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Three Years Have Turned Galway Man From Sceptic To Camogie Disciple

Galway manager Aaron Fox before the 2022 All-Ireland Camogie Minor A Championship Final, Semple Stadium, Thurles. Photo credit ©INPHO/Tommy Grealy
By PJ Browne Updated
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At 4:45pm on Tuesday evening, Aaron Fox left his home for a 6:30pm training session with the Galway minor camogie team. He was the first there and the last to leave at around 8:30pm. The venue, which changes regularly as Galway Camogie does not have a permanent training base, was around an hour from home.

"Then you'll be catching up with your coaches on the phone, 'How do you think this went?'" Galway manager Fox tells Balls.

"That will bring me to 11 o'clock. That's six or seven hours of your day on top of your full-time job, on top of your personal life."

Between matches, training sessions, video analysis, and organising training venues, food and transport, Fox spends between 20 - 30 hours a week engaged with the tasks of an inter-county Gaelic games manager.

It's a considerable commitment, and a considerable transformation from his initial reaction when Galway Camogie approached him about the role more than three years ago.

'When Galway camogie reached out, I was sceptical'

Fox had enjoyed some success at minor hurling level with his club Carnmore. A move into inter-county management was going to be through an ajar door.

Galway players gather for a team photo before the 2022 All-Ireland Camogie Minor A Championship final at Semple Stadium, Thurles. Photo credit ©INPHO/Tommy Grealy

"Was camogie on my radar? To be perfectly honest, it wasn't," he says.

"It was something I'd never thought of, something that I'd never worked in. Initially, when Galway camogie reached out to me, I was very sceptical. I was probably on the verge of turning my nose to it if I'm being very honest.


"But I spoke to a few people that would have been on the scene for quite some time in both the men's and women's games, who would have had a lot of experience. They advised me to give it a go.

"I have to say in the three years, I wouldn't rather be doing anything else now. For me looking forward, be it minor camogie with Galway next year, be it somewhere else, I would be looking more to women's sports."

In 2022, Galway reached the All-Ireland minor final where, just as they had in the opening game of the championship, they lost to Cork. In between the defeats, they became built momentum. Coming back from seven points down to win the semi-final against Kilkenny sent them hurtling towards the decider but the wheels came off against the Rebels and they were defeated by four. "We did feel that we left it behind us that day," Fox admits.


By this time last year, Galway were already licking the wounds of that All-Ireland final defeat. The championship had been a sprint. Nine teams in pools of three meant two group games and then into the home straight. Galway had their first training session on January 2nd, their first championship game on February 5th, and the All-Ireland final on March 25th.

The format changed this year. Six teams now populate the top tier in the Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Camogie Championships but there are more guaranteed games for all. Galway - the only team with a perfect record so far - have three wins from their games against Waterford, Kilkenny and Dublin. The top four teams in the group progress to the semi-finals.

"This year, given the new format, we've had these girls together since the end of September as an extended panel. We narrowed that down to a final group at the beginning of November," says Fox.


"It's definitely a bigger challenge in terms of team preparation and a bigger challenge in terms of commitment.

"A lot of these girls are doing their Leaving Cert. This weekend we play Tipperary, and we have girls doing oral exams that Sunday morning. They're going straight from school to get on a bus to go to a championship game.

"The load on these girls is very high with this new format, but it's a fantastic move by the Camogie Association to get five top tier games. It's absolutely super for development.


"Over three games, we've used 28 players of our squad at this point. It's not as simple as it used to be: Put your best 15 on the field and go for broke every Sunday because you know you only have a month of it.

"We often see teams that go for broke, they win all their group games and then get turned over in a semi-final. We are looking at how to manage the team week on week."

Dejected Galway players following defeat to Cork in the 2022 All-Ireland Camogie Minor A Championship Final. Photo credit ©INPHO/Tommy Grealy

Galway carry a panel of 38 players. 14 of those are returning from last year, while a handful played in last year's All-Ireland final. Having that large group means management can select players they feel have the potential to benefit from a year of strength and conditioning and a year of exposure to higher-level camogie.

"We do have the core of that team coming back again this year," says Fox.

"There definitely is a maturity about them, a drive about them to try and right that [defeat] this year. Their experience from being there last year, and how they kind of conduct themselves on the panel as well. I would have to say some of them, for young ladies, they have maturity that's way beyond their years, which is which is really refreshing."

During his tenure, strength and conditioning is not a facet of management to which Fox has had to give much thought. It's taken care of by Robbie Lane who has been Galway Camogie's S&C coach for the last five or six years. Galway teams from U16s to seniors train at the High Performance Unit in Loughrea, which Lane opened last year.

