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'She got the cast removed to play and took painkillers': In praise of a multi-All-Ireland winner

Wexford legend Ursula Jacob has retired from camogie after a storied career.

Updated Mar 31st 2022, 8:38 AM

Ursula Jacob-3

THE TV COMMENTATORS had scarcely ever produced such a sound after witnessing a score in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day.

RTÉ’s Cyril Farrell and Marty Morrissey were united in a harmonious, rapturous roar as the ball fizzed through the air and settled in the back of the Davin End goal. A rare moment of exceptional ground skill on display.

Had it occurred in the earlier stage of the camogie championship, the moment might not have received the attention it deserved. Thankfully, Youtube has preserved the clip in all its glory.

It was the 47th minute of the 2012 camogie decider between defending champions Wexford and Cork. The challengers were trailing by 3-5 to 2-10, desperate to stop Wexford who were on the cusp of a famous All-Ireland three-in-a-row.

It started with a puckout from Wexford keeper Mags D’Arcy which found substitute Fiona Kavanagh in the middle of the field. A long delivery followed into Cork’s small rectangle where possession broke into the path of Ursula Jacob.

The Oulart the Ballagh forward reacted quickest to sweep the ball up from the ground with a perfect connection. The effort powered past Cork’s experienced keeper Aoife Murray and cemented Wexford’s march to three-in-a-row glory.

“That’s an unbelievable goal, as good as you’ll see anywhere,” Farrell said from the commentary box as he tried to regain his breath.

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That super goal was the pick of the bunch from Jacob’s tally of 2-7 from that final. And yet, it’s not the number one Ursula Jacob highlight that comes to mind for JJ Doyle, the manager of that great Wexford three-in-a-row side, or for Úna Leacy, a key forward for that side and long-time friend of Jacob’s.

Other moments stand out for them, which illustrates the extent of her legacy in the sport. For Doyle, it’s the goal she scored in the 2011 All-Ireland final against Galway that pushed them to victory. Leacy picks out a memory from the club game, which is a nod to the years of friendship and camaraderie between them. 

Jacob retired from inter-county camogie in 2016 and just last week, news circulated that she had decided to step away from playing entirely as she wrapped up her club career. The 2021 All-Ireland final club where they were dethroned by Galway’s Sarsfields proved to be her final outing in the Oulart colours.

It was her husband Brendan Cruise — the pair married in January — who spread the word of her departure on Twitter, listing out all of her incredible achievements in a lovely tribute message.

Speaking after that defeat on the RTÉ GAA podcast, she said that she had intended to retire regardless of the outcome of that game.

“I’ve played senior camogie with Oulart for 22 years so I don’t think anyone can say that I haven’t given enough,” she added.

***

JJ Doyle was appointed as manager of the Wexford camogie team at the end of 2009. They had won the All-Ireland in 2007 under Stellah Sinnott but failed to progress from the semi-final stage over the next two seasons.

Sinnott opted to step down after the ’09 campaign and a replacement was needed.

Doyle, who was involved in coaching at underage level in Gorey at the time, was invited onto the selection panel to find the new Wexford boss.

“We interviewed a few people and none of them were really that interested in it,” he tells The42 as he takes up the story.

“One of the other people on the selection panel asked if I’d be interested in it and that’s basically how I got the job.

“I think some people looked at them and thought they were one-hit wonders and 2007 was their time. I was asked to think about it and to be honest, I didn’t have to think too long. You don’t get these opportunities too often and I’ve always gone down the line of [thinking] that you won’t regret the things you do but you might regret the things you don’t do.

“And sure, we got a management team together and I suppose, as they say, the rest is history.”

ursula-jacob-celebrates Ursula Jacob wheels away in celebration. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Jacob was a student in WIT at that time, and was playing in the Ashbourne Cup in the early stages of Doyle’s time in charge. Aside from occasionally checking in, Doyle was happy for her to focus on that competition until she was free to fully engage with the Wexford team again.

