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'I hit a low point. It’s mad looking back, I still find it hard to believe I have an All-Star'

Galway defender Rebecca Hennelly shares her remarkable story of triumph over adversity.

“IT’S BEEN AN incredible journey,” Rebecca Hennelly smiles at the launch of the 2017 Liberty Insurance Camogie All-Star tour in Croke Park.

Rebecca Hennelly Rebecca Hennelly. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The following week, the Galway defender and 2016 All-Star along with other 2016 and 2017 winners and nominees would set off for Madrid on the first-ever tour.

The historic trip came as the perfect way to cap a remarkable rise back from the brink for the Ardrahan star. The nightmare memories of two devastating cruciate injuries finally put to bed, and ultimately where she wants to be; among the best of the best.

***

Growing up, camogie was everything.

From a young age, Hennelly was pin-pointed as a huge prospect. There was something about her; natural ability, physicality, work-rate and desire to win; she had it all.

No time had passed before she was donning the maroon jersey week, in week out and making waves as she rocketed through the underage ranks.

By the time she hit U16 level, she was Galway’s leading light. In 2010 the Tribeswomen claimed an U16 and minor All-Ireland double, and Hennelly starred for both sides.

Her efforts weren’t going unnoticed on the senior scene, and was rewarded by Noel Finn with an All-Ireland championship debut at the age of just 17.

But before that day came, disaster struck.

A few evenings before the big day, she packed her bag and headed down to the local pitch for a puck-around. It was something she often did, a ritual if you like.

But on this occasion, the ritual turned to unprecedented heartbreak as her knee buckled and she tore her cruciate ligament.

“It was extremely difficult,” she recalls.

“I was very young and I didn’t know much about it. I didn’t really know anyone who had done it that time, so I didn’t really do enough work on it.”

As soon as she saw herself fit enough, she threw herself back into camogie. She needed to get back to the level she was at.

“I was going ok,” she continues.

By going ok, she means that she was a key player the Galway team who won the All-Ireland intermediate final 2013.

Rebecca Hennelly celebrates scoring Hennelly in action in the 2013 All-Ireland intermediate final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

She also featured in 2012, but Galway fell at the final hurdle.

2013 was the same year that the seniors won their second All-Ireland title making for a famous senior and intermdiate double. That’s where Hennelly wanted to be. With the seniors, among the best of the best.

And her chance came in 2014. That senior championship bow she had waited so long for finally came around.

She started in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Clare that August and impressed, retaining her place for the semi-final. But Kilkenny progressed instead.

Although the inter-county year was over, Hennelly was happy that she was very nearly ‘back to herself’.

But just as the pieces as the puzzle seemed to be coming together nicely, she was knocked right back to the nightmare she had previously lived.

She was struck down by the dreaded cruciate injury once again, this time coming during club championship. Same side, she says, as she looks down to her right knee.

At that point, most people would pack it in. But not Hennelly. There was something about her.

“I hit a low point. But instead of hanging my head I said I’d give it a good crack this time.”

Hindsight is a great thing. As she talks about her comeback following her first cruciate blow, she admits that she hadn’t fully recovered.

“It was never right,” she says. “I was always injured, there was always something wrong with me.

“I didn’t do the work, I didn’t do enough strength and conditioning the first time.”

She was fully aware that that’s why it went again. But she was also fully aware of what she had to do differently this time around.

Rebecca Hennelly Hennelly at the launch of the 2017 All-Star tour. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I just said ‘Alright, I have get it good this time’,” she continues.

“I absolutely lived in the gym for a solid year. I hardly went out. I avoided everything. I came back fitter, leaner, and stronger than ever.

***

Every cloud has a silver lining, we say. And there’s no finer example than Hennelly’s story and admirable rise from the brink to back up that saying.

Not only did the rehabilitation the second time around help her physically, it also aided her mentally. Not only did it transform her body, it transformed her life.

It set her on a new career path, exploring the benefits of strength and conditioning further and further.

A year ago she opened her own gym — Powerhouse Gym — setting up at the back of her house originally, but there’s a relocation in the pipeline.

“We’re actually moving into a bigger spot now in the next few weeks,” she smiles.

“Looking forward to it. It’s going great. It’s been a success.”

 ***

Hennelly would much rather talk about business on the field however.

Upon her return to the Galway fold, she well and truly came back with a bang. Fitter, leaner, stronger and better than ever, as she said.

For the first time, she started for the full year with the Tribeswomen and was duly rewarded with a first All-Star accolade.

“It is an incredible journey,” she agrees.

Rebecca Hennelly Hennelly receiving her Al-Star in 2016. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It’s mad looking back, and I still find it hard to believe I have an All-Star. It’s a massive achievement, but it’s hard to believe.

“It’s sitting at home in the press and I’m looking at it thinking, ‘I’d love a couple more to be there’, but the main thing is you want a couple of All-Irelands on the starting team.

“So hopefully, I’ll get a few of them first.”

The All-Star award came at the end of a good 2016 on an individual, she says, but one which was ended at the All-Ireland semi-final stage by eventual champions Kilkenny.

This year, their championship exit came in the exact same circumstances. A semi-final defeat to Cork, who went on to lift the O’Duffy Cup.

“We came up short again,” she continues. “We didn’t have a great year.

“We were going okay throughout, but got caught then in the semi-final again. Cork were the better team on the day.

“It is a massive disappointment. Starting off the year, you want to be in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, and you want to win.

“Huge disappointment losing again in a semi-final, but sure we’ll crack it again in January and see how far we go.”

***

At the time of our conversation, the excitement was well and truly building for the All-Star tour and Hennelly was relishing the opportunity to be there.

“I couldn’t believe it when I got the email,” she grins. “I was like, ‘Jesus, this is unreal’.

“It is massive.”

It was huge for the game, and proved to be a roaring success in the end with the 2016 team taking the bragging rights following the exhibition match.

It’s another achievement ticked off the list but as she mentioned previously, winning a senior All-Ireland title is the ultimate goal.

Michael Donoghue celebrates with Jonathan Glynn Donoghue and Hennelly's clubmate Jonathan Glynn celebrate their All-Ireland win. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

This year, Mícheál Donoghue’s men ended 29 years of hurt as they reached the Holy Grail and lifted the Liam McCarthy Cup.

Hennelly and a few of the other Galway camógs were in Croke Park together for that fateful day and victory over Waterford.

“We were so happy, but still so low ourselves from not being successful. It has driven us on now.”

And with her own Adrahan clubmate Jonny Glynn commuting from New York to play his part in the success, it was made all the more special.

“It was brilliant for the club. It brings unbelievable excitement,” she says.

“Whenever he comes home, the kids are just going mad, whenever they see him down on the pitch. It’s brilliant.”

She continues: “The kids now in Galway jerseys, they don’t take them off.

“It’s massive. I’d say the hurlers now don’t get a minute’s peace, to be honest. It’s bringing a massive buzz.

“All the camogie players are fairly jealous this year now. Feeling pretty useless! Hopefully we’ll get up there next year, and see what happens.

“I’m looking forward to getting back in training now again, and just getting things right.”

Tara Kenny, Rebecca Hennelly, Sarah Dervan, Ailish O'Reilly and Aoife Donohue with manager Ann Downey after the game Hennelly with Tara Kenny, Sarah Dervan, Ailish O'Reilly and Aoife Donohue and Ann Downey after the game in Madrid. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

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