Ann Downey eager to make an impact with Ballyragget
By Cian O'Connell
Ann Downey knows all about embracing and dealing with expectations.
When the opportunity came to manage St Patrick's Ballyragget, Downey was delighted to accept the role.
A decorated playing and coaching career brought silverware on the fields of Kilkenny and elsewhere.
So Downey wasn't too bothered or concerned about taking charge of an adult men's team for the 2020 campaign.
"I had been involved with the lads before, but I was the coach, training them when we won the Minor B and Under 21 in 2011," Downey says.
"Going in as manager what is the difference then? The ladies are equally, if not more skilful, than some of the hurlers.
"It is only the same mindset, making sure that everything is right, that you have a good coach, you have the back-up team.
"I was happy Nicola Aylward, the physio became involved with us, and Dr Martin O'Brien. So once I had all of those people in place I was happy to take the job.
"I was more than surprised with the amount of coverage that it got, but I suppose back in 2011 there wasn't that much media hype about ladies being involved with a team either as coach or manager.
"You can be sure that I'm not the first lady manager, only that maybe I had come from the Camogie scene, and retired as manager of the Camogie team that it got a little bit of attention."
Is there any difference managing the Kilkenny Camogie outfit compared to Ballyragget? "If you had to ask me that at the beginning of the year I'd have said no; if you asked me last night I'd have said yeah, that the ladies are easier to handle than the men," Downey laughs.
"You know it is the same, you just have to organise, get yourself organised, try to make sure you are including everyone, that the training is going to be at a time that suits everyone.
"It doesn't always happen, you might have to get a few words, get a guy to change his time or change his shift, that isn't easy either. It is more or less the same to be quite honest."
Delighted that the Intermediate Championship is edging closer in Kilkenny, Downey is relishing being involved.
"I am relieved to be back hurling and I’m glad the lads have a place to come," Downey remarks.
"They can meet. Guys aren’t as talkative as the girls. If they have an issue, the girls would always speak to someone or be happy to come to training and vent their anger of something that happened at work or problems at school.
"I think it is important that the lads are happy, that they are down training, that they have that get-out clause.
"It is not all work and go home or for the few weeks that we were in lockdown. Obviously, of course, my mindset has changed.
"My priority at this stage, I would love to go back up senior. As I said before, it isn’t easy in Kilkenny. Junior, intermediate and senior grades, there isn’t that much difference between them. It is not easy to come down and go back up.
"I definitely will be competitive and hope the lads will be competitive but the priority is that we enjoy it and we come out safely.
"Get through this pandemic and look forward to the years ahead safely and with good health."
A talented Young Irelands from Gowran collection with a couple of crafty Careys will examine Ballyragget. "Very good team," Downey admits. "DJ’s two sons, but it’s not all about DJ’s two sons. They have a well-balanced, very good team.
"I saw them play last week against a very good Lisdowney team. They were unfortunate that they didn’t come out with a win.
"We know we have our hands full. We have to knuckle down, think about our own game and prepare for it. It’s Championship, and it’s a vitally important game for us."