Martina Rooney: the lady at the helm of Down camogie surge
IT HAS been a remarkable roller-coaster season for the Down senior camogie team.
They didn't get a management team in place until the week before the start of the league.
Then they lost all games in that league and ended up with no manager for the Division 2 relegation play-off with Kildare.
But since May the graph has gone on an upward curve – victory over Kildare in the play-off, then a first Ulster title in 13 seasons and next Saturday (August 4) they can go through to the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Intermediate championship semi-final – if they manage to beat Laois.
And the credit for the turnaround is being given to a lady who has never taken charge of an adult club team and her only experience of being in charge of a county team was with the Down under 14 Development Squad last year.
So we had to find out more about Martina Rooney, a primary school teacher in St Patrick's, Newry, who still plays club football and camogie with Mayobridge.
S McA: How does a Mayobridge club player, with little management experience, find herself in charge of the Down senior team?
M R: Down were not in great shape pre-season. The County Board appointed a manager from Clonduff the week before the league started. I had played for Clonduff for the past few years and I was asked on board as a selector.
S McA: I heard that you were a bit more than a selector though for the first game.
M R: I'd rather not be reminded of that. We only had 14 players going down to Westmeath and I had to line out a corner forward. My first and only time to wear the Down jersey and we were soundly beaten. I don't believe I touched the sliotar.
But things started to pick up after that bad start and you could see glimmers of hope in each game, even though we were not winning; more players were starting to come out and maybe we had a good first half in a game, but fell away in the second half.
I suppose you could say the cards turned for me while I went on a trip to Las Vegas at the end of April!
It was the end of the league, just before the Antrim game, and a couple of issues came to a head. I came back from Las Vegas to find that the manager had resigned.
I was then asked to keep things going until the Board found someone else. I took a couple of training sessions and then was asked to take over.
S McA: Was that not a big leap for someone like you with little experience of managing senior players?
MR: It was, but I probably didn't have much time to think about it. I knew all the girls as I had played with or against them over the past couple of years. I felt that I couldn't walk away from them and I knew they had potential.
S McA: You then turned their season around. How? What is your secret?
M R: Well I did say there was potential there and it was just about tapping into that potential and focusing on the positives. We talked about the league games and what went well and how we seemed to hit a bit of bad luck and fall away in each game.
The first game up was the relegation play-off with Kildare. We all knew Down are a good enough Division 2 team, much better than Division 3. But we were in a play-off and we agreed among ourselves that we would fight tooth and nail to make sure we stayed up. And we did.
Then a fortnight later we had Armagh at home in the semi-final of the Ulster championship. The Kildare result gave us momentum and suddenly the ball was bouncing for us and we were getting the breaks. We had a good win there.
More momentum then coming into an Ulster final in Páirc Esler. And I have to say that, in my heart that week, I knew that there was a big performance in us and we got it on the Sunday. Again we got the breaks and all.
S McA: It is one thing to surprise Derry in an Ulster final. But a fortnight later you had to play them in the opening round of the championship.
M R: Yeah. We had to come back to earth again pretty quickly. But momentum, character, pride and restored confidence. All those helped get us a draw and we followed that up with a win in Carlow and when Derry drew with Cork in Swatragh, we felt that we had a real chance of beating Cork in Páirc Esler.
S McA: So, how come you lost by 12 points?
M R: That was a downer alright. I can't say exactly what happened. We were going OK in the first half but didn't get the breaks – Niamh (Mallon) hit the crossbar, Fionnuala (Carr) had a penalty saved.
But Cork pulled away in the second. They had another gear. It was their last game, they had to win it to go through and I suppose there was going to be a backlash from the draw in Derry the week before. We are not 12 points a worse team than Cork, but that was how it turned out.
S McA: But then Laois did you a favour.
M R: I had heard that Laois had lost their management team earlier that week after a couple of poor performances and I suppose Derry got the backlash from that. It was a shock result – but it has opened a door for us. If we beat Laois next weekend, we go straight into the semi-finals.
S McA: And can you do that?
M R: We will have had a three week break before that game. We have to park the Cork result and focus on the Laois game.
If you look right across the Intermediate championship, there have been draws and one or two point wins. The teams are all evenly matched really. Indeed if Laois were to win and Derry lose to Carlow, Laois could actually go through. So both of us have something to play for.
I don't see why we can't win down there. Our fate is in our own hands – and if we really want the win, we will get it.
All-Ireland Under 16 A championship
Cloughan: Limerick v Wexford
Gort: Galway v Tipperary
Cork Camogie Grounds: Cork v Clare
O'Toole's: Dublin v Kilkenny
Both groups draw to a close this weekend and the mathematics are quite simple.
