Laura Walker just turned 16 but has been playing camogie since she was ten years old.
The teen was recently bestowed with the honour of captaining her county camogie team.
“When I started out I trained with the Windgap boys, under Simon Brophy. I held the hurl the wrong way for ages so Simon made sure that by the time he was finished with me that held it the right way!”
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree as Laura’s interest in sport stemmed from her parents and relations.
“While I have no claim to famous All-Stars, in my immediate family I would be closely connected to some of hurling's greatest. My maternal granny, Tess Croke is the sister of Danny Maher of Mullinahone, granddad to the great players Eoin and Paul Kelly of Tipperary, and Ollie, Niall, and James Moran of Limerick. My dad played club hurling with John Lockes Callan and my mum played football with Mullinahone getting a run with the Tipperary County Team. My cousins Mairead and Phena are also great camogie achievers, both at club and county level.”
Laura enjoys playing with her camogie club Windgap and is suited to most playing positions, however her biggest role is protecting the Kilkenny goal.
“I play at centre forward and for minors and seniors and I play in goal. For the U16 county team I also play in the goal.’’
For a young teenager her schedule is very busy and at times full on.
“Training is hectic. The county U16 team train twice or three times a week. I was lucky to have the training with Callan. Fortunately my club Windgap are very understanding if I miss training due to county commitments. They are proud to have girls from the club representing them at county level. I also play football for Mullinahone which was my mum’s club. That adds more training and travelling. It helps also having girls like Denise Gaule, Alison Walsh, Nicola and Laura Moore who are always there to share the lifts.”
But like most young teens in sport sacrifices are made and this is no different for Laura.
‘’I have made sacrifices such as letting go of being in the Kilkenny Swimming Squad. I loved swimming and have two Leinster medals for the freestyle and butterfly. It was hard letting it go but I have no regrets sticking with camogie, as the team spirit is really great.”
It is this ethos that helps keep a player going and for Laura she credits camogie to helping her make great mates.
“I love camogie because of all the friends I made throughout the year. Every year there are always newcomers. I have travelled the county and country with camogie and football. The friends you make through sports are there for life!”
It’s just as well for Laura she has great friends on the team as she sometimes misses out on her friends who don’t play sport. “Is it is very time consuming. I often miss out on doing things with my friends because of training commitments but if I didn't love it I wouldn't still be doing it.”
Health and nutrition is extremely important to an athlete and Laura makes sure to look after her body by eating the right foods.
‘’On the morning of a match I usually have a bowl of porridge and a banana. I try to keep myself well hydrated and eat something light like a sandwich before the game. I make up for that discipline though after the game!”
It paid off though as she was granted a prestigious sporting honour this year when she became the captain of the county U16 team.
“As we won the U16 County Championship the honour fell to Windgap to captain the county team. It was my mum who gave me the good news. The club had a meeting and I was selected as the captain. To captain any team is an honour but to captain your county team is an even greater honour.”
She has many heroes in the game but her favourite is a Cork woman Mary O’Connor.
“I just love her confidence and her skill when she goes to the ball. I actually have the pleasure of playing with many other great camogie players such as Mairead Luttrell, Phena Heffernan, Annie Phelan, Elaine O'Shea, Lisa Phelan, Denise Gaule, Alison Walsh, Nicola and Laura Moore.”
For a young player Laura has many achievements under her belt
“I have won U12, U14, U16, U18, Intermediate League and County titles with my club Windgap. I won county U14 Leinster titles in 2006 and 2007. I won county U16 Leinster and All-Ireland titles in 2008. With my school St Brigid’s College I have won Senior A Leinster titles in 2006, 2007, 2009 and a Senior A All-Ireland titles in 2008 and 2009. I have also won an All-Ireland seven-a-side competitions in 2007 and 2008 with the college. All of which I’m very proud to be part of.”
One of Laura’s happiest memories is playing in Semple Stadium when her team made history.
“I have played in pitches with long grass and muddy goal mouths but it was a great achievement last year to play in Semple Stadium with the U16 county team in the All Ireland final against Cork. We won that day making history by winning the U16 All-Ireland four years in a row. 2008 was by far the most successful year of hurling and camogie in Kilkenny, hence the county teams were presented with scrolls of honour by the Kilkenny County Council recognising the hurling and camogie All-Ireland winning teams.
“St Brigid’s College also won the Kilkenny People sports award for the month March for our two in-a-row success in the senior A colleges All- Ireland Final.”
Like most people Laura has many sporting hopes for the future.
“I would love to win an All-Ireland with the Kilkenny senior camogie team and play in Croke Park. I also hope to go for 3 in-a-row colleges All-Ireland next year.’’
No doubt this young girl will achieve all of this and more.