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Women in Sport

06th Apr 2020

“Why can’t we do that ourselves” – tradition and total commitment brought glory days back

Niall McIntyre

The McGrath sisters are chomping at the bit.

One to four, oldest to youngest. Club All-Ireland, re-invigorating taste.

For five years, this Sarsfields team have been knocking on the door. For their whole lives, they’d been hearing stories from parents and grandparents, about the heady days of the ’90s, when the legendary last generation rose above the rest to win two All-Ireland club titles in a row.

Great times, sunnier days.

“Why can’t we be like that?” asked Siobhan McGrath.

For five years, this Sasfields team were on a mission. Galway championships came, the McGrath sisters and all of Sarsfields eyed the big one.

Twice they were denied, twice by the same opposition. On the third occasion, Derry’s magnificent history-makers Slaughtneil were standing in Sarsfield’s way once more but this time, the Galway club wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Siobhan McGrath, the youngest of the four McGrath sisters on the team, made sure of that with an injury-time goal. Loose wrists, cool head, she’d been played in by her relentless sister Orlaith.

“Ah it was some feeling. You always dream of getting a goal in an All-Ireland final but in fairness, I had the easy work to do,” the AIB club camogie player of the year says now.

“Orlaith was after making some run down the middle and gave me a great pass so I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time but am, at the time I thought God, that must be it. But then there was four or five minutes to be played so we were just hanging on for dear life!”

For dear life. This was life-changing, life making for the McGrath clan. Four sisters on the team, their father the team’s manager.

“I don’t know what we would have done if we lost again. It would have been awful hard to even try to comeback. It is such a long road to the All Ireland. To win Galway alone is really, really hard. The semi-final against Mullagh in the county was after extra-time. It is such a long slog to get to March”

But they’d been to the promised land before.

“If you look at the current team that won the All-Ireland and the hurling teams that won the All-Irelands in the ‘90s, there’s so much connections like nearly everyone has either a father or an uncle on those teams. That’s kind of what drove us on a good bit this year and previous years, do you know, growing up and listening to the stories of the class times they all had after winning All-Irelands, and we were just like, why can’t we do that ourselves?”

Michael ‘Hopper’ McGrath was the star and captain in the 90s and he was delighted to see his daughters experience the same glory.

“Yeah, I’d say he was the happiest person ever to be honest. He’s put so much into it these last few years. He’s been over all our underage teams since my older sister Niamh was about six or seven. I was delighted for him too, like he won with the Sarsfields in the 90s and he was mad for us to experience that for ourselves so it was great that we could…”

The club, as Hopper McGrath said in the dressing room, is number one.

But the pursuit goes on. Having opted out of the Galway set-up in the 2019 season when the county team won the All-Ireland, the McGraths are back and eager for 2020. Were back, at least.

It was a total and utter commitment to their club that restrained them in 2019, in 2020 it’s the corona-virus but each of them will be ready when Galway call.

“After winning the final our celebrations got cut short a bit. It was about one and a half weeks then all this happens. You are trying to stay fit, we are hoping for the Camogie Championship, the All Ireland series to start at some stage this summer. We are trying to tip away with the sisters and keep up the fitness a small bit.

“It is weird, especially when you are in with Galway you want to give it your best shot. With Galway trying to retain the title it would be brilliant to be part of a set up like that going on…”

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