Holders Galway and Tipperary are both through to the semi-finals in Group 1. The game between them will therefore decide who finishes top of the group.
The other game in Group 1 is little more than an opportunity to give game-time to the extended panel.
In Group 2 Cork are in the semi-final and will take top spot if they get a draw or better from their game with Clare.
The Dublin v Kilkenny will sort out the other semi-finalist. Kilkenny need only a draw to progress as they have a superior score-difference.
Verdict: Wins for Galway, Cork and Kilkenny with the other game dependant on how deep Limerick and Wexford dig into their substitute panel to get a starting team.
League Table All Ireland U16A Camogie Championship Group 1
Team Pld W D L PD Pts
Galway 2 2 0 0 76 6
Tipperary 2 2 0 0 29 6
Wexford 2 0 0 2 -38 0
Limerick 2 0 0 2 -67 0
League Table All Ireland U16A Camogie Championship Group 2
Team Pld W D L PD Pts
Cork 2 2 0 0 15 6
Kilkenny 2 1 0 1 21 3
Dublin 2 1 0 1 -3 3
Clare 2 0 0 2 -33 0
All-Ireland Under 16 A championship results to date
July 8: Tipperary 4-11, Wexford 1-6 ; Galway 10-26, Limerick 0-4, Clare 1-7 Dublin 1-14, Kilkenny 2-4 Cork 1-12
July 22nd: Tipperary 3-8 Limerick 0-2, Wexford 1-5 Galway 5-17, Cork 2-17 Dublin 2-7, Kilkenny 4-22 Clare 0-8
All-Ireland Under 16 B championship
Kilcormac: Offaly v Armagh
Mountra: Laois v Kildare
Ballymena: Antrim v Westmeath
Dromara: Down v Derry
Derry will qualify with ease as the top seed in Group 2 as Down are very weak this level while Derry have been most impressive.
Antrim will join the Oak Leaf side in the semi-finals should they get a draw or better from the visit of Westmeath to Ballymena.
In Group 1 Offaly and Armagh are both through to the semi-finals already and their face-to-face in Kilcormac will decide the order they qualify.
If Offaly win, then, Armagh will face Derry in the semi-final. Should Armagh win, they will be looking at a possible clash with Antrim.
Verdict: Wins for Offaly, Derry, Antrim and Laois
League Table All Ireland U16B Camogie Championship Group 1
Team Pld W D L PD Pts
Offaly 3 3 0 0 50 9
Armagh 3 3 0 0 23 9
Laois 3 1 0 2 13 3
Kildare 3 1 0 2 -4 3
Meath 4 0 0 4 -82 0
League Table All Ireland U16B Camogie Championship Group 2
Team Pld W D L PD Pts
Derry 3 3 0 0 38 9
Waterford 4 2 0 2 30 6
Antrim 3 2 0 1 1 6
Westmeath 3 1 0 2 -18 3
Down 3 0 0 3 -51 0
All-Ireland Under 16 B championship results:
Round 1: Derry 1-10 Antrim 1-5, Down 0-3 Waterford 6-14, Armagh 3-7 Kildare 3-4, Laois 5-18 Meath 0-1.
Round 2: Kildare 1-5 Offaly 2-16, Meath 3-3 Armagh 2-14, Waterford 1-10 Antrim 3-10, Westmeath 1-4 Derry 6-10
Round 3: Westmeath 5-15 Down 2-2, Derry 3-11 Waterford 1-5, Offaly 2-13 Laois 2-6, Kildare 2-11 Meath 0-3
Round 4: Armagh 1-15 Laois 0-6, Meath 0-1 Offaly 5-15, Waterford 5-14 Westmeath 3-1
All Ireland U16C Camogie Championship:
Netwatch Training Centre-Fenagh: Carlow v Kerry
Toreen: Mayo v Roscommon
Carrickmore: Tyrone v Cavan
Carlow have been the big scoring team in this group, but they somehow lost their way against Mayo, who managed to eke out a 0-6 to 0-5 win. Then Mayo threw away a point in Tyrone!
Carlow should make it through to the final – but the unpredictability of Mayo means that their derby with Roscommon could go either way.
At the bottom of the table, the two Ulster sides come together in Carrickmore.
Verdict: Should be home wins along the line: Carlow, Mayo and Tyrone
League Table All Ireland U16C Camogie Championship
Team Pld W D L PD Pts
Mayo 4 3 1 0 18 10
Carlow 4 3 0 1 101 9
Roscommon 4 3 0 1 15 9
Kerry 4 2 0 2 25 6
Tyrone 4 0 1 3 -93 1
Cavan 4 0 0 4 -66 0