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'I'd be happier if we won it for him' - seeking glory for Galway club with two-time All-Ireland winner Dad

Sarsfields are looking to dethrone the All-Ireland champions Slaughtneil in the senior camogie club decider.

THE SARSFIELDS CAMÓGS are getting plenty of good luck messages as they prepare for the senior All-Ireland club final, but there’s an undercurrent of expectation in those greetings.

niamh-mcgrath Sarsfield midfielder Niamh McGrath. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Everyone’s like ‘ye better do it now,” Sarsfields midfielder Niamh McGrath jokes.

It’s all well-meaning of course and there’s plenty of local support for the Galway champions who are hoping to dethrone the All-Ireland four-in-a-row contenders Slaughtneil.

But this is Sarsfields’ third All-Ireland final appearance since 2017. Their two previous failed attempts came against the same opposition, and there’s an eagerness among the locals for them to make the breakthrough.

The bunting is certainly all in place to wish the team well but the atmosphere is slightly diluted compared to the build-up for the 2017 and 2018 deciders. 

“They’re so enthusiastic in Sarsfields because it’s one of those clubs where there’s the exact same support for hurling and camogie,” McGrath begins when speaking to The42.

“I’ve noticed in Galway that they get such crowds to the camogie matches, it’s crazy.

I remember against Mullagh in 2017, they had to delay the match by 10 minutes, there was such a crowd. So many people go to the camogie matches in Galway.

“But they treat the camogie and hurling the exact same in Sarsfields, it’s great. I live in Dublin but I’m home at the weekends and people would come up to you and it’s all good-natured. They all really want to see us going well.

“It’s not as excited and buzzed as it was the last two times but definitely the bunting and all that is up.”

This Sarsfields outfit is backboned by McGrath’s family. She’s joined by almost every member of the household on the panel, while her mother Geraldine — a former Ireland hockey international — is an ardent supporter.

orlaith-mcgrath Orlaith McGrath clears the ball for Sarsfield in their All-Ireland semi-final win over St Vincent's. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

There will be four McGrath sisters on the Sarsfields team that will line out against Slaughtneil in Croke Park. Niamh will be joined by Clodagh, Orlaith and Siobhán when they take to the field on Sunday 1 March.

There’s also water girl roles for Ciara (14) and Laoise (12), who Niamh refers to as “the small ones” in the McGrath bunch,

To complete the family portrait, their father, and two-time Galway All-Ireland winner, Michael, is their manager. 

As the eldest of six daughters who all grew up haring around with hurls, McGrath has never known any other way to live. And that’s the response she proffers when each unique aspect of this family affair is put to her.

Her Dad, who carries the famous nickname ‘Hopper,’ has been her coach since she was eight, and was wearing the bainisteoir bib for Sarsfields’ 2017 and 2018 All-Ireland final defeats.

“Ah sure I know no different,” McGrath smiles as she talks about her long-term mentor from the homestead who is hoping to guide his charges to All-Ireland glory at the third time of asking.

Questions about being her father’s daughter have always followed McGrath, but the ongoing intrigue doesn’t bother her. It’s to be expected, she says.

She has seen clips of his playing days in a Galway jersey as well as some of his Sarsfields games which he played alongside fellow Tribesman hero Joe Cooney, whose daughter Maria is also on the Sarsfields camogie team.

McGrath’s father never over-burdened her with his legacy in Galway hurling, nor does he lay it on too thickly when he’s assessing her performances.

“He’s never really been on about it too much,” she says about his modesty.

“You just know he played hurling and his love of the game is all he’s really on about. It’s not like he does be harping on about playing himself. He’d just be passing on bits of information and knowledge and whatever he can help you out with.

michael-mcgrath-celebrates-after-the-game Galway hurling legend and Sarsfield boss Michael 'Hopper' McGrath. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I really enjoy it because he doesn’t really bring it home too much. We talk about it anyway and have the post-match analysis and stuff like that.

I’d be happier if we won it for him than myself. I obviously would love to win myself but I think it would mean more for the likes of him who have done so much [for the club], be it finance, or just the heart and soul of doing everything for the club.

“He just loves camogie and the club.”

McGrath often went to watch her mother play hockey when she was younger.  She remembers travelling around to those games with her sisters Clodagh and Orlaith before their mother retired ahead of Siobhán’s arrival into the world.

There was very little competitive hockey for the McGraths to get involved in when they were growing up, but when it came to stick sports at home, there was only one obvious choice.

“We’re so used to it because three of us are literally one after the other so we were always on each other’s teams,” McGrath says about playing with her sisters, reiterating that sentiment of knowing no different when her sporting and family lives collide.

“I’ve only really played with Siobhán in the last couple of years, since 2016 when she was allowed play senior.

“We’re such a tight team and we’ve all grown up together. I’m one of the oldest and we’re all sort of nearly like family because Sarsfields is small anyway. I don’t think it makes any difference but it’s great because you can say stuff to each other and just take it on board and vise versa.”

McGrath lined out at centre-half forward when Galway captured the 2013 All-Ireland camogie crown, finishing as their top-scorer in a five-point win over Kilkenny.

She decided to step away from the panel last year after the league, and understandably had mixed feelings when they triumphed against the same opposition in last year’s decider.

But she could be an All-Ireland club winner with her sisters and father next month. The Sarsfield locals won’t hesitate to remind her about the importance of grasping this opportunity.

“We lost to Slaughtneil in 2017 and 2018,” McGrath recalls.

“They’re just an unbelievable team and they’ve some unreal individual players. We’ve matured a good bit since then. We’re still very young but we’re definitely a lot fitter and stronger. I think we’re well capable of giving them a good game anyway.”

Sarsfield’s Niamh McGrath was speaking ahead of the AIB All-Ireland Senior Camogie Club Championship Final taking place at Croke Park on Sunday, 1 March where the Galway club will face Derry’s Slaughtneil.

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