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'There Was Talk Of Painting The Road' - Wexford Club Gripped By All-Ireland Final

'There Was Talk Of Painting The Road' - Wexford Club Gripped By All-Ireland Final

Katie O'Connor remembers her response to being told she would captain St. Martin's for the 2018 campaign, one which started more than a year ago and reaches its conclusion this weekend.

"I said, 'Are you sure? Really? What about one of the others?' I was very glad to be asked," says O'Connor.

Her reaction of uncertainty is understandable: She's young, only now 22, and there are several vastly experienced players - inter-county All-Ireland winners - on the Wexford club's camogie panel.

"I'm not one for big speeches or anything before matches. I don't know, we're not really into those big speeches. I'd prefer to go out and do it and leave the talking to on the pitch.

"It was an honour, of course. Especially to be captaining women that I would always have looked up to - Mags [D'Arcy] and Noleen [Lambert] they were my childhood heroes. I would have had their autographs on the back of my jersey when they were winning their All-Irelands, now I'm there playing with them."

In O'Connor's time as captain, the club has reached the pinnacle of its success. Last year, they won their second consecutive county title. Their first ever had come the previous year. It was unexpected, as was 2018's. Though they were reigning champions, they had not faced Oulart The Ballagh, winners of All-Ireland titles in 2012 and 2015. Oulart were overcome in the county final - that caveat to their success did not take long to negate.

Four or five years ago, the club was regularly on the end of heavy defeats but the emergence of a bountiful crop of successful underage players combined with experience has been the trophy-winning recipe.

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There is also JJ Doyle - the three-time All-Ireland winning Wexford camogie manager - at the helm. It was with his arrival that an upturn in the club's fortune coincided.

"JJ kept telling us that 'The potential's there, the potential's there,'" says O'Connor. "We started to realise that ourselves, we started to believe it a bit more. "

This weekend, there is one more peak to summit: On Sunday, at Croke Park, they face two-in-a-row All-Ireland champions Slaughtneil in the AIB All-Ireland Senior Club Camogie Championship Final.

It will be O'Connor's first time to play at Croke Park. Though, in Mags D'Arcy and Noeleen Lambert, they have experience of big games at the stadium which can be imparted.

Noeleen was away last year having a baby but she's back this year with us. So, it's great to have her back. She brings a lot of experience to the team. She knows how to win. To have her back this year teaching us was great. It certainly helped us to win the Leinster title alright.

If anyone ever has a problem, Mags would always be more than welcoming to every player, to help them if they are stuck with anything or if they are nervous; Mags or Noeleen would always be there with advice.

O'Connor comes from a hurling family. Her cousins, Jack and Rory O'Connor, are part of the Wexford panel. "There were slaps every now and again, a few stitches," she says. "Those were actually from the girl cousins - Aisling, she's on the team, she's playing corner-back for us. We were certainly toughened up."

Since their county final success, augmented by that Leinster final win, the parish of Piercetown, home to the St. Martin's club, has been painted with the colours of the club.

"There was talk of painting the road, but I don't know if they'll be allowed to do that. They did it '96 for the hurlers but those were different times."

For a club in unknown territory, these too are different times.

Above: St Martin’s Katie O’Connor is pictured ahead of the AIB All-Ireland Senior Camogie Club Championship Final taking place at Croke Park on Sunday, March 3rd where the Wexford club will face Derry’s Slaughtneil. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

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PJ Browne
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