“They’d obviously been playing for the previous few years but the thing that really struck me was they all wanted us to pick them on merit, not just to pick them because they had been there and had won it before,” Doyle says of his first impressions with the side.

“They wanted to have to earn their place on the team. I suppose for any player to come out and say that, and maybe to risk losing their place, just shows the desire they have for the best Wexford team to be out.

“They were winners, they didn’t want anything easy. They didn’t want to take shortcuts. We challenged them and they challenged us. That’s how you become successful.”

For Jacob’s part, she was always considered a leader in Doyle’s group. She was the team captain for their 2011 All-Ireland success, but even without that title, she was a consistent voice of influence in the group.

Doyle can recall the effective communicator who always kept an eye out for the young recruits coming through to offer instruction and guidance. And in the moments when a bigger effort was required from the players, Jacob was the one to issue the battle cry.

jj-doyle-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle Source: James Crombie

“It would be like, ‘we can do better than this and we can go harder than this,’” says Doyle.

“From a management perspective, that’s absolute gold because you can shout and encourage but if it’s coming from within the players, and especially the experienced players, when they’re dealing with younger players and leading by example, it’s so powerful.

“Ursula trained like she played. She gave it 100% and was definitely one of the real leaders there. She could back up what she said with what she did. Some people are really good talkers and maybe don’t back it up. And then you have other people who are quiet and get on with their training.

“They look after themselves and lead by example, but Ursula was someone who was focused and as you can see with her work on The Sunday Game, she knows the game. She’s very well educated on the game. She speaks very well and people will listen to her.

“We got to a league semi-final and we didn’t start her. She was a player who was a mainstay and probably wasn’t overly happy about it. She came on, and then for the league final against Kilkenny in Semple Stadium, she came on in the second half and we were a point or two down.

“She put the shoulder to the wheel and was willing to work hard to earn her place.”

***

Úna Leacy remembers days when she was allowed to “tag along as the little sister” when her older sibling Mary was attending birthday parties for Ursula Jacob. Jacob and the older of the two Leacy sisters were in the same class growing up in Oulart.

Two households of hurling royalty united in friendship. The Jacobs’ fame goes back generations and includes Ursula’s father Mick, while her brothers Michael and Rory, and sister Helena, are distinguished former servants for Wexford.

Together, the siblings have won a staggering 45 senior county championship medals for Oulart, with Ursula accounting for 14 of them.

They also played on an U12 local boys’ team, with Mary playing in the backs while Ursula was a forward.

“The two of them would have been jeered for having chaps haircuts,” Úna recalls.

“Mary played centre-back and Ursula played centre-forward on the chaps’ team. You’d pick the two of them out on the field, which was funny because you’d never see girls playing championship U12 hurling.”

Úna played alongside both girls on underage teams, winning an incredible Féile five-in-a-row with them for Oulart. In time, all three would play crucial roles in the most successful periods of both Oulart The Ballagh and Wexford camogie’s history.

They were all central to Wexford’s four All-Ireland triumphs between 2007 and 2012, as well as the three All-Ireland club titles with Oulart in 2011, 2014 and 2020. The third of those titles was achieved last December after the All-Ireland series of the competition was delayed.

“Looking back, winning was so familiar to us. You think winning is going to happen forever and going up along, I would have played on teams with Ursula and people would say it to you: ‘Oh you seem to know where Ursula is going to hit it.’ And I was like, you’re playing with someone that long, I know Ursula’s style and what she’s going to do when she gets the ball.

“And Ursula knows where I’m going to be. We’re just so used to playing with each other. I remember when Ursula retired, I thought, ‘Oh God, I’m going to play county without her.’ But I don’t think I got many more years with the county after that between injuries and pregnancy and travelling.

“I think the last two years and to get to play with the likes of Ursula and Mary, girls you’ve played with all the way up along, the two of them would give so much dedication and would revolve their lives around camogie.”

