulcahy Niamh Mulcahy in action against Ashling Thompson. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

She considers the top four as the latter two, tailed closely by Galway and Wexford.

“I think this year’s championship is probably going to be the most open in previous years. I actually can’t remember the last time a team outside the top four even contested a semi-final.

“I think what you’ll see in the two groups this year in the All-Ireland championship is probably that you won’t have teams maybe going unbeaten, that everyone will beat everyone.

“It won’t be as clear cut as winning two matches and qualifying. In both groups it’ll probably take maybe three wins to guarantee maybe even third spot in the group.

“At the moment you’re probably looking at Cork Kilkenny, Galway Wexford and then the chasing pack — any of them would fancy beating any of the other teams on a given day. It does make for a very exciting championship this year.

“It’s nearly like the ladies football. People from the outside are seeing the same four teams, but they’re not seeing how close the rest of the pack are.

“This is the year, I would say definitely one if not two teams are going to make that jump and make semi-finals, that haven’t been there in a long time.

That’s a long way down the line yet though.

Mulcahy leads her side out against last year’s quarter finalists in their opening encounter on 10 June.

She’s relishing the challenge, and will draw huge confidence from their Munster glory. But of course, Mulcahy remains grounded and is wary of the Faithful county, as always.

“I think the main thing we’re taking from this [Munster title win] is even in matches now when it matters, we know that on a given day we can beat any of the teams in the country.

“I’d say we have two similar enough styles. Offaly tend to have slow starts to the league, but then come championship, they have a lot of really good hurlers and skilful players that like the hard ground and the fine weather.

“I know there’d be a cliché but I think it’s very much a 50/50 game.”

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