Karen Haughey: Clonduff girl on a remarkable camogie journey
AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Club Championships semi-final:
Sunday 26th January 2020: Clane GAA, Co. Kildare at 2pm: Clonduff (Down) v Gailltír (Waterford)
CORMAC Haughey was born on August 2nd 2018.
Five weeks later his mother Karen was playing in the Down camogie championship.
Nine weeks later she won her second Ulster club championship and then added an All-Ireland club medal last March.
Add in that she had never before played in goals and the journey is all the more remarkable.
“In a way I have only myself to blame,” Karen told The Irish News this week.
“Paula, my sister, was driving us down the road one day a couple of weeks after Cormac was born and she was wondering who would do goals for Clonduff when the championship came round.
“Kitty Fegan, our regular goalie up until then, had done her cruciate in May and the young player who had played the league games for us, Ellen Lively, had been in a car accident.
“I was trying to get the baby’s attention and jokingly said “Your Mummy’s going to have to do goals for them” and Paula just jumped on it “My God, that’s it.”
“Then in the Canal Court after Down lost the All-Ireland final to Cork a week later, the Clonduff girls got round me. I wasn’t too hard to persuade right enough but I went out to training on the Tuesday and was in goals on the Saturday for the Castlewellan match.”
Karen Gribben was a late starter to camogie. She was 11 when she had her first training session but her interest in the game was developed a lot earlier travelling with her father John Anthony to referee hurling in the Ards and beyond on the inter-county scene.
“I was dad’s tag along. I loved going with him to the Ards, the ferry trip and watching the games. He loved hurling and I got the bug.”
Within a few years of taking the game up she was making the Down under 16 team. They lost an All-Ireland minor final to Carlow and then it was senior county camogie.
“I played in the 2004 All-Ireland final with Down and won an Ulster senior championship in 2005, but it was a frustrating time with the club team.
“Liatroim were the top team in Down for many years, winning Ulster titles and then they won two All-Irelands (in 2004 and 2005),” says the Practice manager in a GP surgery in the Health Village in Newry.
“We were sharing a house at uni with Lisa McCrickard and here she was winning All-Ireland club medals and all we ever dreamed about was winning a county championship.”
Picture: Philip Walsh
Eventually that dream was realised in 2007 when the club, around 40 years in existence, won the Down title for the first time and it opened the way for Ballycran to win as well.
Then the first of Karen’s three boys was born in 2009.
“That was in April and I was back again for the championship win,” she jokes. “Finbar was different.
“We beat Eglish to win the first Ulster title in 2014 and I became pregnant between the Ulster final and the All-Ireland. So I couldn’t play.”
When she looks back on that All-Ireland semi-final now, she knows that the team didn’t think they were good enough to be playing at that level.
“We had no belief in ourselves and yet we were still in a winning position for most of the game. When we got through last year, we had a different mind-set altogether. We knew we were as good as anyone and we wanted to make it happen this time.
“I will never forget when the final whistle went in our semi-final against Craughwell. There was a game on after it and the stewards were not allowing anyone into the pitch. But I can remember seeing daddy at the fence. He had tears in his eyes and was so emotional.
“I can see that with my own boys now. Jimmy is playing at under 10 level and I get emotional watching his games.
“One of the greatest moments I had was at the final whistle in Croke Park last year. Jimmy came running across the pitch and slid right into me. He was the first one I hugged after winning the All-Ireland, before any of the players and it was great to share that moment with him.”
Haughey however has found the transition to goals difficult enough.
“I have a whole new appreciation of goalies. It is not the same as outfield. There is the responsibility alright, but there is also the isolation.
“At training I would be taken aside for goalie training and then when you go back into the group you find you can’t contribute as much, you have missed out on something in a drill or conditioned game that the rest are talking about. An outfield player is so involved in everything or can get themselves involved. In goals you wait your turn.”
The Gribben family has had a difficult couple of months with the death of their niece Clodagh between Christmas and the New Year. Clodagh funeral was on New Year’s Eve and camogie and the All-Ireland preparations had to really move down the list of priorities.
“Yes it has been a difficult time for our brother Darren and his wife Carol and we have appreciated the camogie family rallying around at this time. The Clonduff team and management made a spontaneous donation of £350 for Leukaemia and Lymphone NI at training one night and that has meant a lot to the Gribben family.
“In a way you feel guilty moving on with life while Darren and Carol are still grieving. Camogie helps us shift the focus a little and we have an All-Ireland to look forward to, but Clodagh will be very much in our thoughts every step of the way.”
It is a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final against Galltir from Waterford and Clonduff are expecting the Waterford champions to be a really tough challenge. They were a young team last year but have gained a lot in experience at schools’ and inter-county level in the interim.
“But I think we are a much improved team from last year. Yes, winning in Croke Park has given us a lot more belief in ourselves, but Arron Graffin’s addition to the coaching panel has sharpened us up so much and also made us a lot more disciplined in the tackle.”
Graffin, the Antrim hurling star is married to Clonduff forward Sara Louise Carr and living in Hilltown. Injured in the Ulster club final at Halloween in 2018 he joined the coaching team in the club as he fought his own personal battle to get back to fitness.
And the immediate future for Karen Haughey?
“I would have been into looking after my fitness when I played outfield, maybe not to the same level as Paula (sister). Mind you, I have dropped a few hints that I wouldn’t mind getting out into forwards again.
“But if I am honest I don’t think the body could take it. I have had operations on my back and knee and the three children have taken their toll as well.
“People have said that I must have made a lot of sacrifices last year to play at this level. I don’t see it as a sacrifice. I love playing. I enjoy every minute of training and going to matches. I have got so much out of camogie.
“It isn’t a sacrifice at all. Yes it can be difficult arranging things around training and games.
“James (husband) is a farmer and not always available in the evenings to look after the boys and that is where my wonderful mother and two older sisters come into play. They make the sacrifices.
“I can’t play for ever, but I am determined to stick in there as long as I can – even if it means staying in goals.”