It’s no surprise that Leacy’s top choice for a moment from Jacob’s career comes from their club’s many successful days. In the 2018 county semi-final against St Ibar’s/Shelmaliers, Jacob suffered a broken thumb which jeopardised her fitness for the final against St Martin’s.

Leacy suspects that Jacob “plagued” her doctor to ensure she could line out in spite of her serious injury.

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“It was a county final and by hook or by crook, Ursula’s going to play that match.

“She had her thumb strapped up and still went out and played. We lost by a point or two but Ursula gave an unbelievable performance with only one hand. They couldn’t leave her on her own because she was still so dangerous.

“That’ll show you how committed she was. Other players would have a broken hand and wouldn’t even think about getting the cast off. She actually got the cast removed to play the match and just took painkillers. She strapped it up and went on with it. I think she had to go back down to the hospital to say the cast fell off.”

***

The reason behind JJ Doyle’s pick for his favourite memory of Jacob is rooted in the surprise he felt at watching it unfold.

The 2011 All-Ireland final was the second of Wexford’s three-in-a-row success. Doyle was satisfied with their performances in the 2010 and 2012 deciders, and reckons they could have even won the first of them by more than the two points that separated them from Galway at full time.

But 2011 was a day when “the girls just weren’t going”, according to Doyle. He’s not quite certain as to why their hurling was sloppy that day. Perhaps they felt an additional pressure to deliver after the county’s intermediate team won their All-Ireland final earlier that day.

In any case, he wasn’t happy with how they were motoring and he was explicit about his feelings during the half-time break. Speaking to the media after that game, he admitted that what was said between the four walls of that Croke Park dressing room “couldn’t go out before the watershed”.

He stands by that today looking back.

“I think we all had a thing we could say. There was a trust and an honesty within the team and they knew that whatever was said for the betterment of the team. If it was said in training or in the match, it was left there. The girls never took any offence from it and we certainly didn’t take any offence from anything they said either.”

Heading into the final eight minutes of the game, Wexford were chasing the game and down by three points. Midfielder Josie Dwyer arrowed a cross-field ball into the Galway penalty area from the sideline of the Cusack Stand.

Jacob adjusted her position to catch the ball before scoring an impressive goal on the turn. She produced some skills that Doyle didn’t know she possessed.

“When Josie crossed the ball, there was no real danger,” says Doyle.

“The ball was landing around the 21 and you’re thinking, ‘Jesus, Ursula won’t catch this.’ She just plucked it out of the air and stuck it in the back of the net.

“The belief it gave to everybody, and sure we just drove on after that. That encapsulates her: when the need was greatest, she did it. That changed the course of the game and that whole year, and lead us on to having a chance to complete the three-in-a-row.”

***

Jacob didn’t quite get the exit from camogie that she would have wanted. After reaching back-to-back All-Ireland finals with Oulart the Ballagh in the space of three months, they failed to defend their crown against Sarsfields.

una-leacy-celebrates-their-4th-goal-with-ursula-jacob Jacob playing alongside long-time friend and team-mate Úna Leacy. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

But as her husband Brendan’s tweet outlines, she still has plenty personal and team accolades to her name going into retirement from sport.

Leacy stresses the years of commitment and dedication she gave to every jersey she represented, and predicts that coaching and mentoring is in Jacob’s future. 

“A lot of children will aspire to be like Ursula, to be as good at frees, and taking points and goals. Anyone who knows her and played with her, will know how committed she has been to the sport. I’m sure she will be involved in management.

“Any team playing with Ursula in management will be very lucky. She’s vocal, she understands the game.”

Ursula Jacob Career Achievements 

  • Four All-Ireland senior camogie titles
  • Three All-Ireland senior club camogie titles 
  • Eight Leinster senior club camogie titles
  • 14 Wexford senior championship titles
  • Two Ashbourne Cups
  • Four All Star awards
  • 2011 top championship scorer for Wexford, scoring 3-54

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