Laura Doherty, joint captain for Raharney, ahead of next Sunday’s AIB All-Ireland junior ‘A’ camogie championship final against Clanmaurice (Kerry). Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

‘Your club is your home’: Raharney’s Laura relishing All-Ireland battle

Raharney co-captain Laura Doherty has done it all with Westmeath on the camogie field.

In the last five seasons she has been a key member of a Lake County side that won a premier junior All-Ireland title, an intermediate All-Ireland, as well as scalping Limerick at senior level.

But if, along with her sister Aoife, she gets her hands on the All-Ireland club junior ‘A’ camogie cup this Sunday, it’ll be a moment of special significance.

“Winning an All-Ireland with Westmeath was amazing,” Laura told the Westmeath Examiner yesterday, “but your club is your home. I think if we did bring the cup back to Raharney it would be amazing. I wouldn’t be able to put it into words. The whole village would be out for weeks!”

Standing in the way of Raharney and this ideal end to an extended season are the holders Clanmaurice of Kerry, who beat the Deelsiders to the junior crown after a replay in 2019.

Raharney, crowned Westmeath senior champions for the seventh time in a row last October, have since had a peculiar run of results en route to this Sunday’s AIB All-Ireland junior ‘A’ decider in Templetuohy, Co. Tipperary (2pm), yo-yoing between routs and more attritional clashes.

They clocked up 6-17 against Portlaoise in their Leinster championship opener and kept the Laois girls scoreless, before encountering dogged resistance from Offaly’s Naomh Bríd in the semi-final.

The subsequent Leinster final was almost a non-event, with Raharney sweeping aside Celbridge’s ‘B’ side 8-14 to 0-2. Then, shortly before Christmas, a gruelling test followed against Glen of Derry in the All-Ireland semi-final, with Padraig Connaughton’s charges prevailing on the modest scoreline 0-9 to 1-4.

However, Laura is not expecting the pattern to continue this weekend against Clanmaurice, who remarkably won their recent All-Ireland semi-final against Athleague with a team of just 14 players due to Covid-related absences.

“We’ve had a variety of games in the last few weeks. Some games we went out and scored a serious amount of points; others were very close,” said Laura. “But when we went out and played Clanmaurice before in 2019, we drew the first game and went to the replay and lost by three goals, so we’re expecting a really tough game.

“We had a very tight game against Glen in our semi-final of the All-Ireland, and before that we had another very tight semi-final against Naomh Bríd in Leinster. So those games will definitely stand to us this weekend, as we are expecting it to be a tough battle.”

This is effectively the 2020 All-Ireland final (provincial and All-Ireland competition didn’t happen last year due to the Covid pandemic), and from what Laura remembers of 2019 decider, Raharney are going into next Sunday’s clash with a different mindset.

“It’s a blur now. The replay was a week after. I can just remember it being really tight,” she said of 2019. “Clanmaurice are such a physical team, and it was Raharney’s first ever time to be in an All-Ireland final. So to even get there, we were sort of thinking, ‘This is huge, and we’re really proud to be here’.

“But this year is different, I think; we’ve been there before, and we know what to expect. In some ways a lot is expected of us; we have to go out there and really prove we deserve to be there and show that maybe we can rewrite the story of 2019.

“I think in 2019, we were doing well in the first half in the replay and then [in the second half] we sort of died. They got the three goals and we didn’t have a lot left in us.

“This year, in the Naomh Bríd game, we were losing all the way through and we came back, and the same in the Glen game. So we have that extra bit of experience and that extra push, and I think we’re a fitter team as well so hopefully that will stand to us this year. We know we have to push on until the final whistle blows.”

Raharney co-captains Aoife (left) and Laura Doherty lifting the Leinster club junior ‘A’ camogie cup last month. Photo: Sean Brilly

Happily, pending any last-minute Covid outbreaks, Raharney have a full compliment of players as they head for Templetuohy. Forward Maria Kelly has recovered from a knock sustained in the semi-final, defender Meghan Carroll is back from the UK, while centre back Fiona Leavy has returned from her honeymoon.

But the one key difference between the panel that faced Clanmaurice in 2019 and the one which will line out this Sunday is the absence of Pamela Greville, who retired from camogie last year.

Greville, arguably Westmeath’s greatest ever camogie player, is an iconic figure in Raharney and as Laura explains, her departure has been keenly felt.

“Pam was a huge presence with club and county. She was our centre forward, and apart from her huge presence on the pitch, Pam was also one of our top scorers, so coming into this year we were a little bit worried,” she said.

“But Pam leaving has made us all have to step up, and it’s probably given the forwards more of a push that they have to score.

“It’s probably also in the back of our minds that because Pam is not here, we want to do it [win the All-Ireland] for her as well, because she was on the 2019 panel.

“It has been different, but it’s probably been sweet and sour. She’s gone, but we have to push on as well.”

Like all sports, the cloud of Covid-19 continues to loom over camogie, affecting players and supporters alike. But Laura is grateful that the pandemic hasn’t really taken a bite out of Raharney’s preparations for this year’s competitions.

“Like every team, our trainer’s been telling us if you’re sick, don’t go to training in case the rest of the team is affected. But we’ve been lucky enough in that if we’ve had girls out, we have such a big panel that we’ve been able to have in-house games or a good training session, even if some girls are absent and then come back,” midfielder Laura stated.

“Our game plan has always been the same, so it’s not like the girls are hugely missing out; they’re just missing out on ball work, and they’re doing that at home when they’re not at training.

“We haven’t missed out too much, and Clanmaurice have probably been the same. There have been girls out and girls coming back in. We still have to motor on.”

Raharney have won everything before them in the last six months, from the league final in August, to their seventh consecutive Matrix Cup win in October, and the Leinster success last month. For the championships, Laura has shared the captaincy with her younger sister Aoife.

“It’s nice to have Aoife beside me, because everyone has their down days, and if I’m not feeling my best or Aoife’s not feeling her best, one of us is there to carry the other,” Laura added.

“I’ve been lucky in many ways. I’ve a group of girls that I’ve been on panels with and I’ve come up with. We’ve all clicked and we all know each other really well. I’m lucky to have been on two such good panels, both Westmeath and Raharney.”

You’ll travel far to find more vocal and committed supporters than those of Raharney, and although Laura knows that Covid means that the crowd may not be as big as that which turned out for the All-Ireland final in 2019, she hopes that as many supporters as possible can make it to Templetuohy this Sunday.

For those who can’t attend, the final will be streamed live on the Camogie Association’s official YouTube channel.