The Galway captain is cool out, given that the day we are speaking should have been her wedding day, her second chosen date this year; after her first date in March was postponed due to the lockdown. In August, she realised that her November date was going to go the same way with increasing restrictions, so herself and her fiancé have put plans on hold until late next year, when the world will be a better and safer place.
She also hopes that by that time, Galway will have at least one more All-Ireland senior camogie title in the bag, starting with this weekend’s eagerly anticipated clash with Kilkenny under the lights at Croke Park on Saturday night.
“Today was the day I should have been getting married,” she drops into the conversation, “so I am glad to have the distraction of meeting the media.”
“We had the date set for March and that was postponed, and the second date we selected was today, (the day we spoke last Friday ) so I am glad to have all these to take my mind off it.
“In August, we decided that because the numbers were going the wriong way. Making the decision was one of the hardest things to do but it was a great relief when it was made. There are a few other players who will be out there on Saturday night who made the same decision. That’s life and you can’t change it. I look forward to it again when it comes around. November next year. Yoiu get so worn out from planning, that we are happy enough to move it out to next year.”
But the media are not the only distraction — there’s the matter of the Cats under the lights at headquarters, coming at the end of a difficult year for us all.
Lockdown took its toll on the players.
“I found it lonely to be honest. The hardest thing was pucking around on your own. You can do the sessions yourself and the running around and you’ll power through them, with the bits of equipment but pucking around with yourself or off a wall is just not the same as going down to the pitch, meeting the girls, chatting to them and having a bit of craic is so important. When you are in a routine of get up every morning, go to work, come home and go training, that is your life and for that all to be taken away is a struggle. For a few weeks I was wondering what should I be doing.
“We had Zoom calls, quizzes, and the likes, just to stay in touch, we kept each other going and praying for the day when we would get the go ahead to return to play, and thankfully we did. The first evening we were all like kids going back to school. We appreciated getting this chance because not everybody got the opportunity.
“It was important too for our families to have something to take an interest in again. even though they could not go to the matches. My parents now are experts at streaming. It took them a few matches to get the hang of the TV connection to the laptop, but they got there eventually,” she joked.
“We just kept the head down and kept going.
Sarah works in Medtronic on quality systems, drawing up training programmes on how to train operators, and had been working from home for most of the summer.
“We were remote for five months and we are back in now. It is a new routine. I was set in my ways and I didn’t realise that until this hit. You got into a new routine. Working from home is grand but you miss the interaction with people.”
The changed way of doing things is the main factor behind the scheduling of this weekend’s final. And after the debacle of the twice-moved football semifinal last weekend, a lot of focus will be on getting accustomed to the protocols of getting to and from the final.
Elton John sang about Saturday night being alright for a fight, but how will a camogie final feel under the lights at teatime. Will the changed routine of travelling separately by car to an All-Ireland final on a Saturday night be a distraction.
“No, you just get on with it. You are just told what you have to do, so we just do it. There is no point getting caught up with it. If we have to drive, we have to drive, it’s not the end of the world.
“You have to go the dressing room and split into diffrerent groups, keep our social distancing. Every player is just so delighted that this is going ahead, that we are willing to do what it make sure it continues,” she said.
But there will be unprecedented factors in a game that starts and finishes after dark. Helmets, and under lights. Those fantastic lights at Croker.
“It’s a seven o clock game so from a week beforehand I get in my head a sort of dress rehearsal, knowing what I will be doing at a certain time, food wise, metabolism wise, sleep wise. You try to prepare yourself the best possible way. We are used to lights now having to train on winter evenings, but we have never played under the Croke Park lights.
“So it’s just a matter of getting your head around the long day that Saturday will be. But the thought of playing an All-Ireland final in Croke Park at seven o clock on a Saturday before Christmas is amazing and we look forward to it. There are plenty of girls who would give anything for that experience,” she said.
Sarah welcomed the rule changes in camogie which are encouraging the pursuit of skills excellence.
“The two points for a score from a sideline cut has the girls working on that at training and some are flying them over. These are all welcome changes and show that the game of camogie is evolving
“Camogie is up there with the hurling in terms of skills. We have some unbelievable stickwomen in the team, the likes of Becky and Chloe and others. It is raising the profile of the game.
She said the idea of being the first Galway team to win back to back titles has not even entered their heads, nor will Cathal Murray and his team permit such thoughts.
“Back to back is not something we have thought about. We’re not really focusing on anything but the game. Hopefully it will work out for us, and if it does, it does.
“Breaking through last year gave us a bit of confidence in ourselves, winning the final and all, but then no better team than Tipp to bring us back down to earth in the league and then we had the whole lockdown where we could not even rectify the Tipp game as we had to take the break.
“So we have a big battle ahead of us with Kilkenny. To be in Croke Park so close to Christmas is so unbelievable, and we look forward to the ball being thrown in.
“Kilkenny and ourselves are great rivals. Last year they came to within two points of us. You can never be sure of anything against Kilkenny until they’re on the bus on the way home.
“They will be on fire the next day. They are a brilliant team. This is their fifth final in a row. We can’t focus too much on them, but only on ourselves. They have some unbelievable players.
However, it’s a new game, it’s a new year and it’s all to play for.”
She said that praise often comes the way of the full back line, but that it is the forwards’ work rate that makes their job easier.
“Our forwards don’t get enough credit for the workrate. It’s their efforts at thwarting their defenders that stop the quantity of quality ball coming up to us. We are so lucky to have 25-30 girls who are just so honoured to be able to pull on that Galway jersey and its great to have them by your side.”
She said their camaraderie through lockdown energised them all year.
“The way we kept each other going through Covid was memorable. They’re a special bunch of girls. A lovely team and a lovely set up and I’m so lucky be their captain.
Sarah also had praise for the families of the team who have been unable to watch the games in person this year.
“Your family are your heart and soul at the end of the day and they hit every ball with ya. I know my mum could not watch the semifinal the last day until she knew we had won and she would watch it in comfort later on. The same for all the players, and it would be great if we could have them all in Croke Park for the final. If not, my mother will just have to be a nervous wreck at home.”
The quality of the Galway management under Cathal Murray is notable for its professional approach.
“Our management are brilliant. They leave no stones unturned and they look after us the best way we can. We have such a strong panel. You have to give everything for every training session. They make sure we are looked after and their standards are high and we feed off that. They have a brilliant setup.
“This year is like no other. Last year’’s final was highscorikng, It will be two teams going absolutely at it. It is going to be a great game.
I am glad that the extended panel will be in. It was hard for them to be excluded but in fairness they showed up at the next training and drove on. They do the same training as any of us, so it is brilliant that the players get in, it is key.”
Kilkenny will not need any major motivational talk to be up for this game, given their upset at losing last year’s final, despite having scored seventeen points, enough to win any other final.
“KIlkenny were very impressive against Cork. They seems to have their match-ups right. They have a new management team in place and they look very fresh. Definitely, we will need to bring our A game with us to play them. We cannot wait for them to attack us, we have to go at it straight away. Because if we don’t start right, we won’t be able to live with Kilkenny after ten or fifteen minutes.
Galway will be focusing on another win rather than it being another notable showpiece.
“If it’s just five points to four, we’ll take it, as long as we come out the right end of it. But having said that, ourselves and Kilkenny are two hurling orientated teams, so it’s gonna be a great game.
Saturday night’s alright for a...classic.