THE TWO GREAT rival counties of Kilkenny and Tipperary meet twice this weekend.
Kilkenny star Edwina Keane.
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
With the All-Ireland hurling final in Croke Park on Sunday, all roads lead to Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds on Saturday evening first as the camogie sides face off for a coveted decider berth of their own.
After back-to-back one-point final losses in 2017 and 2018, Ann Downey’s Cats will be hoping it’s a case of third time lucky in the hunt for the O’Duffy Cup this year.
But standing in their way in the semi-final first is Tipperary, who have been clawing their way back to the top table. It’s set to be an intriguing battle, that’s for sure, with many colourful characters involved on the day.
Scrolling through the match programme before throw-in, one or two things may catch the eye. Edwina Keane’s occupation could be one of such. The 29-year-old has just qualified to be a primary school teacher but over the past few years, she’s worked in beef farming with her father, Eamon.
At the minute, she’s tipping away at the farming and looking forward to getting into the teaching in September.
“Plenty to keep me going,” the 2016 All-Ireland winner smiled at the Camogie Association’s recent ‘Go Together’ campaign launch. “There’s plenty to be done at home. That keeps me busy anyway, it keeps me occupied.
“I work on the farm and I work with FarmRelief in Kilkenny as well. Summer is probably the busier time. Farmers want to be getting away from the milking parlour! It keeps me going anyway, it’ll keep me going until September when I get going again.”
The fact that she can manage her own commitments and constraints is handy, Keane explains, with plenty of time to train and recover accordingly, and balance it all.
There is a physical element to her work of course, but sadly not enough to warrant less time in the gym, she jokes. There are plenty of perks at this time of year, however.
“That’s the good thing about being out on the farm, I’m outdoors every day and there’s an element of physical work a part of it.
“It’s just brilliant to be outdoors, especially in the summer when have the sunshine. It’s great to be out and about, to have that freedom and to be out working with my Dad as well, it’s a nice thing to be able to do together.
“You still have to do your extra bit outside of training just to keep ticking along. You’ve to try and keep up with the rest of the girls on the panel as well because everyone wants to be the best they can.”
Celebrating the 2016 All-Ireland final win.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
Brexit soon comes up in conversation and while Keane says it is a concern, those on the family farm in Muckalee, north Kilkenny, will just see what happens.
“You just have to hope for the best,” she nods, adding that she’ll continue to work on the farm when she lands a full-time teaching gig. “We’ll try and make the best of what we do have and if it’s not working, we’ll have to go down another avenue.”
While others have had to do that in the All-Ireland senior camogie championship this summer, Downey’s Kilkenny took the direct route into the semi-finals after topping their round-robin group.
It’s exactly where they want to be.
“It’s one of the targets that we set out at the start of the year,” Keane, who’s currently in her 14th season, adds on the fast-approaching semi-final showdown. “That, and Leinster championship. We just have to look forward to it.”
While Tipperary went head-to-head with Limerick for a spot in the last four, there is a danger of the lengthy lay-off for Kilkenny and back-to-back champions Cork, who also took the direct route.
And All-Star Keane is well aware of that common worry. Their highly-competitive set-up suggests all will be just fine, however.
“There’s always pros and cons of getting straight through to the semi-final. Obviously you’re delighted to be in it and straight through, but at the same time then you’re four weeks without a competitive game.
“Hopefully we’ll be alright. In training ourselves, the competition for places is massive. Playing against ourselves in training is probably the hardest games that we’ve had all year, really. And probably the toughest we’re going to come up against as well.
“There’s massive competition, so hopefully that will be enough to see us across the line.”
There’s no questioning whether the hunger is there, with the St Martin’s star defender insisting that their Division 1 league final loss to Galway earlier this season was probably a blessing in disguise.
Dejection after the 2017 loss.
Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO
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It brought the curtain down on Kilkenny’s four in-a-row bid, but their attention immediately turned to bouncing back for championship action. After back-to-back September defeats, they’re well used to picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and going again.
“That was definitely tough. It’s a great occasion to come up here to Croke Park to play in a league final but then to go out and the performance that we gave lacked. On the same day, Galway were just on fire. It was really obvious that they were just so up for the match and they really, really wanted to win. It was really obvious from the get-go.
“To turn around then the following week with new management and everything in, they were probably worried. In a way it worked out well for us because we knew that we had work to do and we knew just how much we had to do.
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“We definitely bounced back from it and that showed in the championship. We literally took each game as it came, we didn’t doubt. Part of us probably went with the wrong attitude to the league final but that was gone out the window for the championship then.
“It was a new start. I suppose it worked well in our favour then, we definitely did bounce back from it. Hopefully now for the next hurdle we do the same.”
And if there’s anyone who knows how to rally the troops it’s the great Downey and her expert backroom team.
“She’s not afraid to hold back on anything,” Keane nods. “She’s brilliant. Her whole life is dedicated to it.
“To see her dedication really inspires the girls on the team. They want to perform for her, they want to win for her — and ourselves, and the rest of the management team.
“Her life and soul goes into it and it’s very obvious in everything that she does. She gets the best for us. She’s definitely brilliant at what she does. Hopefully we’ll be able to reward her this year.”
Speaking of rewarding, one is reminded of a quote from this very player from 2015.
Keane with her niece Aoife Keane atbthe ‘Go Together’ campaign launch.
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
“I have a bet with my Dad. He said he’d buy me a pair of hurling boots if I put the All-Ireland medal in his hand,” she told The42.
It may not have been done that season, but the following year, Keane — and her father — finally got her hands on that coveted Celtic Cross. What about those boots so?
“Ah yeah, I think he’s bought me a couple since!” she concludes with a giggle.
“He’ll have to upgrade it this year. Maybe… he might get me an animal or something! We’ll see what happens.”
She knows there’s plenty to play for yet, though.
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