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Friday 19 December 2014

Icon Eileen is a past master

SHE was some goalkeeper. Number one in the Team of the Century.

Last week Eileen Duffy-O'Mahony took a sliotar out of her living room cabinet. It was from the All-Ireland camogie final of 1957.

That was a great Dublin team. For them, winning All-Irelands was as natural as plugging in the kettle.

She was captain in '57. The sliotar was signed by some famous players, and other colourful characters that played such a prominent role in the history of the sport.

It's a collector's item. "I call it the ball of energy," smiled Eileen, one of the most endearing personalities the game has known.

"Dublin was a small town when I was growing up. Everybody knew everybody," she recalled.

"We cycled everywhere. I can remember being on my bike and a bus driver might shout 'Good luck on Sunday'. That's the way it was."

It was the era when every school in Dublin had a camogie team. And the Phoenix Park was central station.



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"The Phoenix Park was home to camogie. Training and the matches took place there," she said.

"If training was to start at 7pm, you had to be there for seven, and not a second late.

"We trained on a Tuesday night. Tuesday was cattle market day on the South Circular Road.

"I can remember trying to get past the cattle to be on time. We'd be moving them out of our way with our hurls. We thought we were great."

And, no matter what, come match day the show went on. It did not matter what the heavens sent.

"There could be snow or hail. We could be up to our ears in mud," said Eileen.

"Nell McCarthy was our trainer. She was a little lady. I first met her in the Phoenix Park. She was to become a life-long friend.

"She'd often act as umpire. She had this little raincoat. If it was raining she'd wait until we were on the attack and she'd put it around my shoulders.

"And then she'd quickly take it off again if the other team were coming a bit closer to my goal. She was a wonderful lady.

"I never took my eyes off the ball. Sometimes that would be a bit awkward if the umpires were friendly and they'd be having a few words with you. But I was determined to stay focused."

One summer's afternoon, Eileen took her eyes off the ball in more ways than one. They were told never to go near the seaside on the day of a match.

"Well, it was a gorgeous day and three of us took a half-day from the office and went swimming and sun-bathing in Portmarnock," she said.

"We had a Championship game that evening, and I was the reason we lost it.

"I used to love to come out and catch the ball in the air, but on that particular occasion, I misjudged it's flight a few times.

"And I blame going to the beach on that because they say that looking at the seascape can have an effect on your eyes."

You'd get the impression that Nell McCarthy wasn't too fond of beaches. Guiding Dublin to yet another O'Duffy Cup victory in Croke Park was more to her liking.

"It was such a thrill marching behind the Artane Boys Band on All-Ireland Final day," reflected Eileen. "Life was just great.

"And you never lose the friendship. If any of us happen to meet after so many years, it's as if life has stood still.

"Camogie has brought such happiness to me and my family, and it's still a very important part of my life."

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