"It is probably one of the best facilities I've ever seen," says Fox.

The girls love it in there. It's a great environment. You have minor girls going in doing sessions, and they could be working next to a senior girl who they would have maybe idolised for years so that you're building that relationship between the players.


Having that S&C programme is place is an important factor in turning minors into seniors. As part of his dissertation for a Masters in Performance Coaching at Setanta College, Fox undertook research into the determinants which affect the transition to senior camogie.

He conducted interviews with players past and present, some who made the transition successfully and some who didn't. All mentioned S&C as being important. Playing camogie at third level in the Electric Ireland Ashbourne and Purcell Cup competitions was also highlighted.

Off the field relationships were also found to be key. Players who progressed through the age grades as part of a group, and so formed friendships, were more likely to make it to senior level. Players with families involved in Gaelic games were also more inclined to transition successfully.

Fox and his management team have taken that information and tried to replicate it with the minor team.

"We always say to our girls, is 'The reason we're doing it this way, girls, is because if you progress on to intermediate in the summer or into senior next year, this is how it's going to be done'," he says.

"At times we can be quite harsh in some of the things we do in terms of how we pick teams, in terms of how we tog girls and not tog other girls, or let girls go on different things. It's not the nicest thing in the world that times have to do.

"What we're continually trying to do is replicate that senior environment, prepare these girls the best we can physically, mentally and emotionally for that so that they have the toolset that when they make that step up, they're able to cope with this."

Galway's Alannah Fahy is chased by Meabdh De Burca of Cork during the 2022 All-Ireland Camogie Minor A Championship Final. Photo credit ©INPHO/Tommy Grealy

That research is another sign of how immersed in camogie Fox has become.

"People often think that in camogie, the skill set is much lower - it's actually not. The skill set is on par [with hurling], in my opinion, but the games are played differently," he says.

"I suppose with the women's game, I find there is some nuances to it. In camogie, quite often the ball will not travel from end to end as quickly as it will in the men's game.

"You have to think about that different differently from a tactical perspective, from a team play perspective, and it's those little nuances that really interest me in the game.

"I love hurling. I play hurling myself. I grew up in a big hurling household. You look at hurling today: The goalkeeper will puck the ball out, someone will catch it and then fire it over the bar from 120 yards. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

"In camogie, the statistics will show the ball’s in play much longer. There's a running game there that can be played. The ball is often played shorter, there's a lot more build-up play. I'm just really interested in that side of it.

"In our preseason, what we would have focused on longer games of having the ball in play. You traditionally maybe run a grid game for 30 - 45 seconds. We'd run that a small bit longer to reflect the ball being in play.

"I do feel that women's sports, and in particular camogie, is on the verge now of having a big revolution in Ireland in terms of its popularity, in terms of its coverage.

"You see the senior teams now, they're getting into bigger venues, more games are being streamed, more crowds are going to games. It's not like it once was where it was on the back burner. A lot of times you wouldn't even know camogie is being played. I think it's going in a really good direction.

"I've seen firsthand the work people are putting in, the work the players put in. I suppose for me, I'd just like to continue on that path and help out a bit more. It's something that I've become very passionate about in the last three years."

Galway's Ciara Hickey with Aoife Healy of Cork during the 2022 All-Ireland Camogie Minor A Championship Final. Photo credit ©INPHO/Tommy Grealy

While player development is an overall tenet of his management style, Fox also knows winning has to be part of it too.

"Last year, we came up short, but what was really satisfying for me was three months later, the intermediates won an All-Ireland in Croke Park. I think there was six of the minor girls played on that team. I think it was eight or nine in all that were part of the panel. That was hugely satisfying," he says.

"Even this year, you see Ciara Hickey, Sabina Rabbitte, Katie Anna Porter getting regular starts with the Galway seniors. They were minors only last year and the year before. There's another six or seven minors on that senior bench this year as well. That's really satisfying, and to me, that's success.

"I'm under no illusion either that it's fine to get players up into the senior ranks but Galway is a county that expects to win minor All-Irelands. It's our number one goal to win All-Ireland this year.

"It's not as easy just to go full steam ahead to win an All-Ireland. You can do it, but you'll probably do, in my opinion, a bit of damage along the way in terms of the morale of your squad, in terms of the relationships you have with parents and around the county.

"We're trying to be holistic about it in terms of marrying in that player development, that fun and enjoyment, which people think are two words which shouldn't be used in inter-county sport because of the seriousness of it.

"We have the best craic with these girls in the gym or on the buses going to games. That's an important part of it as well."

See Also: Inagh-Kilnamona Man Hero For Clare With Savage Equaliser Vs Limerick

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