Squad Profile - Middle East Camogie
By Eoghan Tuohey
Having introduced the Middle East's hurling squad recently, now it's the turn of their camogie colleagues, who will be aiming, at the very least, to retain the plate title they won in 2016, or to set their sights on even more prestigious prizes this time round.
They will be led by their influential midfield-based captain, Aine Mannion, who hails originally from the heralded club of Ahascragh-Caltra in county Galway, home of current hurling stars, the Mannion brothers. Nowadays, she hurls for the ever-growing GAA stronghold in the middle east, Sharjah Gaels, and she credits the club with expediting the settling-in process when she first arrived.
"Camogie and football was a big part of my life from a very young age. I found the Sharjah Gaels Facebook page online and they informed me about their training schedule. I showed up to the first session and the rest is history! (4 years later). Sharjah Gaels is like a family and they’re an incredible club. It was the best way to make friends and we do everything together. The committee are fantastic and so much hard work is put in on an ongoing basis. The members has grown massively over the past 4 years. It’s a home away from home!"
The PE and Maths teacher is humbled to represent not only her new-found community, but the entire region she now calls home, while not forgetting where it all began in terms of her camogie career.
"It’s a huge honour to represent my club Sharjah Gaels and the Middle East. We don’t just represent 13 players- we represent every club in the Middle East. I cannot forget my roots Ahascragh/ Caltra camogie and I’m very thankful to them for coaching me since I picked up the hurl at 5 years old. It’s also nice to be able to make your family proud and it gives them a chance to see you play after many years away from Irish soil.
There’s great excitement between all 4 panels preparing for the World Games. The teams were picked based on trials in May and ever since then we’ve being training hard. The management team are doing massive work both on and off the pitch. We recently had a bonding weekend where we got the chance to meet each other and socialise off the pitch. Usually we are playing against each other on the pitch and pulling hard! The Renault GAA World Games team are working tremendously hard to make this a spectacular event! "
The captain will of course be flanked by exceptional talent from all corners of Ireland, talent which will need to be harnessed correctly if they are to make inroads in the competitive quagmire that is the Irish Born division. Ace attacker, Alison Dooley, of Tullamore fame, also works as a teacher, in Abu Dhabi. She's equally honoured to have made it onto the squad.
"It is great to have been selected to represent the Middle East. We had very tough, competitive trials and everyone gave 100%. Our team is made up of a combination of players from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah and I feel very fortunate to have been picked alongside the other girls.
I’m really looking forward to the World Games. It’ll be great to go to Waterford with all of our family and friends there to support us, something that is missed when playing abroad."
Another attacking threat will be present in the form of Westmeath, and former Lough Lene Gaels star, Caitriona Murtagh. Another representative of Sharjah Gaels, she echoes the positive sentiments in terms of the opportunity to form friendships with players from rival clubs in the middle east.
"To represent the Middle East in the GAA World Games is a huge honour. Being here for so long playing GAA, I have found myself hugely involved in the GAA and couldn’t imagine not playing it regularly. To be selected to play with others from different clubs in the UAE has been so great. As a team we all get on brilliantly and I find that representing the Middle East with such a great group of girls has been the best part of the experience, and I’m so excited to play alongside them all."
Laois woman, Claire Walsh, is excited to puck ball on home soil again, something that has eluded the members of these squads for some time. In particular, "The Harps" player is keen to revisit what playing camogie in somewhat cooler temperatures is like!
"We’re really looking forward to the games in Waterford. Preparations are going great, our team are getting on really well. Training is tough in this heat at the moment but we're looking forward to seeing how we get on in regular temperatures at home in July. Hopefully the hot weather training will stand to us!"
Lacken in Cavan may not spring immediately to mind when one imagines camogie strongholds, but it has produced a gem in the form of Eimear Brady. Now an integral part of the Na Fianna setup in Abu Dhabi, she set her sights firmly on the Renault GAA World Games as a target once she landed on the Middle Eastern GAA scene.
"I had been speaking to friends who were participating in the World Games competitions, as they had been on during the summer of 2016, and couldn’t believe the standard of players who were representing the Middle East during those games. I was extremely excited to play with players from all over Ireland and at such a high standard."
The logistics of making collective training sessions is a hurdle that many entrants to the Renault GAA World Games must overcome, and the members of the Middle Eastern camogie squad are no exception to this.
