Clonduff captain Paula O'Hagan coping brilliantly with hectic schedule
COULD Paula O'Hagan's sporting life get any busier? Well, she certainly wouldn't complain if it did.
At the minute the Clonduff captain is deep in preparations for an All-Ireland club semi-final on January 27 against Galway champions Craughwell, while today she will be on the line as Sacred Heart Newry take on St Patrick's Academy Dungannon in the Ulster Schools' Medallion Shield final in Páirc Chormaic in Eglish.
Add in that Paula runs a Boot Camp in Clonduff Youth Club four days a week while she and her husband (Down footballer Darren) are just home from a skiing holiday last Sunday.
“Yes, I suppose a lot of things are sort of coming down the road at me all at the same time. But I won't complain,” says the Down midfielder who picked up a Soaring Star award in November after helping the county to the All-Ireland Intermediate final in September.
“I didn't have a full-time teaching job, just temporary short term posts, and thought I had time to take on the Boot Camps a couple of years ago and they have been going very well.
“Then this one-year PE post came up in Sacred Heart in Newry back in September and I immediately got involved with the camogie team and things have gone well so far.”
Under Paula's guidance the team came through the early stages of the Senior Medallion Shield with just a single defeat – to St Patrick's Academy, the team they now face in the final – and were comfortable semi-final winners the week before Christmas.
Sacred Heart haven't been a force in camogie since the early 1970s when they became the first of just two Ulster schools (St Mary's Magherafelt in 2008 is the other) to win the All-Ireland senior A camogie title.
Indeed this is the first time that a team from the school has reached a senior final in the interim.
“I was lucky enough to find a ready-made team in the school through the hard work and dedication of Anne-Marie McKevitt and Ciara Hayes over the last number of years.
“Last year, the school had a team in the Junior (under 16) final and they lost by a couple of points. So there was good enough talent there with a couple of very good players coming in from St Joseph's Crossmaglen for Sixth Form Studies. We really needed them, especially after Clara got injured.”
The Clara in question is Clara Cowan, a Schools' All-star and Down senior panellist last year, who just happened to be Paula's Clonduff midfield partner in the Ulster club final against defending champions Eglish back in October.
“Clara picked up an injury after around 10 minutes in that final and didn't play again until the school semi-final with St Colm's Draperstown a week before Christmas. She only played the second half and she did well. But getting her back in action is a big boost for both the school and club.”
Mollie Brown is a third Clonduff player doubling up with the school's push for success, although the Sacred Heart head coach admitted that she didn't check until they were through the group section if the competition ran through to All-Ireland level.
“We didn't set out with the plan to get to an All-Ireland. I didn't think about checking until I saw we were looking like a team that could do something. Winning today now has an added dimension and it would be great for the school and the local clubs if Clara, Mollie and I had another All-Ireland semi in February.”
Clonduff are currently training four days a week ahead of their semi-final with Craughwell, hoping to reach a first national final at the second attempt.
“We have only won two Ulster titles, the other one four years ago, and we are really putting the work in this year, because you don't know whether or not there will be another chance down the line.
“We know nothing about Craughwell at all. We might find out something before the 27th. We have played a few challenge games before Christmas and last week and we have Queen's then on Monday evening. Then I think we will be on the countdown to match day.”
Her immediate focus however is what Sacred Heart can do today against St Patrick's Academy.
Whatever the outcome of that game or the club semi-final in a fortnight's time, don't expect to see the Paula O'Hagan sitting around without sport to keep her adrenalin level flowing.