Derry captain Claire Doherty shows her delight at lifting the cup (Pic: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile)
How many times has it been said? You have to lose one to win one. Twelve months after an All-Ireland final defeat, Derry camogs went one step better to land the 2007 junior title. Michael McMullan spoke to captain Claire Doherty about turning heartbreak into elation.
As referee Cathal Egan's watch ticked towards the sixth minute of injury time, the New Ireland Cup was on its way to Clare. The Banner girls won both league meetings with Derry over two years and the 2007 All-Ireland junior final was no different.
It was going down to the wire.
Padraig Ó Mianáin and his wife Susan took over as a joint management ticket at the start of the previous season. Their first tilt at an All-Ireland title came up short as Dublin edged them out in tight tussle in Tullamore.
“The game is never over until the final whistle,” Susan continued to drum into the squad. Padraig's drills centre around clawing for every inch. Hooks. Blocks. Tackles. Whatever it took. And the players followed every step of the way.
Claire Doherty recalled Ashling Diamond flying wholeheartedly into a tackle with attacking ace Aileen Laverty in a training session. There was no reverse gear. Just sheer commitment. The ball was there to be won.
“Oh my God,” Doherty thought. “We're going to win it this year.”
It was one of those moments. An intensity level that laid down a marker.
With Derry two points in arrears, a second All-Ireland was slipping away when the sliotar nestled close to the Davin Stand goalmouth.
Susan's message must've been ringing in the Derry ears for every one of those six stoppage time minutes. Never give up. Not ever.
Diamond didn't need a second invitation. Like every predator, she was ready to pounce. On top of the work ethic that seeped its way into the team's very core, was a forward line of match winners. The Bellaghy ace was one of them. She pulled on the ball and got enough to take it beyond goalkeeper Denise Lynch's hurl and into the net. It lit the touchpaper on the celebrations.
There was no coming back. It was Derry's year. Captain Claire Doherty's 'right hand woman' Maura McCloy made a beeline for the skipper who penned a speech in the hope she'd be climbing the Croke Park steps and gave it to McCloy for safekeeping.
It wasn't a hard speech to make. Thank everyone who had put their shoulder to Derry camogie's wheel.
“I will never forget...Martin McGuinness, God rest him, was right behind me,” Claire remembers. “He had a massive big hug, he was so delighted.
“For the wee things like that, on a personal level, I got to meet different people being captain and that's a nice part of the role.”
The dramatic ending added to the entire euphoria of the occasions
“Yeah, that's why it was so memorable for us,” Doherty admits. Clare were absolutely devastated.
Elation and devastation - Derry celebrate Aisling Diamond's winning goal in injury time, as the Clare players sink to the ground (Pic: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile)
In recent years Doherty was doing a media interview at her club Slaughtneil's All-Ireland clash with Clare champions Burgess-Duharra. Her Clare counterpart, unprompted, brought up the defeat.
She queried: “Where did he (Cathal Egan) get his six minutes from?”
“It shows they were still sore about that defeat,” Doherty now states.
It was Monday before Derry's all-conquering heroes brought the cup home. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Maghera's Walsh's Hotel was packed to the straps as the celebrations continued. But there was one stop before that.
Almost 2,000 fans welcomed the team to Slaughtneil hall, the home of the skipper. A heroes' welcome.
“It was really nice for me, Dervla (McGuigan) and Helena (Kelly now Rafferty) who were members of the team that year,” Doherty vividly recalls.
“The celebrations are all part of it and we celebrated. The profile of camogie was raised around that time and it was great to come back to a nice reception.”
Seeing the gathering and the emotion left the squad in no doubt. The penny finally dropped and they were All-Ireland champions.
It was always camogie for Claire Doherty. GAA was in the DNA. Her mother Monica rarely missed a game and sister Gerardette also played for Slaughtneil.
Their father Barney was a huge cog in the early days of Slaughtneil's hurling engine, helping manage the 1993 winning team his son Noel played full back on. Dermot was on the panel and his scores brought a title in 2000 and he was manager Michael McShane's right hand man during the recent glory years.
Claire gave sterling service to Slaughtneil and her career was coming to an end as they began to conquer the national camogie stage.
She played for the county seniors since the age of 15. Married to Owen Doherty from Portglenone – whose mother Marie is a huge figure in Antrim camogie and Frankie the driving force behind the club's football emergence under the umbrella of Sean Stinson's.
Both extended family networks facilitated her love of camogie to blossom amidst the busy schedule of life.
Claire returned to county camogie in 2009, after the birth of their son Odhran, but it would be her last year.
Her group won Ulster U14, U16 and U18 on their way up through the underage grades. She was one of three survivors from Derry's 2000 winning team, who beat Cork after losing to the Rebels 12 months earlier. The others were Claire O'Kane and Paula McAtamney.
The influx of younger players was the perfect tonic for a senior team in search of a spark, but it took until 2000 to make the breakthrough.
“It took a lot to get that junior All-Ireland in 2000,” Claire said. “There were a lot of retirements after that win. So it wasn't until 2006 that the team regrouped. Padraig and Susan came on board and we started to pick up.”
