Rossa camog’s 2008 season – from despair to ecstacy

JANE Adams’s hope of winning an All-Ireland title seemingly disappeared in Autumn 2007.

On November 3 of that year, the Rossa Camogs stepped out against Cashel believing that they were on their way to All-Ireland glory.

Their manager was Jim Nelson, their team had dominated Antrim throughout the decade, and they felt that now was their time to take an All-Ireland title having lost the final in 2006.

But Cashel would go out and destroy them by 2-13 to 2-3.

Jane Adams, one of the finest camogs that Ireland has ever seen, lost hope after that match.

We believed we could win an All-Ireland. We had won an All-Ireland semi-final before.

Within ten minutes of that game I knew we were getting beat. I have a never-say-die attitude. But right there and then my All-Ireland dream died. I asked myself why I believed that we could beat them.”

They lost the game, and all hope that they could win an All-Ireland final.

For Theresa Morrison, Jane’s sister, the result wasn’t the only thing that hurt.

It made me question whether I wanted to play camogie.

The day before the All-Ireland semi-final I was dropped off the starting 15. I had no pre-warning. They just read out the team, and I wasn’t on it, even though I had been on the starting team for a number of years. For me, I would say I took that information gracefully but I was devastated. It was a massive shock to me.”

Theresa had been sacrificed to allow a more senior player to return into the team, Ciara Nelson who had been out with injury.

For Jane, the decision was one that she had to accept.

SHE said: “Theresa is my sister, she is unbelievable. But that was the decision that the management came to. That’s what we had to go with.”

But for Theresa, the call was hard to take, and she questioned whether she could commit to the 2008 season.

Going in to 2008 the mood was pretty low and everyone was very sad.”

But the players were not the only ones who were questioning their commitment

Before the season started, Jim Nelson told the team that he wouldn’t be able to commit for the 2008 campaign.

This was a huge blow. Jim Nelson is the Antrim legend. The man who led Antrim’s hurlers to an All-Ireland final, and who was one of the men who turned the Rossa camogs fortunes around.

Theresa Morrison-Adams said: “He decided that it was time to move on from Rossa Camogs. That was a major shock but that was the right decision for him at that time, and looking back it was the right decision for us.”

It didn’t seem that way at the beginning of that campaign.

They now had to find a new manager to take Jim’s place.

Ciara Nelson was a stalwart of the defence, and had returned to action the previous year for the All-Ireland semi-final.

She explained that the start of that season was tricky.

We went into the Ulster league without a manager. We were in disarray. But we still had our fitness to pull on. We were experienced. But we didn’t have a manager. We had players taking training.”

You would think that as 2006 All-Ireland finalists, and 2007 all-Ireland semi-finalist they wouldn’t have had much bother getting a new manager.

But that wasn’t the case.

At the start of January, they had no coach. They should have been doing training, and preparing for the season ahead.

Jane Adams said: “Myself and the other committee members had asked 40 people if they would take the team. That’s no exaggeration. They all said no. We went from having the best management that anyone could wish for, to not having a coaching set up.

Behind the scenes we were panicking. We sheltered that from the team because there were so many young players.”

Adams said that they worked with player coaches and guest coaches, but they couldn’t get a settled coach.

They asked a variety of managers, but tortured Mickey McCullough the most. He had been an assistant to Jim Nelson, so he knew the set up.

Adams said: “He said he’d give us a shot. He had just been helping out before but now this was his chance.”

Grainne Connolly was centre forward on the team.

She said that Mickey’s approach to training made the team feel more confident.

When Mickey set out his plan we knew that we had it in us to win an All-Ireland.

Mickey took us to a different level. He knew what we were capable of, but he also knew how to bring us to the next level.”

Mickey had Ronan McWilliams in with him. Ronan worked on defence, and Mickey worked on the attack. We just had a different mindset. That was a big thing. Winning is as much mental as it is physical.”

Mickey’s approach was to focus on getting the team right for the Antrim championship. He took a different approach to training in that he waited until later in the year before they started proper championship training.

One of the more experienced players, Ciara McGinley said: “We started our training a lot later than in previous years. The All-Ireland season is a long season. We had been going right through to November so we didn’t usually get much of a break if we started in January. So the break that year was good.”

But McGinley was going to have a longer break than usual.

Ciara McGinley said: “In July I found out that I was pregnant. I was going to miss the rest of the season. For me, when you are so used to playing camogie and training and going to matches and that changes. It is strange, and you do really miss it.”

And McGinley wasn’t the only one who was going to miss that season.

Theresa Morrison-Adams said: “We also lost Ciara Nelson, Ciara McGinley and Maureen Barry. The two Ciara’s were off to have a family. And Maureen Barry retired.

They were three key players in the defence. That was a massive blow. They were on the starting 15 for many years.”

So McCullough had to manage that blow, and he did so by drafting in some of the younger players.

The youth on the team had shown their class in the previous years, and they were going to have a real chance to shine.

We lost five or six experienced players, and our defence was very young. We had a back line of mostly teenagers. They had no fear, and they knew they were good enough because Mickey had told them they were good enough.

They didn’t know what it was like for Rossa to get beat, because they had come through watching Rossa win Championships. They had confidence in themselves.

So there was a mindset change, but it was also about the young players coming through.”

Jane Adams agreed that the young players made a huge difference.

