Women In Sport: Anna Geary of Cork and Leann Fennelly of Kilkenny
In the first of our new weekly Women in Sport features, we look ahead to tomorrow’s Liberty Insurance All-Ireland senior camogie championship.
In what is set to be a clash of the titans as Cork take on Kilkenny, we speak to team captains, Leann Fennelly (Kilkenny) and Anna Geary (Cork) about the game of the year.
Tomorrow’s final is an exact replica of the 2009 All-Ireland final. That year, Cork took the honours in a nail-biting game. Indeed, clashes between these two camogie kingpins have proven to be nerve-wracking encounters and certainly not for the fainthearted.
Indeed, last year, in the All-Ireland semi-final, Kilkenny took victory by the narrowest of margins, one point, before being defeated by Galway in the final. It’s now down to a matter of pride, a matter of honour and the love for their county, and Leann and Anna take us through their journey to Croker.
For 27-year-old Cork captain, Anna Geary, tomorrow is going to be a big day.
“I’ve been playing with Cork from under-14 level all the way through to senior,” said the marketing professional, adding that she joined the senior panel at the age of 16 in 2003.
“I have underage medals with Cork including three-in-a-row minor All-Ireland and I also proudly hold three senior All-Ireland medals.
“It’s huge commitment, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it. Everyone is busy these days. Having downtime is key. Last year I was training with Cork and Milford, working full-time and undertaking a part-time Post Grad so I was at my busiest. With planning and organisation, I got through it all, trying all the while to keep a smile on my face.”
She continued: “Growing up I always admired the determination of the Cork camogie team - Fiona O Driscoll, the Dunleas, Eithne Duggan. I also had huge respect for Tipperary's Una O’Dwyer and Ciara Gaynor as they were defenders involved in Tipperary's success in the early 2000s.
“Your toughest opponent, though, should be the one you mark at training. Outside of Cork and Milford, I have had so many battles with the likes of Claire Grogan (Tipp), Ursula Jacob, Mary Lacey and Kate Kelly (all Wexford).”
Now, though, Anna’s mind is firmly focused on Sunday.
“It is an honour to lead this group of players out onto Croke Park - a dream come true even. So few get the opportunity to grace Croke Park on All-Ireland Final day so it is a privilege. But we have a responsibility to all who follow Cork camogie to leave everything we have out on the field.
“Kilkenny and Cork always produce great exhibitions in camogie and hurling down through the years and I expect Sunday to be no different, it will be a tight game,” she stated, adding that she trains up to six nights a week.
“Is it worth it? Of course it is. 'No one said it was going to be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.' That is a motto that I follow. So many players would give anything to be in my position. The career time for a sportsperson is so short that you have to make the most of it while you have the chance.
“Sometimes people have to retire due to other commitments - family, work, moving away or through injury - so while I can, I want to enjoy it. I'm sure the minute I retire, all I'll want to do is play again. It is a major part of my life and has helped make me into the person I am today. I have learned so much from sport.
“For young players out there, I say enjoy playing. You will become a better player because of it. Never be afraid to make a mistake. Do what you love and love what you do – not just in sport, but in life in general.”
Twenty-four-year-old account manager, Leann, has been playing camogie since she was eight years old, having been introduced to it in primary school. It was a love affair that was set to bloom and blossom over the coming years, joining Mullinavat camogie club.
“I played from under 14-level up through the different age groups and joined the senior team in 2009. I have an under 16, three minor and one intermediate All-Ireland medal,” she explained.
The talented player is really looking forward to the game tomorrow and acknowledged that the road to Croker hasn’t been easy.
“It is demanding travelling between Dublin and Kilkenny a couple of times a week for training,” she said, explaining that she is living in Dublin. “It’s worth it though, and the club never put a lot of pressure on me which is great.”
Citing fellow county man, Henry Shefflin, as one of her top hurlers, Leann has huge admiration for Kildare’s Susie O’Carroll and says that marking Mairead Luttrell is always a tough challenge.
“Tomorrow is going to be a tough game too. But it’s all worth it in the end. All the training and hard work. You do miss certain occasions with friends and family but I am lucky as my friends and family understand the commitment needed.
“That commitment brings you to Croke Park. Your playing career only lasts for so long, so you have to make the most of it while you are able to play. You can enjoy all the ups and downs but obviously if you win, it makes it that bit sweeter!” she joked.
“The more you put into something, the more you will get out of it. Personally, I think there’s something about a team game that makes playing special."
The Liberty Insurance All-Ireland camogie finals take place tomorrow, Sunday September 14th in Croke Park, Dublin. It is a triple-header in Croke Park, starting at 12.00pm with the junior final, followed by the intermediate final at 2.00pm and the senior final at 4.00pm.