Hurling & Camogie

Niamh Quinn learning on the job as Derry close in on All-Ireland final place

Derry defender Niamh Quinn
Derry defender Niamh Quinn

BEING able to adapt to change has been the main thing that corner-back Niamh Quinn has taken from her first year with the Derry camogie team. 

Last season, Derry missed out on a spot in the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland intermediate final when a late rally from Cork delivered three of the last four points, all in injury-time, to snatch a 0-14 to 1-10 victory over them. 

Such has been the turnover of players at the beginning of the season that only five of that semi-final starting team, plus two of the subs used, remained for new manager PJ O’Mullan.  

Swatragh’s Quinn was one of the new players to come through. 

“A lot of last year’s players picked up injury in that game or in the club championship. A couple of others could no longer make the commitment. 

“I felt that the club season was too short last year with the new arrangements. I just wasn’t ready to wait through to this summer to get another competitive camogie game. So I went along with the other Swatragh girls to the county.” 

The national league campaign was a learning curve for her. 

“I didn’t know what to expect from game to game. For me, I just wanted to get into the team and stay there. For others who had been there before, they were maybe looking at the team performance and working out if Derry was playing better or worse than last year. 

“I didn’t have any such expectations. I had nothing to measure that against.” 

Derry missed out on a league final by losing to Meath in the final group game, having lost to Kerry earlier in the campaign. 

“I would have shared in the disappointment because we weren’t that far away from them and you wanted that extra game. We set out as a team to make the final and, when you don’t deliver, there is disappointment. But we had to get over it. 

“We then had Antrim seniors in the Ulster semi-final. On one level you can see how far Antrim have gone in a few years, the experience they have built up, the talent they have had coming through at under-age level. 

“But to us, it was a derby game and any time we played Antrim teams at under-age level, club level, there was never that much between us. We had a free shot at them with no-one giving us a chance,” claimed the trainee nurse who works part time in Holywell Hospital outside Antrim town. 

On the day Derry played well, put Antrim under a lot of pressure and came out with a one-point defeat. 

“We could have won the game, led for a period in the second half. It was still a great boost for us coming into the All-Ireland. I think what we had been missing before that game was real belief in ourselves and the motivation to take teams on. 

“Since then we are a lot more confident in ourselves.” 

Derry were drawn in the same group as Wexford, Carlow and Antrim’s second string who had come up from intermediate. None of the three games really challenged Derry. 

“I wouldn’t totally agree with that,” says Quinn.  

“While we got into a good lead against Antrim, they are a very young team and their speed gave us some bother. They had a lot of runners.” 

Derry topped their group and avoided the quarter-finals, which was a good thing according to the Swatragh defender. 

“We lost Eimear O’Kane in the Antrim game. She picked up a bad injury and we needed to work around finding a new full-back. The four weeks have helped in that respect, but you also need regular games, so there are disadvantages to going straight through.” 

Swatragh team-mate and county goalie for a number of years, Niamh McQuillan had picked up an injury just before the Ulster championship and Lavey’s Niamh Gribben stepped in between the posts in what seemed a seamless transition. 

Younger players have stepped into the breach when two other stalwarts Gráinne McAtamney and Shannon O’Doherty stepped away for personal reasons around the same time. 

“We have had to adapt to losing players this year. I hope that we can overcome the loss of Eimear in the same way.” 

Turning to the remainder of the championship, Quinn is looking forward to facing Kilkenny in tomorrow’s first semi-final in Semple Stadium. 

“You have to play the game rather than the occasion, but I am really looking forward to playing in Thurles, one of the best hurling pitches in the country. 

“We are up against Kilkenny and I think everyone had them marked down as the team to beat this year. They certainly won their group games very easily. 

“We beat Wexford fairly comfortably in Owenbeg, but Wexford gave them a real run for their money last Saturday. I wouldn’t be reading too much into that however. To me, it is a bit like us and Antrim in the Ulster championship, a derby game and you are not expected to do well.” 

The prize for the winner is a visit to Croke Park and a possible re-match with Meath, the team that ruined their league aspirations. 

“We are not even thinking about that at the minute. We have a big test ahead of us in Semple Stadium.”