O’Dea eyes the All-Ireland prize

Niamh O’Dea’s incredible semi-final performance catapulted Clare’s ladies into their first All-Ireland final in seven years — now on what will be a hectic weekend for the footballing family from Kilfenora she’s hoping for a fairytale end to the year. Joe Ó Muircheartaigh reports.

NO prizes for guessing what the topic of conversation will be within the O’Dea Clan in Kilfenora for the rest of the week.
Let’s put it this way — the O’Neills will be punted around in mind as well as in body as the O’Deas close in on what could be the most memorable 24 hours of their footballing lives.
Cian and Jack man the midfield for Kilfenora’s men as they face down Kildysart in Cusack Park on the Saturday, with their father JJ one of those running the line in management — then 24 hours later Cian, Jack and JJ will be Dublin bound to see Niamh and Eva go for gold in the All-Ireland final in Croke Park.
“There’s a great buzz around the place,” admits Niamh, who has been the star of Clare’s run to the All-Ireland, “and it’s a big week for the family alright with the two lads playing on Saturday and then myself and Eva on Sunday. A lot of the girls in Kilfenora like Eva, myself and Kayleigh McCormack would have played with the lads who are playing in the intermediate final growing up at underage level, so it’s really big weekend for all of us,” she adds.
Of course the O’Deas have already tasted glory in Croke Park, with Cian and Jack being part of the National League Division 3 winning outfit there this year — now for Niamh and Eva to claim their own slice of national glory.
“It’s a first final for a lot of us so the excitement will take over this week,” she says. “Just to be there is a great achievement for the team, but when you’re in the final is the hope that you can go on and win it and that’s what we’ll be aiming to do.
“There’s a great bunch there and we’re all going in the same direction. We know what we want and that’s to be playing senior football. The way to achieve that is through hard work and we’ve put in the work to move up and then see if we can compete at that higher level,” she adds.
O’Dea is no stranger to that level, having burst on the scene as a 16-year-old in 2010 just after Clare had regained their senior status with the All-Ireland Intermediate final win over Fermanagh in Croke Park.
“We got to the All-Ireland quarter-final against Dublin that year,” she recalls “and we weren’t too far away from them that day and they went on to win the All-Ireland. That game showed us that Clare football could compete and it was just that we had hard luck on the day and things didn’t go right for us. You’d never know what might have happened had we got some of the right calls.
“We slipped a bit after that and so this was the first opportunity for a lot of us to get to Croke Park because it’s such a young team bar the few older girls that would have played there before. The big thing for Clare this year is that we’ve really gelled well together and it’s a case that we really can’t wait to get going.”
Of course, key to the rise of Clare’s game and their performances has been O’Dea’s return to the fold after a few years away — two years ago she was concentrating on her inter-county camogie career, while last year there was a year out travelling.
“I was in New York for the summer,” she says, “and going away after finishing college was about getting experience of travelling and all that was something I don’t regret.
“It was an experience I won’t forget but it’s good to be back now, knuckling down to playing football with the girls again, putting in the hard work and the grind and then to see that we are finally getting our rewards.
“Against Tipperary (in the semi-final) we came in as underdogs but there’s no hiding the fact now — we beat them and there’ll be no under the radar or that kind of thing anymore. We played Kildare in the league but I wouldn’t read anything into that game.
“We had a much different team that day and so did they, but they were in the final last year so’ll they’ll have the experience that we don’t have. They’ve been to Croke Park and played there, while only two or our squad have played there — Niamh Keane and Louise Henchy.
“There’s a big difference between having played in Croke Park and not having played there. Hopefully that won’t impact on us to much. It’s new to a lot of us, it’s very new and you can’t really put into words what it would mean to win. It would be amazing — first off everyone dreams of playing in Croke Park, so to go and win there would be surreal. It’s now about having the fairytale ending that we’re all hoping for.”
Clare believe in fairytales.

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