CAMOGIE: “There’s no way in hell those girls are going to Croke Park for the day out. They’re there to reach an All-Ireland final” – Áine Lyng
By Daragh Ó Conchúir (Waterford’s Aine Lyng and Niamh Rocket celebrate after beatin Dublin in the 2018 championship ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne)
For Waterford to finally get over the line in the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior camogie quarter-final against Limerick last Saturday felt major, after failing to do so in the four previous seasons.
A niggling feeling that they were underachievers who had flattered to deceive from when they reached that first quarter-final in 2018, also in Semple Stadium, was beginning to fester but no one is saying that now.
There has been quite a turnover of players from that defeat to Tipperary, when everything felt new. Áine Lyng is one of those no longer involved, expecting her first child in October after marrying James Schwarz last year. Her pleasure in seeing the white and blue reach a first senior semi-final since 1959, against neighbours Cork (3.15pm – live on RTÉ 2), is very evident.
Lyng has always had high standards – kudos to Jason then – so four years ago, she wasn’t getting carried away about the prospect of a senior quarter-final in the third season back after winning the intermediate title in 2015. Lyng dated back to the premier junior final defeats of 2009 and 2010 but missed the 2011 triumph, having moved to London for six years and taken up ultra-running to fill the gap.
Despite that lengthy absence that included watching from the stands for those 2011 and 2015 successes, Lyng was still named on Waterford’s team of the decade in 2020, which tells you a lot. She is well placed to understand what has gone into getting the Déise to Croke Park with just three other teams in contention for ultimate honours (champions Galway and Kilkenny do battle in the second semi-final at 5.30pm).
“Looking back now, it was momentous to reach a senior quarter-final but it wasn’t the first time Waterford camogie had gotten far,” Lyng reasons. “Like this game (today), it had been building for years.
“Even going back as far as when I was U16, we won an All-Ireland B title (in 2003). You had the Mercy winning the All-Ireland schools (senior B, when a 14-year-old Lyng was playing) and Blackwater (Community School, Lismore) winning it (in 2009). Then you had Lismore winning the All-Ireland club (intermediate) in 2014.
“So it was coming in 2018 and this semi-final was coming. It’s like the Limerick hurlers. It doesn’t just happen. It’s year and years of building momentum, building belief and skill. And building fitness too.
“In 2018, it was the highest fitness levels Waterford camogie had reached but if you look back at the quarter-finals lost in the years after that, it was always in the last 10 or 15 minutes when we waned. It takes years to build that hard fitness up too for that level.
“So yeah, looking back, it was momentous to reach that first quarter-final in so long but not surprising and it’s the same for this semi-final. It’s been long overdue.”
It is noteworthy that half the team from 2018 won’t be involved today, which is a high rate in such a short period of time, but we haven’t lived through normal times.
“Covid had a big impact on a lot of people in different ways. I was travelling up and down from Kildare and then there were travelling restrictions that put a stop to that.
“There is a core set of players like Brianna (O’Regan), Iona (Heffernan), Rocky (Niamh Rockett), Beth (Carton), (Lorraine) Bray, Aoife Landers that were there before 2018. The likes of Rocky is still there from when they won the junior. Beth and Bray too.
“Myself, Shona Curran, Emma Hannon – now Roche – Claire Whyte, Fiona Morrissey and more, all contributed in different ways to the journey. And everyone knows what Trish Jackman gave to Waterford. I’m delighted I put in that effort. I’d love to be still there but every player does on the big day.
“I’d still give the girls a text and it’s great to know them. I don’t see them as much anymore but when we do meet up, it’s like old times. The friendships are there, the bond is there and I’m very proud of that bond. I know the effort they’ve put in and it’s great that they’re there.”
Lyng absolutely revelled in the fluidity, rapidity and cohesion of Waterford’s first-half performance seven days ago.
“It was wonderful to watch, real heads-up hurling. The two passes (from Carton and Bray) for Rockett’s goals were just something else. It was a dream of a day but again, they have been building to that. By half-time they had eight different scorers. That shows how much the team has developed, when there might have been a reliance on Beth before that.
“I think Róisín Kirwan shows how Waterford camogie is developing. She came through the junior team, which was only set up a few years ago and we are seeing the benefit of that. The camogie they played in the first half just shows what’s happening in the county.”
There is one aspect to the campaign that has disappointed Lyng though as not in step with the positive trend of camogie and women’s sport in general.
“I’m delighted bump is going to be in Croke Park to see Waterford women playing, as I’ll be doing some preview work for (local radio station) WLR. It’s great the way women’s sport has grown in recent years and I have a niece Fiadh, who’s five, playing with Gailltír now. This Waterford team are role models for her and so many.
“It’s sad then that they had to set up their own Go Fund Me page to raise funds for training. For a top senior ladies’ team to have to do that is not right. I would call on people and businesses to grasp the massive opportunity that’s there now and get involved at a time when women’s sport is growing, and when Waterford camogie is growing. You see how Lidl have benefited from ladies’ football and how ladies’ football has benefited from Lidl.”
A cancer prevention officer in the HSE’s national cancer control programme, Lyng has been working from home since the outbreak of Covid. You ask if we will see her back in a Gailltír jersey again, having captained her club to All-Ireland intermediate glory in 2020.
The answer is that nothing – absolutely nothing – has been ruled out by the 34-year-old, who last appeared for Waterford in 2019, excelling when they gave subsequent champions Galway a huge fright in the quarter-final.
“You never say never. I transferred to Naas over a year ago but then bump came along. James and I do have plans to return to Waterford so I wouldn’t rule it out playing for Gailltír again… and maybe I haven’t closed the door on Waterford again!
“I have great support, which you’d need. James is an English man but he’s ingrained in the GAA so there would be no worries there. We’ll have to wait and see.”
As for today, Lyng is adamant that Waterford’s appetite will not be sated by one ground-breaking win that hasn’t yielded silverware. She doesn’t see a semi-final as bonus territory and nor, she insists, will the players.
“There’s no way in hell those girls are going to Croke Park for the day out. They’re there to reach an All-Ireland final.
“We played Cork in a Munster semi-final a few years ago and got very close. I know they met in the group and Cork won by six points. Beth wasn’t playing when Cork won the quarter-final last year. Tipp beat Cork, and Waterford beat Tipp. Clare pushed Cork all the way in the Munster final and Waterford beat Clare. I back these girls to do it.”