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'Nobody wants to see a free-taking competition as a game' - Galway captain the latest to call for change

Tribes defender Sarah Dervan on the need for change in camogie, and her side’s recent league final win.

LAST OCTOBER, DUBLIN camogie star Eve O’Brien delivered a passionate argument for change.

Sarah Dervan celebrates with the trophy Galway captain Sarah Dervan celebrates her side's recent league win with team-mates. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“The players are crying out but they don’t listen,” she pointed out as she spoke candidly and got plenty off her chest. The call for change, and fast, was front and centre as she hit out at the archaic rules and other issues within the sport, and Camogie Association in general.

Let’s put it straight: players’ physicality has outgrown the rule book; the game has changed and evolved over the years.

There’s huge demand for shouldering to be introduced, obsolete rules like the handpass goal, for one, needs to be axed and as for the skorts… they have to go.

O’Brien was right — the players really were crying out for change. Articles and tweets in agreement were shared time and time again by club and inter-county camogie players across the length and breadth of the country.  

Her captain Laura Twomey later echoed her team-mate’s calls to The42while Cork star and four-time All-Ireland winner Amy O’Connor also went to town.

The 2018 All-Ireland final between the Rebels and Kilkenny really was the tipping point, it seems, a contest marred by the stop-start nature of the game and amount of frees awarded on the sport’s showpiece day.

It’s interesting now to get the thoughts of a player who was involved in this year’s league final. The headlines that followed, thankfully, were all about the positive game itself, Galway’s massive win and how they stopped Kilkenny’s four-in-a-row bid.

Unlike last year’s championship decider.

“That takes from the sport like,” Galway captain Sarah Dervan tells The42 at the 2019 Kellogg’s GAA Cul Camps Campaign Launch in Croke Park.

“Cork had won and there was no talk of brilliance in the game or anything like that because it was dictated so much by frees. It just didn’t showcase the game to its ability.

“Thankfully the [2019] league final was a bit more free-flowing. I think it’s important that we carry that into championship now.”

Sarah Dervan, Steven Wade and Sinead Ahearn Sarah Dervan and Dublin captain Sinéad Aherne launched the 2019 Kellogg's GAA Cul Camps yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There was some good news at Congress last week as Rule 20.4. re: introduction of ability to trial playing rules passed with a majority of 67%, so change could be on the way sooner rather than later. The current rules themselves though, what does she think?

“I suppose the league final this year was a lot more free-flowing than it has been,” she sidetracks slightly, offering some repetition as she gathers her thoughts.

“I just think women, because of all the strength and conditioning that we’re doing now, we’re stronger and we’re physical and want to be able to showcase what we have. We have some exceptional players out there and when there’s tendency to be stop-starty it’s restricting the girls and it becomes a free-taking competition.

“I suppose it’s a bit of give and take on both side of things. We need to understand what we’re able to do and not able to do. The referees probably need to let it run.”

So yes, she’s an advocate for allowing a more physical game basically? Shouldering in? 

“Yeah,” she laughs nervously.

Sure everyone is.

“Nobody wants to see a free-taking competition as a game,” Dervan agrees. “I find it restricts players from showcasing their ability.

“It’s important that we do let them play – obviously, I know within rules. But our game will grow in confidence and our game will grow in support and everything if these girls are allowed showcase what they have.

“Some of them are up there with some of the best hurlers in the country, I would say.”

Well, one thing’s for sure: Galway really did show their class in the league final. Cathal Murray’s Tribeswomen turned on the style to claim their first national title since 2015, sounding a statement of intent in doing so as they survived a strong Kilkenny fightback.

“It’s brilliant,” she smiles. “The only thing is we know it’s only league like, there’s a bigger stage ahead. We’ll have to just take confidence from the game and the mindset that we can win against Kilkenny.

“The fact that we had it in Croke Park was massive. It was massive for us, and for women in sport that we got with the football and the hurling. It was just brilliant to get out there and show what we have.

Sarah Dervan and Ann Dalton Being consoled by Ann Dalton last year. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“There’s some very young girls there that had never played in Croke Park so it’s nice for them to get a run out and experience it — and to get up the steps of the Hogan for the league was a great achievement.”

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She most definitely won’t get too carried away though. 11 weeks until the start of championship, she reminds me, and a very different Cats outfit will stand in their way that day.

The fact that they beat one of the big two — after losing to Ann Downey’s charges three times last year — on a landmark day is hugely encouraging though. The gap is closing at the top table.

“It gives you confidence,” Dervan continues. “It makes you kind of believe in yourself a bit more. It’s a mindset thing, which is very powerful. It’s great for the girls to know that we can do this.

“To take that into championship now is our main focus now, keep the buzz going in the camp and keep working hard.”

Plenty has sparked that buzz over the past few years, it must be noted. ‘Small improvements’ across the board have been made. Cathal Murray and his management team have been ‘massive’.

“It’s clear that they leave no stone unturned,” the 31-year-old adds. “They put us first. They demand the best for us and we get the best. and even looking to inspiration from elsewhere has driven them on.”

Not only internal matters, but looking to inspiration from elsewhere has driven them on.

Galway’s Liam MacCarthy lift in 2017 was definitely influential, for one. Mícheál Donoghue’s side ended 29 years of hurt by sealing the All-Ireland crown with a final win over Waterford.

“When you see the lads winning… it was huge for the county at the time because they hadn’t won in so long. It gave everybody a lift. They had gone a good 20 years without winning it so we took it to ourselves.

“We were there, we won it in 2013, we haven’t really… we competed again in 2015, we lost that and the lads won then.

David Burke lifts the trophy David Burke lifting the crown in 2017. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We kind of said, ‘You know what? If we get our act together, we’re there or thereabouts’. Anything’s possible when you put the head down and you work hard.”

They appear to have cleared an important hurdle now, but one must revisit those times briefly to understand just how important this positive run is for Galway camogie.

As Sarsfields defender Tara Kenny said after the league final, they’ve often been looked at as “spoofers or bluffers,” and Dervan nods when it comes up in conversation.

“We always fell at the last hurdles,” she explains. “We always fell at the semi-final and it was like, ‘Oh, it’s the same old Galway.’

“That’s why it was important for us to get that win: to know that we can break through that barrier and say, ‘Look, this is a different Galway’. Confident and not going to fail at the final hurdle.”

Not only is she an inspiring figure and leader on the field at full-back, Dervan is a team leader with Ballybrit-based medical technology company, Medtronic, back home.

Balancing it all is tough at times, but her hurling-mad family most definitely help her through the good times and bad times.

“You might be cranky in the mornings or after a match,” she laughs, “or be in bad form after losing or something but having the support structure around you helps keep you going and picks you up.”

All for the love of the game — which is all hurling in her end of the county.

“I love it,” the Mullagh star concludes. “I play it because I love it, I continue to play it because I love it and it brings out the best in me.

“I’m lucky that my family go to all my games. My parents are just fanatics, they’ll go down to Waterford for a challenge match to see it. It’s huge.

“When you have your family and we’re all into it, it’s a way of life.”

That it sure is.

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Emma Duffy

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