Hurling and camogie

It's a family affair for Charlene Campbell as Loughgiel defensive star targets All-Ireland glory

Loughgiel's Charlene Campbell celebrates after beating Slaughtneil during the Ulster Senior Camogie Club Championship final at Pairc Esler, Newry Picture: Margaret McLaughlin..
Séamas McAleenan

THE last time Charlene Hamill was on duty in Croke Park, she was physio to the Loughgiel hurlers when they beat Coolderry to take the All-Ireland title for the second time.

The images that come flooding back from that day nearly 13 years ago can be condensed into just two; the cameras descending on star of the show Liam Watson and joint captains Damian Quinn and Johnny Campbell lifting the Tom Moore Cup.

This Saturday, Charlene returns as a Loughgiel player, now married to Johnny Campbell who will bring their two sons, Oisín and Sean, along for support.

“That's the plan anyway,” says Charlene. “They have been at all our games this season, rain, hail, sleet, or even freezing fog like last Saturday.

“Oisín is five and understands what is going on alright. Sean is only two. He can shout 'Up the Shamrocks;, but I am not too sure he really knows the whole story.

“I couldn't train and play camogie if it wasn't for the whole family support network. Johnny is about now, but when he was with the county (senior hurling team) earlier in the season, we were out nearly every night of the week, sometimes both of us on the same night.

“That couldn't be done without the support we have from Johnny's family and my own.”

Charlene Campbell didn't come through the usual underage pathway with Loughgiel. Her first game for the club was with the U16s.

“That's right. I am from the Braid. Our club would be Glenarm and my father Pat (Hamill) and brothers Barry and Darren would be heavily involved with them. But there was no camogie in the area when I was growing up.

“One day Harry Connolly from Loughgiel was about the house delivering flowers. I was hitting a sliotar against a wall and he enquired where I played. Next thing I was training with the Loughgiel U16s.”

The new kid on the block wasn't long progressing to the senior team, but missed out on the famous victory over the then All-Ireland champions Rossa in the 2009 Antrim final in Casement Park.

“I broke a bone in my hand earlier in the championship and missed the final. We had run Rossa close the year before and they went on to win the All-Ireland. I watched Jane Adams lifting the cup that day in Ashbourne and I remember thinking 'I want that feeling too'. So when we beat them the following year, we thought we had a good shot at an All-Ireland.

“It didn't quite work out that way though. We played Athenry in the All-Ireland semi-final and got blown out of the water. We just weren't ready yet for the next step up.”

Around the same time Campbell was brought into the county team and came on as a sub when Antrim and Waterford drew in Croke Park in 2010. The Saffrons won the replay in Ashbourne and again she came in as sub.

A year later Antrim were back in Croke Park and she started the Intermediate final against Wexford in the forward line, scoring a point. But the Saffrons lost that final by three points.

Having played for club and county in a number of positions, she now is more recognisable as a defender. Last Saturday's conditions for the semi-final against Drum and Inch probably suited defenders.

“Well, I don't know. The conditions were difficult and when a game develops into a closely-fought battle, I suppose there is more pressure on forwards. But it wasn't easy for anyone.

“The pitch looked bad when we arrived at it. But once you were out on it, you had to shut all that out, no distractions, and focus completely on the game. The same happened in the county final; it was played in a downpour.

“We always had the belief we could beat Slaughtneil. We generally gave them a good game and they were up there at the top at All-Ireland level. But when another year passed, you wondered would we ever beat them, would I still be playing when we did.

“We have been on a long journey and every management team has contributed to that. This year we have new management again. They have freshened things up, just little things have changed and everything just seemed to come together for us.”

It is a quick turnaround for Campbell and her team-mates with the final just seven days after the semi-final. They are playing the reigning champions, Sarsfield's of Galway.

“We have played both Sarsfield's and Drum and Inch in challenge games over the years. I know there is a big difference in a challenge game and an All-Ireland semi-final or final. But there was never much between us when the game finished.

“Saturday will be another step up for us, but it is a challenge we are all really looking forward to.”

More than a decade ago, she played her part as physio to see Johnny and the hurlers take the Tom Moore Cup home. Now Johnny has a role to play on the sidelines while she and the camogie team chase the Bill and Agnes Carroll Cup.