Hurling and camogie

Armagh camog Rachael aiming to make Merry against Cavan

Armagh camogie's joint-captain Rachael Merry of Granemore, ready to take on Cavan in the All-Ireland Premier Junior Final.
©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

EAT, drink, and be Merry.

The first element has been limited by Covid-related restrictions.

The second, at least in terms of celebratory quaffing, will depend on the outcome of this weekend's Premier Junior Camogie Final against Cavan.

The third – well, Armagh camogie's joint-captain Rachael Merry is used to saying 'like Christmas' if asked her surname.

Christmas will come early if Armagh can collect the trophy for the first time since before the 26-year-old was born, their only triumph coming in 1993.

As for eating, Merry admits she's obsessed by food, as her Twitter, er, feed indicates: "That is a fair description," she laughs, "I love my food."

Her eating out options have been limited this year, however: "100 per cent, I basically live in the middle of nowhere. Chinese [food] is a big one for me. We still go down to Belfast whenever we can, to get all the foods that I've been missing.

"I'm as massive chicken wings fan – and Boojum, I can't live without Boojum. They don't deliver to Granemore, I have to make the hour's drive to get it."

Yet her relatively remote location still allows for remote working, and she has found benefits from being back in Granemore:

"I've worked at Kainos in Belfast for the last five years, there since my placement year, as a software systems engineer. It's a very diverse role, constantly doing IT-related work.

"I've been working from home since March, haven't been in the Belfast office since St Patrick's week. For me, it's great, I don't have to drive to Belfast every day. I have a lot more free time. I'm happy enough.

"I lived in Belfast for a good while. It was only in the last year that I moved home because I was constantly travelling up and down the road.

"It's given me so much more free time in terms of training. I'm not rushing home from Belfast to get to training, not eating properly, and having to drive straight back down the road. It's a massive change for me. It's far better."

This year has also brought benefits in terms of coverage of women's sport, thanks to technology, with Saturday's final to be shown on both the BBC iPlayer and RTE's News channel

"The last while coverage hadn't been great – a lot of people wouldn't have know what a Junior camogie match is or wouldn't have gone.

"This year is a bit different: they're streaming all our games, it's getting a lot more publicity than it ever would.

"In that respect this year has been an advantage to us because it's getting coverage out there and people are starting to follow the county where they wouldn't have before, wouldn't have bothered going to matches but now they're able to see it at home and are starting to get behind us a lot more.

"Streaming is definitely a boost for women's sport. It being on iPlayer and the RTE channel is massive for us because that wouldn't even have been considered in the past.

"Our game in Croke Park wasn't on TV anyway. Lockdown restrictions have increased the coverage of women's sport, which is great, it would have been minimal before."

That match at GAA headquarters Rachael mentions was the 2016 Final, which Armagh somewhat surprisingly lost to Carlow:

"We beat Carlow in the group stages before we got to Croke Park and then were playing them in the final. We definitely were expecting to win that game after beating them.

"I think the occasion, getting to Croke Park, got to us, and on the day we just didn't perform. There are a lot of negative memories from that day. We know we need to improve on that and actually get over the line this time."

Indeed that defeat contributed to departures from the panel, with goal-getter Ciara Donnelly going to Abu Dhabi, but she's back on a strengthened squad, to Merry's delight:

"It's a massive boost to have those girls back. Some of them left the year after we got to Croke Park and they're definitely influential players.

"It's given the team a massive boost and maybe has even helped get other girls back who wouldn't necessarily be playing this year. We've got a massive panel this year and there've been very good vibes. Everyone's very motivated and happy to be there."

Yet after being shocked by a Carlow team on the up in 2016, Merry insists there'll be no complacency on Saturday:

"Definitely, we're not taking anything for granted this time. Cavan's on a bit of a winning streak and I'm sure their heads will be high and they're thinking they can win too. We know we have a massive battle ahead of us."

Cavan will also benefit from the game being at Kingspan Breffni Park, as part of a double-header before the Intermediate Final between Antrim and Down. Merry shrugs off that home advantage, saying: "I'm not sure what way that was decided but there's not really much we can do about it being on their home pitch.

"To us, it's just another pitch, and we're happy that it's even being played in the first place. I know it may be an advantage to them but we don't really care where it's played."

Armagh's ladies football team fell short at the senior semi-final stage last weekend, losing out to champions Dublin. Merry could have been involved, having been a county regular in her yourh, but her football career ended after Minor, with camogie having too strong a pull:

"My mum [Rosemary, nee Hughes] would have been big into camogie, she would have played for Monaghan. Camogie has been massive in Granemore all down through the years.

"It was always going to be camogie for me. Football was a hobby, camogie was more serious – and I was better at camogie anyway! I loved it from a very young age, my family was behind me and were very involved in camogie."

Still, she'd have loved the footballers to succeed, "Corinna Doyle, who plays camogie for my club, was on that team, and [captain] Kelly Mallon would play camogie as well, although there's not a massive crossover between camogie and ladies football in Armagh: it's usually either one or the other.

"Both teams are on the right track, we're feeding off each other, and people in the county are supporting us and getting behind us.

We have reps on our team who talk to the county board if we ever need anything. They're providing us with gear, food after training, we're definitely being supported and it's great to see."

Come Saturday evening, some celebratory chicken wings may be the order of the day.

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Hurling and camogie