Newmarket-on-Fergus’ McMahon sisters have been instrumental in the evolution of Clare Camogie’s flagship side from Junior champions to Senior contenders over the last 15 years, with 25-year-old Laura the latest to lead the county’s hopes in 2019. Eoin Brennan reports.
Clare were not so much knocking at the door as hammering it relentlessly at the back end of the last decade to try and make the breakthrough from junior level. After successive All-Ireland defeats to Dublin (2006) and Derry (2007), it had to take a Shonagh Enright injury-time goal against Offaly twelve months later to end their Croke Park heartbreak and ensure that joint-captains Deirdre Murphy and Sharon McMahon got to finally lift the Kay Mills Cup.
Sharon was the first of three McMahon sisters to front Clare’s assimilation at senior level, with Roisin and Laura subsequently backboning the team in recent years.
However, with Roisin taking a break to travel abroad this summer, youngest sister Laura, who was a watergirl for the 2008 All-Ireland decider, would gladly settle for a return trip to the Jones’ Road as the new captain of the county..
“I wasn’t expecting it. Essentially it was the players who got to vote for the captaincy so it was a massive boost of confidence. There are such an unbelievable bunch of talented players so I’m more than delighted to captain them.”
The camogie bug was instilled in Laura from an early age but along with her obvious family influences, there were several other factors in her development path that helped her become one of Clare’s most inspirational players.
“Even before I ever started playing for Newmarket, I remember going down to the field watching Trish O’Grady and Moira McMahon. They were my role models and I just wanted to one day play like them and play beside them. It never got to happen but it was a huge learning experience for me to see their determination and leadership.
“Equally, with UL, I got to play alongside and against top inter-county players such as Cait Devane (Tipperary). Her leadership both on the off the field, I really took a lot from her and learned loads.
“Maybe the girls chose me as they thought I’m getting old but hopefully they see me as a leader. I don’t know if I am but I’d always try to give one hundred and ten per cent and leave everything on the field anyway. Perhaps stupidly sometimes I’d play through injuries and stuff like that but I’m trying to get better at that now and be a proper leader in putting up my hand when I’m not okay, knowing that the person that’s coming on is going to do just as good as you if not better.
“The strength of the panel now is unreal. The last day against Cork to see your five subs being Clare Hehir, Carol O’Leary, Niamh O’Dea, Mairead Scanlan and Fiona Lafferty is just massive. Those five players you’d take them on any county team.”
Self deprecation aside, it’s easy to see why Laura’s county-mates opted for the Ashbourne Cup winning captain to reprise that role for Clare, merely from her innate passion and determination to succeed since making her debut as a teenager at the turn of the decade.
“I’m starting to feel old even though I’m not that old. Certainly I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve seen a lot of players come and go so it makes you realise the fragility of it all and gives you the appreciation to try and make the most of it while you can.
“I think the main thing the year is that we start having that belief in ourselves. We’ve seen so many brilliant players wear the Clare jersey and have nothing to show for it in terms of silverware really. So you want to have something at the end of your time so that you can say you left the Clare jersey in a better place or that you put Clare camogie on the map.”
That bid commences this Saturday when Clare welcome All-Ireland senior three-in-a-row chasing Cork who already had 15 points to spare over their hosts in the provincial equivalent six weeks previously.
“We can’t possibly look past Cork because it’s a real baptism of fire playing against the All-Ireland champions. But that’s what you want too because you want to be playing against the best and you want to make a mark for yourself and set a standard for the team.
“This management team have been really successful in getting a great panel of players together and that strength-in-depth that we have now is something that we have lacked in the last few years. Before we would have probably struggled at the end of games and having people coming in who are brilliant quality players but didn’t really believe in themselves.
“I think that’s one thing that this management are really trying to work on, for us as players to finally have that belief in ourselves.
“Each one of these players have had success, whether individually, at club level, with schools and colleges or underage inter-county but we’ve failed to bring that through to senior level. So this is the year that we are hoping to make progressions. I’m not going to say that we’re going to win the All-Ireland or anything like that but getting to the quarter-final would be a big step in the right direction for a start.”
2019 All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship Fixtures
(11 teams, divided into two groups, with the group winners advancing directly to the semi-finals and the next two teams in each group contesting quarter-finals (2nd in Group 1 v 3rd in Group 2, 2nd in Group 2 v 3rd in Group 1). The bottom side in each group will play-off in a relegation final)
Group 1 – Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, Offaly, WexfordGroup 2 – Clare, Cork, Dublin, Meath, Tipperary, Waterford
Fixtures (First team named has home advantage)
Round 1 (Saturday @ 5pm) Group 1 Galway v Kilkenny @ Kenny Park, AthenryLimerick v Offaly @ LIT Gaelic Grounds, LimerickWexford a bye
Group 2 Clare v Cork @ O’Garney Park, Sixmilebridge
Dublin v Meath @ Parnell’s GAA, Coolock
Tipperary v Waterford @ The Ragg
Round 2 (Saturday/Sunday, June 22/23)
Group 1 Offaly v Galway
Wexford v KilkennyLimerick a bye
Group 2 Cork v Tipperary
Meath v Clare
Waterford v Dublin
Round 3 Group 1 (Saturday/Sunday, June 29/30) Kilkenny v Offaly
Limerick v WexfordGalway a bye
Group 2 (Saturday/Sunday, July 6/7)
Clare v Tipperary
Dublin v Cork
Meath v Waterford Round 4
Group 1 (Saturday/Sunday July 6/7)
Galway v Limerick
Offaly v Wexford Kilkenny a bye
Group 2 (Saturday/Sunday, July 13/14)
Cork v Meath
Tipperary v Dublin
Waterford v Clare
Round 5 (Saturday/Sunday, July 20/21) Group 1
Kilkenny v Limerick
Wexford v GalwayOffaly a bye
Dublin v Clare
Meath v Tipperary
Waterford v Cork
Relegation Play-Off (Saturday/Sunday, July 27/28)
All-Ireland Quarter-Finals (Saturday/Sunday, August 3/4) (Extra-Time if Necessary) All-Ireland Semi-Finals (Saturday, August 17) (Extra-Time if Necessary) All-Ireland Final (Sunday, September 8)