"We have been training every week which involves travelling from emirate to emirate. Everyone on the team is so grateful and excited to be there so that makes it easy. We have organised challenges within the UAE and also back home, so we hope that the tough games will ensure we are as prepared as possible. Everyone on the team is delighted to still be playing camogie, even in the sickening heat, and we are determined to be at the level we need to be to succeed in the competition."
Another Westmeath player, albeit from the rival Castletown Geoghegan club, will occupy a pivotal slot in midfield. Emer Clarke is another proud member of the close-knit Sharjah club, and describes how, with the vast majority of players and members being teachers, the familial atmosphere and community spirit found within the club is to the forefront.
"It’s so amazing how the G.A.A brings us all together and we have a fantastic club in Sharjah! It never feels like you are far from home with that crew and I’ve made friends for life! It’s amazing to see all the hard work put in by our committee and we’re unique from many clubs in the way that the majority of our members are teachers in their 20’s meaning our managers trainers and committee members are all players themselves!"
Courcey Rovers and Cork will have forward Emily Desmond to stand for them in the Middle Eastern colours in Waterford in a few short weeks. The Na Fianna club player is counting down the days until the competition begins.
"I cannot wait for the World Games competition. I have really enjoyed getting to know each and every one of the girls involved in the panel through the trials, training sessions and brunches in the lead up. The girls are so genuine and such good craic that I know we’ll have a brilliant time in Waterford."
Emma Carroll, a former Kilkenny county player and Blacks & Whites club stalwart, has also had the World Games in her cross-hairs for quite some time, and is ready to grab the opportunity with both hands.
"I have been looking forward to trying out for the Middle East team since I went to watch the previous GAA World Games in Dublin in the summer of 2016. I am delighted to have been picked for the team as the standard of camogie in the Middle East is so high and the team consists of such a talented group of girls from all over Ireland. Camogie has been such a huge part of my life living in Abu Dhabi, and the World Games it is a great way to end my camogie career in the Middle East, as I move home to Kilkenny in July."
Not unlike her Cavan-born teammates, Michelle Farrell of Kiltegan in county Wicklow doesn't hail from a traditional camogie stronghold, yet the Na Fianna representative has more than earned her place.
"It’s great to get the opportunity to play together on the same team as your main rivals on the pitch throughout the year. There’s great rivalry between Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah and I’m delighted to get the chance to now play alongside the girls from the other clubs. After a brilliant bonding weekend, we’ve gotten to know each other a lot better and so I’m really looking forward to the craic in Waterford."
Shoring up the Emiratian defence will be Erinstown/Killeagh's Niamh Ní Chaoimh. She described how it didn't take long for her to be taken into the warm embrace of the GAA club in Abu Dhabi, aiding considerably with her assimilation into life in her new surroundings.
"Having not travelled much due to sporting commitments at home, I hoped moving to Abu Dhabi would be a good opportunity to do so. Training and playing with Na Fianna really helped me to get to know people and settle into life in the Middle East. Two Na Fianna legends, Niamh Hogan and Ian Power organised for me to play my first tournament the day I landed off the plane from Dublin."
County Clare and Kilmaley will be proud to have Shonagh Enright take the field in the Middle Eastern colours this summer at the WIT Arena.
"It’s a great honour to represent the Middle East as it’s very competitive and the standard is very high. We have a fantastic GAA community and there’s great camaraderie between the clubs. The backroom team in each of the clubs and the Middle East County Board work seamlessly and tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure everything is at the highest standard for each of the tournaments and it is no different in preparation for the World Games."
Siobhan Reynolds is another Cavan player in the squad. Hailing from Crosserlough, she has relished the opportunity to be a member of a diverse squad, and is keen to do her current and previous clubs proud at the games this year.
"Being from Cavan, I don’t normally get the chance to play with or against players of the stronghold counties like Cork and Kilkenny. I am looking forward to the opportunity of playing alongside and competing against a wide range of players from all over Ireland.
I am really looking forward to competing in Waterford this summer with the girls. A lot of us are already familiar with or have marked each other in previous tournaments which was great for us getting to know each other quickly. We have training sessions weekly, with plenty of bonding sessions thrown into the mix too. It has been tough weather-wise, but everyone is great at encouraging one another and pushing each other on."