By John Harrington
Munster captain Ellie Sheehy couldn’t have been prouder after leading her team to glory in the M.Donnelly GAA Wheelchair Hurling/Camogie All-Ireland Finals on Sunday.
What made it all the sweeter for everyone involvd with the team was that this was the first All-Ireland Final tournament that was played since 2019 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We're absolutely chuffed with the whole thing,” Sheehy told GAA.ie. “We really couldn't fault any one of our team between the managers and the players. They were all something else.
“It's all the more satisfying because three years of hard work went into it. During covid we were doing quizzes and different team bonding things together online and then started doing zoom work-outs two to three times a week before we got back to in-person training.
“One of our managers was doing hour long gym session twice a week on zoom and we all came up with our own bits of equipment at home because obviously we couldn't go to gyms physically. There were people using different water bottles and things as weights and we all put in the work for it and it shows now.
“I think we hit 40 collective training sessions this year so a lot of effort went into it.”
It was a highly impressive performance by the Munster team who won all four matches they played against Ulster, Leinster, Connacht, and then Ulster again in the Final itself.
Every match was a battle though, and underlined how the standard of wheelchair hurling/camogie is steadily rising year on year.
“It was tough to say the least,” says Sheehy. “We ended up playing Ulster twice. We played them in the Round Robin which was our first game and we played them again in the All-Ireland Final.
“Each province had their own individual strengths. Connacht were a very, very skilful team whereas Ulster were a very fast team.
“I'm playing it 12 or 13 years and you can see the standard rising all the time and new faces cropping up. You can see different players becoming more physical and developing their skills.
“One of our girls yesterday scored her very first goal, Edel Morrissey, and that was huge for her.”
Before the Covid-19 pandemic arrived the numbers playing wheelchair hurling/camogie was rising year on year and Sheehy hopes that trend will continue now that they have competitive action again to fuel the sport.
“Absolutely,” she says. “Even looking from the difference between 2019 and now, just for the Munster panel alone, we now have a junior panel as well which has 17 or 18 juniors on it and I know Ulster also has a junior panel so the game is developing.
“There is a want for the game. There's massive potential for growth there, it's just getting it up and going.”
Sheehy didn’t have too much time to bask in the glory of Sunday’s win. A Forensic & Pharmaceutical Science student, she had an exam on Monday afternoon to bring her back down to earth.
She and her Munster team-mates don’t plan on resting on their laurels either, such is their enthusiasm for hurling.
“It's back to training again on Thursday night,” says Sheehy. “A couple of our seniors come in and train the juniors and our juniors are still training and it's just about keeping the team together. We'll take a couple of weeks off for Christmas but we'll probably be back training by the end of January, start of February.
“Honestly, we wouldn't have it any other way. We all just eat, sleep, and drink wheelchair hurling. We're a very close, tight-knit team and we're always in communication with each other.
"Because we're so close-knit it would be very strange not to see each other on a weekly basis.”
Because they’re such a tight-knit group of friends, it meant all the more to Sheehy to lead them to victory on Sunday.
“It meant everything,” she said. “Seeing how much the team has put in...like we've put in a substantial amount of effort between players, management, the committee, the juniors.
“Everyone has poured their heart and soul into this all year long. For it to pay off in the end and seeing everyone so happy and relieved, it was worth all the effort and really meant a lot.
“This was my first year as captain and I couldn't be prouder of my squad.”