Clonduff camogs break new ground for famous Down club in All-Ireland battle
CLONDUFF camogs will break new ground for their famous Down club when they take on Waterford’s Gailltir in the All-Ireland Intermediate final on March 3.
‘The Yellas’ have produced household names like Kevin Mussen, the man who captained Down to the county’s historic first All-Ireland final in 1960, and Ross Carr, one of the stars of the Mournemen’s double success in the 1990s, but the Hilltown outfit’s club teams have never before reached these heady heights.
Carr’s daughters Fionnuala and Sara-Louise will be key players for Clonduff in the Croke Park decider but side is packed full of inter-county experienced – 10 of the team, including captain Paula O’Hagan, were on the Down panel that met Cork in last year’s All-Ireland intermediate final.
“There’s some buzz about the place,” said Sara-Louise.
“It’s sort of surreal at times that it’s us and we’re in the final but we’re in our own wee bubble, we’re working away and we’re working hard. It’s great to see how much excitement and joy and happiness it has brought to the community but winning is our focus now
“We lost a semi-final four years ago (against eventual champions Piltown of Kilkenny) and we came back with deep regrets because we didn’t believe in ourselves at that stage.
“Most of the starting team are still playing from that game – we’ve lost five players, so it’s good to have that experience and that taste of defeat because it definitely drives you on a bit more as well.
“This time we are very much aware of our own ability and we know that when you get to this stage there is very little between most of the club teams that are out there.”
Munster champions Gailltir beat Offaly’s St Rynagh’s to make the final and they will be driven on by Waterford stars Aine Lyng and the Jackman sisters (Ciara and Trish) in the final.
“They are a bit like ourselves, they have a mix of experienced players and youth coming through,” Carr explains.
“We’ve had girls who have played in Croke Park and experienced the atmosphere of the final day before so we have hopefully got that the ‘wow’ factor out of the way.”
That experience certainly helped when Clonduff finally got past four in-a-row chasing reigning Ulster champions Eglish in last year’s Ulster final. The Tyrone side had come close to making a breakthrough at national level so getting past them gave Clonduff believe that they could fill their boots outside the province.
“Eglish are a serious side and every time we had played them in recent years it had always been close but they had come out on top in the last few,” said Carr.
“This year we had that extra bit of determination. They had been very close to capturing their own All-Ireland title so we knew that if we could get past them we had a chance of giving the semi-final a really good rattle.”
And that is how it turned out as Clonduff prevailed in a physical battle against Galway’s Craughwell in Kinnegad late last month.
“They were fit and fast but our experience told on the day as well and we didn’t panic,” said Carr.
“We just knew that if we kept doing what we were doing we would always be in with a shout.
“It was really physical, the ground was heavy and the elements dictated a lot but we knew that if we were there or thereabouts we could definitely see it out.”
She believes it will be the same story in the final. If Clonduff – managed by Damian Farnon and Alistair McGilligan – stay in touch, they will kick on down the stretch and bring the cup home.
“We’re working really hard and we’ve done quite a bit of physical training,” says Carr, whose husband, Antrim hurler Arron Graffin, was on the Cushendall team that had Galway’s St Thomas on the rack in an All-Ireland semi-final a fortnight ago only to lose by a point. .
“If we’re there or thereabouts in the second half we’d be very confident that we’ll push on. What happened to Cushendall gave us belief because you realise that St Thomas’s were littered with All-Ireland champions but on the day it came down to a one-point defeat so there’s really nothing between the teams – it’s down to being confident and performing on the day.”
Her dad Ross won two All-Ireland medals and was an Allstar in 1991 but perhaps his proudest day was the Down senior championship medal he won with ‘the Yellas’ in 2000.
“He is delighted,” says Sara-Louise.
“The club is massive in our house and everybody plays. Daddy is very proud of us and it means a lot to him as well because he would have loved to have represented Clonduff at this stage.
“He is driving us and behind us, everybody in the community is driving us, and it will take a good performance from Gailltir to stop us. We’ll definitely not make it easy for them.”