Claire describes the defeat against Dublin as 'a learning curve' and something to give their young side some much needed experience.
There was a regret of not performing on the day and leaving the 2006 title behind them.
“It was enough to spur us over the line the following year,” Claire felt.
Susan and Padraig had another 12 months to put their stamp on the team.
“They are GAA people through and through,” she adds. “They were two different personalities and brought different dynamics to the team. Pádraig was very much at the coaching side of things. It is all very technical.”
Claire paid tribute to the management duo of Padraig Ó Mianáin
and his wife Susan (Pic: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile)
A gaeilgeoir, he recently published the Concise English-Irish dictionary. On the coaching front, his meticulous nature transfers seamlessly to coaching. Drills weren't just rolled out for the sake of it, but custom-designed to address any shortcomings.
“He would've came up with three completely different drills, just to change it and keep it fresh,” Claire remembers. “Skill-wise, so much was learned during that time.”
On the flip-side, Susan – now a teacher in Dungiven's Gaelcholáiste Dhoire – got inside the players and kept the feet firmly on the group.
“Susan is an excellent coach in her own right too and the balance worked very well,” Claire adds.
Sitting on Doherty's knee that day in Croke Park was a young, inspired, Cliodhna Ní Mhianáin, the team mascot. Now she works with Claire in the An Carn Centre in Slaughtneil and plays on the club's camogie team.
Defeat often teaches the best lessons. In this case it told Derry camogs that glory was within touching distance. With hurt and experience now prominent in the memory bank, they just had to keep reaching out.
“It was about keeping going and never giving up,” Claire remembers. “Susan would've said that a lot. The game is never over until the final whistle.”
The words were prophetic. With two points down, Aisling Diamond's goal did the trick. The rewards for hanging in there.
“You often hear people say how important it is keep playing on...that was a prime example, you don't know how long is left on the clock,” Claire admits.
“Mentally, we were better prepared in 2007 than in 2006, so when it came down to the nitty gritty on All-Ireland Final day, it stood to us.”
Playing at Croke Park was a new experience for the vast majority of the squad. Mixed in with how special an occasion it marked in their careers, was the excitement.
They were able to stay in Dublin the night before, staying at the Croke Park Hotel and in full view of the colosseum they'd enter for the 12noon throw-in the following day. There was a second stay after the game.
“At that stage, things had started to change in camogie,” Claire points out.
“There wasn't anything we needed that we didn't get. In terms of gear and overnight stays, that was always laid on so that helped with preparations.
“We were very lucky,” she added. “We had a very strong county board, we had great management, we had Owenbeg so there wasn't that worry about looking for a pitch.
“Colm (O'Kane) always took care of us at Owenbeg and you had the sponsorship behind us as well with H&A, so everything fell into place.”
When it came to the day of the game, the ball was very much in the players' court. It was their time to deliver. Neither team dominated in what was a 'nip and tuck' game. Clare had beaten Derry by a point in the league.
“We knew there was nothing in it,” Doherty states. “It was up to us if we really wanted to win it and we had to hang in there.”
At half-time, there was little to choose between the sides again and it was a calm Derry dressing room.
“They (Pádraig and Susan) are quite calm, but if something has to be said, it will be said. Everybody knew where they stood with that management style and if you had to be told, you just took it.”
The message was simple. Stick to the plan, keep working and it's not over 'til it's over.
“There was very little in it, so there was no case of panic. This game is still in the balance, stick to the game plan, keep working and it's not over until the final whistle.”
For all the planning, there was no need for a dedicated a tactic to engineer the goals Derry needed to turn promise into silverware.
“We were blessed with some brilliant forwards,” said Claire, who played at centre back. “Paula McAtamney, Katie McAuley and Aileen Laverty, people like that who could get you the goals on the day. So we weren't concerned about forward play.
“Padraig would've been into working hard when the other team had the ball and the importance of hooking and blocking, some of the things that are missed. He'd pick up on defensive play from previous games that we needed to focus on at the next session.”
The tackling stuck to Derry and kept them in the hunt long enough for Aisling Diamond to strike the killer blow. And the late drama added to the sense of occasion.
“Nobody could believe it,” Claire remembers. “Everybody was either in shock with the adrenaline and excitement of it all.”
The hurt of Tullamore was gone. Derry were All-Ireland champions, somewhere they needed to get back to.
Like current player Aine McAllister said in an interview on these pages last week, Claire feels Derry camogie is 'underachieving'.
“I do think Derry could be back competing again,” Claire hopes. “I was watching Down and Armagh winning All-Irelands. I just wish that for the current crop of Derry players.
“The club scene has taken over, not everybody is out playing for the county that could be. If a club team can win three All-Ireland senior titles, Derry should be knocking on the door of intermediate, if not competing at senior level..if they can get all the players out that should be there.
“That needs to change if there is going to be any progress at the top level. But I am hopeful that'll click into place some year.
“Hopefully Ciaran can instil that for next season, because there seems to be a good wee crop there as it is. They are looking to add to build their panel.”
Teams come in cycles. And as a new group are getting their house in order for next year, they could do worse than adopt the mantra of Derry's 2007 group.
Never give up. Not ever. Fortune favours the brave.
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