Awards season is underway in the GAA season, with All-Ireland Camogie champions Cork receiving eight all-stars in last weekend’s awards.
Among them to receive an all-star was forward Hannah Looney, who was crucial for the rebels’ first All-Ireland title in five years.
While it is special for a player’s performances to be recognised through awards, Hannah told BreakingNews.ie winning the O’Duffy Cup was the priority.
“It was great, it has been a couple of years since we have been at an all-star event as All-Ireland champions, so it felt extra special. It is really special to get recognised on a personal level, but what defines your season is ultimately on August 6th, and it was great to share the stage with the Cork Camogie girls.
“It had been five years since we won. When I first joined that Cork team I was pretty young, a bit naive, and got used to winning and got used to the leaders digging us out and winning All-Ireland’s when there was no right to be won.
“Then all of a sudden, you are in their shoes. You are the one meant to be doing that, when things get hard you are the one meant to be doing turning the game for Cork.”
Despite having such a talented side, Cork experienced a five-year gap in camogie for an All-Ireland title. In that time, there was final defeats to Galway and Killkenny along the way, which Looney admits brought pressure into this season.
For Looney, the heartbreak of defeat, and integrating the next generation of leaders was key to the journey that made Cork champions.
“It probably just took us that bit of time to adopt to new leaders on the team, between Laura Tracey and Maeve Callaghan, the likes of them and to get the young ones motoring along with us.
“There was two hard defeats at Croke Park. It made that feeling of finally getting over the line surreal. I think the way we did it was extra special , beating both Galway and Kilkenny, and then having the complete performance on All-Ireland final day is what dreams are made of, to be honest.
“There was a lot of talk of this great talent, and at the end of the day, we weren’t delivering when we needed it most, and you are sitting back in the long winter thinking what went wrong, what is the difference, what do we need to do to get better?
“I think there was huge pressure, especially going into the All-Ireland against Waterford, when it is that bit of an unknown. We knew what to expect gong up against Galway and Kilkenny, but we were going up against a new team, so it was a good sense of pressure. We knew if we could go out and perform, there was an All-Ireland there for us and, thankfully, that’s what we did.”
In what was the final season in charge for manager Matthew Twomey, the stakes couldn’t have been higher as the squad tried to end his time in charge on a high.
The relationship between the manager and squad was a positive one, as Looney appreciated the squad being able to express themselves on and off the pitch.
It also allowed some honest conversations to be had between players, as she admitted a call from one of her teammates motivated her to up her performances at a crucial part of the season.
“Matthew has been around with us for the last decade, to be honest. People think it has just been for the last couple of years when he was manager, but he has been at the forefront of camogie since 2014.
“To see what that man put in on a personal level, looking after all of us and getting everyone what they want as much as possible, was phenomenal. We all knew the pressure and stresses he was under, and to keep delivering the way he did I really admire.
“What was really special in that management team was they allowed everyone to express themselves. On and off the pitch, everyone needs to be themselves, and not marched into a certain way of doing things.
“This year, which I thought was key was players holding each other accountable. It was never a management-driven thing. If there was issues to be resolved, it was always the players standing up and talking them through. There is no point everyone teling each other they are great all the time.
“From a personal standpoint, one of my best friends on the team, Maeve Callaghan, was able to ring me at a time of the season when she thought I wasn’t putting in enough work or doing what was needed to win an All-Ireland. You take the guidance and move on again.
“Whatever about the bond we have off the pitch, the ability to hold each other accountable on it was crucial.”
Hannah Looney is one of four dual players on the Cork team. In football, they were defeated in the semi-finals by eventual winners Dublin, in a season where the struggles for dual players was brought to everyone’s attention.
Fixture clashes meant players like Hannah missed out on crucial games for their counties, as players placed under protest for part of the season for a standard charter.
While Hannah said she has no intention of stepping back from either camogie or football, she is concerned past issues may not have been addressed.
“It’s disheartening and dejecting in many ways, this year was definitely the most difficult year I put down. Myself, Libby, Aoife and Orla never really asked for much, just a day between matches at times, and just to get no recognition or acknowledgement.
“I am worried going into next year. I saw the LGFA have their fixtures out, has there been any communication with the Camogie, I doubt it. I will keep playing dual as long as possible, so I don’t understand why the associations can’t come together to accommodate it.
“Even if you take the players out of it, you take supporting the Cork teams. If you put the matches on two days, you are dividing support.
“I was coming into that Kilkenny quarter-final after missing the last three matches because I was with the footballers. I put a loof pressure and responsibility on myself to deliver after missing so much camogie, when I don’t think there was any need for it.
“It is getting harder because there is more people saying just choose one, but we should be just champoning women’s sport, it’s not like we are complaining, we just want matches on different days.
With the likes of Libby Coppinger playing two games in one day, and welfare issues brought to attention, the issues female athletes face in Ireland was now clear for everyone to see.
While it was agreed for a framework to be delivered for a standard charter for female inter-county players in 2024, Looney admitted there was some sleepless nights for players as they waited anxiously on developments.
“The four of us had some very stressful weeks. It is not just ourselves, the dual players that were affected, it has a knock on impact on all the squads.
“There was a lot of sleepless nights for players before championship games where players didn’t know where they were going. That’s no fault of management alone, no fault of the players.
“It really goes back to why the LGFA and Camogie association can’t sit in a room at the start of the year and plan the year ahead. If they sat in a room and said this was the best they can come up with, maybe you can out your hands up then.
“Until I see that communication and collaboration and trying to accommodate us, I’ll be ranting about this.”