Fionnuala Carr: That feeling of fulfilment, an All-Ireland title for Clonduff. It will never feel better on a camogie pitch
FIONNUALA Carr has enjoyed “every minute” of two decades playing senior camogie quickly graduating from club to county.
A corner forward in the All-Ireland Junior final of 2004 when Down lost to Cork, she was to experience two further losses in Croke Park before the Mourne county claimed the New Ireland Cup a decade later.
Her last two appearances in Croke Park came within a few months of each other and again there was a defeat to suffer before she experienced “one of the best days of my life” in March 2019.
Here she picks out three matches that have left fond memories with the Clonduff ace...
2007 Down Senior club final: Clonduff 5-20 Portaferry 2-5
IF you look at the score-line, you would think that we won this game very easily. In the end we did, but we were so nervous especially in the opening half.
However the result was the only thing that mattered on the day.
My granny had started a club in the parish away back. It stuttered for a while, but was kept going by a number of people, chiefly Maura Quinn.
When I was growing up though, Liatroim Fontenoys were the dominant club.
They won 24 titles out of the 30 before 2007 including 16 in a row from 1991. They were also the 2004 and 2005 All-Ireland club champions.
They had beaten us in a couple of county finals, 2001 and 2003, fairly handy.
At other times we could give them a good match, but somehow we couldn’t get past them.
In an exciting semi-final in 2007 we got ahead of them and stayed ahead and survived a lot of late pressure to win.
That was a huge monkey off our back – but we still hadn’t won anything.
In a way that contributed a lot to our nerves in the final. For us, there was so much at stake. We had broken Liatroim’s run. It would be a shame not to have finished the job.
We had done well with Féile teams for a few years and Sara Louise’s (sister) and Paula’s (Gribbin) underage team were hitting 18. So we had a good mix of players there.
Alister McGilligan had been taking us for a good few years and had put in a lot of work.
Then that year we got John Crossey from Antrim in and the first thing he told us was that we would win the championship.
I think hearing that from an outsider gave us a lot of belief and confidence.
He settled us down at half-time in the final and we played better during the second half.
Once we got a score or two the nerves were gone and we sailed on to win easily. Knowing that the game is won well ahead of the whistle is very satisfying.
I was captain and I asked Maura Quinn to come up with me and accept the Cup. I was very aware that there would not have been camogie in Clonduff if it hadn’t been for her efforts.
That win opened up the whole Down championship for the future. We have are now on seven titles and Ballycran have slipped in for three. Liatroim haven’t gone away either.
2014 All-Ireland Junior final: Down 1-12 Laois 1-8
I had played a long time for Down at adult level and won very little.
We had lost a good few Ulster finals and been beaten in the All-Ireland Junior in 2004. We then waited seven years to get back there only to lose by a point to Waterford.
The next year Meath beat us in the final by two points.
Then we lost narrowly to Kildare in the semi-final in 2013 and they ran away with the final. Over that period I would have asked myself if we had worked hard enough, did we want to win badly enough.
In 2014 though we seemed to have a lot going for us.
Marty Mallon was in along with Alister McGilligan as managers and we had former players Máirín McAleenan and Pauline Greene as well and they were all very passionate about Down and about camogie.
We qualified to meet Laois in the final, but we didn’t play well at all.
A bit like Clonduff in the county final in 2007. We were making mistakes all over the place. There was one ball trickled through my legs.
We hit a particularly bad patch midway through the second half and Laois went 1-8 to 1-5 ahead.
Then they had a 20-metre free. For some reason or other the free-taker went for a goal and Ciara McGovern saved it.
That save was followed by a great move out of defence and Karen McMullan got a point from it.
Then Karen Gribben hit an unbelievable score over her shoulder and there were two super catches in defence and suddenly the tide turned. It seemed that we could do nothing wrong.
We scored the last seven points in the game.
Aimee McAleenan came on with two minutes to go and scored the insurance point.
But at that stage, insurance point or not, we were the only team that was going to win.
Those three or four big plays changed the game. It was a brilliant way to win, coming from behind with a surge like that.
Then maybe that night or the next day you felt the sheer relief of actually winning a final in Croke Park.
2018/19 All-Ireland Intermediate club final: Clonduff 0-10 Gailltir 0-9
What we achieved in Croke Park last year will never leave me.
There is something about winning with your club.
My dad (Ross Carr) won a lot at inter-county level, but still regrets that he wasn’t in a winning Clonduff team at the top level.
We got that chance last March. But you would not have seen it at the start of the Down championship in the autumn of 2018.
We ended up with about ten players in the Down team that reached the All-Ireland Intermediate final in 2018.
That would have been great for the personal development of each player, but it had an adverse affect on the club.
With 10 players missing during July and August it was hard to do collective training with the club.
When the championship started we were poor, struggled to get past Castlewellan and had a poor first half against Ballygalget in the semi-final, before pressurising them into mistakes in the second half.
We only won the Down final against Portaferry by three points, but I never felt that we were losing the game.
Then it was through to Ulster and we beat Eglish comfortably.
We made a lot of mistakes in the All-Ireland semi-final to keep the Galway team in the game.
They scored all but a point from frees and we only won by a single point. But it was enough to get us to Croke Park.
I don’t normally get nervous before games. I usually enjoy the big games on the big days. I know I had a leadership role within the team, but I was always comfortable with that. But the week leading into the game, I was not myself.
I had torn a calf about three weeks before the final, it maybe gnawed away at me. It seemed to clear up alright and when we took the pitch I was fine. Then the calf started to tighten during the warm-up.
If it had been anything other than an All-Ireland final, I probably should have come off. But I couldn’t.
During the first half we had maybe three goal chances and didn’t put any away. We were very much on top in general play and then just before half-time Gailltir got a penalty.
I went into goals along with Karen (Haughey, the goalie) and Sara Louise (sister).
The shot went to the other side from me and was saved; Karen and Sara Louise still fight over who actually saved it. But it would have been so unfair if it had been scored and we had finished the first half a point or two down.
There was nothing between the teams during the second half. They seemed to get soft frees, but we always seemed to stay a point ahead.
The tackling back our forwards did was phenomenal.
I was very aware of the surroundings and the crowd in those last few minutes, the supporters shouting, whistling and I think that really helped us focus.
We knew we were almost home. We just needed to hold on.
Then the final whistle.
Four of us had played in the first county final win in 2007 – myself, Sara Louise, Paula and Karen Gribben – and we are all very tight as a group.
Two others, Kitty Fagan (injured) and Orla Maginn (pregnant) were part of the panel from earlier in the campaign.
It was really special to share the minutes immediately after the game with them and with our family, with Maura Quinn.
That feeling of fulfilment, the ultimate prize, an All-Ireland title for Clonduff.
It will never feel better on a camogie pitch.