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Big prize: Fionnuala Carr is aiming for All-Ireland

Big prize: Fionnuala Carr is aiming for All-Ireland

�INPHO/James Crombie

Big prize: Fionnuala Carr is aiming for All-Ireland

At some point around a quarter to two, maybe just prior to meeting the president, Down camogie captain Fionnuala Carr will take a glance up at the Hogan Stand to see the whole crew there to see the Mourne county taking on Cork in tomorrow's All-Ireland Intermediate final.

There will be her father, Ross, holder of two All-Ireland football medals with Down in the '90s. Her mother Theresa, who is heavily involved in their Clonduff club.

Her brother, Aidan, who played for well over a decade with the county, his wife and their daughter. And the younger brothers Charlie and Ross junior, both of whom have worn the red and black at underage.

Alongside her on the pitch will be her sister, Sara-Louise, who is married to the brilliant Antrim and Ruairi Óg hurler Arron Graffin.

And if you want to trace the family tree there was her grandfather Aidan Carr who was on the Down panel that won the county's first All-Ireland at junior level in 1946. His own brother - Fionnuala's grand-uncle - Barney was the manager of Down when they finally landed All-Irelands at senior level in the 1960s.

"There's no real chat other than the GAA in our family. So anybody comes into the house, unless you are going to chat about the GAA, you won't get much chat!" laughs Fionnuala now.

Brought up in this way, having no interest in the GAA was simply not an option.

"I definitely think my background has helped generate the interest. But keeping the interest as well, I have great support from my family. All of my brothers play, my mum is involved in the club, my dad is involved with the club," she explains.

"Then all the Rooney family (her mother is Rooney and her brother Sean is the Down county board chairman) are involved in the GAA and my extended Carr family are all GAA supporters.

"When you come from a rural GAA village there are less temptations away from it but there is also a genuine love of the game. And then having seen daddy having been so successful and the hype that was around it when we were growing up, it creates a passion and a love for the games."

Passion is one thing. Tradition is another. They are not abstract concepts when it comes to a woman devoting herself to her sport. But while the men's game is lionised for the devotion of player to team and the commitment levels involved, consider that Fionnuala Carr lives in Castleknock, Dublin, where she works for a recycling company and travels back for training at least twice a week.

"We have been quite lucky, the furthest I have had to go to was Downpatrick," she downplays.

"At the start of the year I was there at weekends and could be there during the week when it suited.

"But from the start of the Championship I have been putting in a concerted effort. Whenever there was training on a Tuesday or Thursday, and then the weekends, I was there."

At 34, Fionnuala is a veteran now. She actually played against Cork in a Junior final back in 2004 and, at this stage, she's had to cut back on the gym work.

"I found that my recovery from games and training was taking me a lot longer. So I wasn't doing the same volume of gym work, only doing two times a week whereas before I might have been going three or four times a week. I just couldn't do the travelling, the training and then get up the next day and go to the gym," she explains.

"I actually probably struggled this year more than any other years with it.

"I think it comes with age. I am not saying I am old, but this year the recovery after games takes a little bit longer, the travelling in the car, I am travelling an hour and 45 minutes to two hours, if not longer. And I am travelling at peak traffic time."

Gym work is just another thing that has changed since Fionnuala first started playing county camogie, a game that is ever-evolving, as she explains.

"I think the speed of the game, the skill level of the players, the fitness levels, strength and physicality is a difference of night and day between 2004 and 2018," she states.

"Like, in 2004, unless you were into going to the gym, then you didn't. There was no strength and conditioning. Nutrition was a word that you never worried about.

"The biggest change is off the field rather than on the field but the game has developed. It is much stronger and quicker. It has become a lot more like hurling, more physical contact, players are a lot stronger, a lot fitter and faster and we have a different quality of athlete."

She continues: "Now, it's not a dirty game, and hurling is slightly different from football and ladies' football. There's not the same cynicism, but there is probably more physicality in the games, and it's fairer.

"Hurling and camogie is about going out there and being the best that you can be and the only way to do that is to get to the ball first and get as many scores as possible. Whereas in football if you can stop a player, or stop a team from scoring, you can be valuable."

While the standards rise through greater understanding of fitness and skills acquisition, the coverage has never been greater, those in charge of the promotion of the game embracing the world of social media rather than battling for limited newsprint.

"You tend to see some clips of a bit of skill in a club game whereas you would never have seen that before now," says Carr.

Despite that, she has her frustrations with the wee ball code. Namely, and this is a common theme among players and coaches, that more could be done to help grow the games in the province.

"I think camogie and hurling overall needs to be developed more. Ulster is a predominantly football province and not everybody is given a chance to play hurling or camogie," she says.

"If you look at the Dublin footballers, they started from the Blue Wave template, but they also have financial backing from the GAA to implement that template.

"People can have all the development plans in the world and we all need to start from somewhere. But there has to be a genuine commitment from the camogie association and the GAA to help finance development plans."

In the meantime, she keeps playing. As long as her body allows, she will be doing it.

She's a Carr, after all.

Belfast Telegraph


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