Everybody got really stuck in. We had young players like Natalie McGuinness, Maureen Quinn, Theresa Adams, Bronagh Orchin, Aisling McCall, they came into the side for two to three years and didn’t get the chance because the key players were so good.

I wasn’t worried about whether they could do it, but they surprised me with how well they could do it.”

Having the right players was important, but the club had a great support group.

Fiona Kennedy was part of the forward line, but she wasn’t originally from Belfast. She was a teacher, and had been coerced into joining the club a few years previous.

Originally from Ballinascreen, Fiona explained that the strength of the club was its sense of community.

I thought I had hung my boots up. I had ordered hurls from Gavin Duffy for school. He said, if you are Reamonn Kennedy’s sister then you must be able to play Camogie. I thought I was retired but I got roped in. I had a fabulous time with them. They were so supportive and so welcoming. When you live in a big city and you are from the country it is so important to be part of a club. The way that everybody works togther. The likes of Margaret Flynn, the coaches who started a lot of the girls off. Everybody got behind us. It became a real family affair.”

Rossa won Antrim but it was a real test for them.

Grainne Connolly said: “Our games against Dunloy and Loughgiel were harder than the All-Ireland semi-finals.”

They won Antrim, and Ulster but there was a mental hurdle in the All-Ireland semi-final, when they met Ballyboden.

The semi-final was an opportunity to right the wrongs of the previous years.

I was extra special as the game was going to be played at Casement Park.

Mairiosa McGourty was one of the youngest players on the team.

She said: “Casement Park is in the heart of West Belfast where we are all from. We would go past there nearly every day, going to school or work. So to have it there really added to the occasion.”

It afforded the club an extra special preparation.

Grainne Connolly said: “We did our warm up in Rossa, and got changed in Rossa. We went down to Casement and we were getting ready when Mickey held out a bag of grass. We were looking at him. He said ‘Put it in your boot. This might not be Rossa, but this is our home pitch today. So take a bit of home with you, put it in your boot so when you are walking out there, you are walking out on Rossa park’.”

It wasn’t the only motivational tool that McCullough employed that day.

He also revealed in that changing room some personal effects that he had managed to get from the players houses.

Grainne Connolly said: “He had taken my camera, and my camera went everywhere with me. When he produced it in the changing rooms I said ‘how did you get my camera’. He said ‘I went into your house and took it. You wouldn’t let someone come into your home and take something from you? Don’t let Ballyboden come into your home and take what belongs to you, and that is a place in the All-Ireland final’.

Nobody would have beat us that day. Put two teams out and we wouldn’t have been beaten.”

The game didn’t go exactly to plan though.

Grainne said that the first half was nervy, though the Rossa girls worked hard.

But Jane was off her game.

Jane said: “I had been averaging 1-9 to 1-10 in the Antrim and Ulster championship. But when I got into the game I tripped over my own feet.

A ball came into me and I lost the ball. I got pushed off the ball when I usually would have stayed up. I was starting to worry.

I said to myself, ‘you can’t get to another All-Ireland semi-final and just blow up, you have to do something about it’.”

The game got to half time, and Mickey McCulllough got his chance to have a word with Jane.

Mickey said to me ‘what are you doing’. I said ‘I don’t know’. I think I was just nervous, which is awful as I never got nervous.

So Mickey says, ‘this is your chance. You are on your favourite pitch in your home town. Get out and show them what you can do’.

We took to the field and we rallied. We were beating them well. I got the ball, and put it over the bar. I got another ball and got a goal out of it.

I think I went from having the worst game in one half to having the best game.”

And that set up their final against Drom-Inch to be played in Ashbourne.

Preparations for the All-Ireland semi-final saw the team go to Fingallions club before hand.

Jane Adams said: “I remember coming into the gates and the song Journey was playing. The whole team started to sing it. That’s a really good memory. I just thought that this is my family. I couldn’t wait to play.”

Theresa Morrison Adams said: “I remember the day was roasting. It was a day that you felt was too warm to play a match. But everyone was buzzing.

I had nervous anxiety before the game, and I remember taking myself off and had a word with myself. I said to myself that this is my only chance. I had to do it for myself, my team and for everyone that worked for the club.”

Mairiosa McGourty said that she noticed that the team around her were really determined: “There was a very calm atmosphere before hand in the changing rooms. Everyone was focused on the match.

We knew we were up against Drom-Inch who were the Munster champions. We knew it was going to be a huge challenge.”

I remember the goalkeeper tried to clear the ball and I blocked her down. The ball was broken and Jane Adams, who was always there to back me up, came in and put the bal in the back of the net.I knew then it was giong to be our day.”

Grainne Connolly said that no one was going to beat them that day.

We were so ready for it. At half time, Mickey had cards for each of the players with a special message. And I remember the Take That song greatest day of our lives. We were psyched up for the second half.”

And they showed it. They won 2-15 to 1-12 and the celebrations began.

Ciara Nelson, who had missed the season because she was pregnant, described that feeling of seeing the team win as ‘A dream’.

Jane Adams: “I came off the field feeling elated. My dream had come true. I had taken such a hit in 2007 and to come back and win was unbelievable.”

Theresa Adams had only one feeling at the final whistle.

I just remember thinking that I needed to get to Jane Adams, my sister. She had worked her life to get an All-Ireland and she did it. I remember running down the pitch as fast as I could. My sister Laura, my mummy. The whole team was running for Jane.

It was a feeling on a pitch that I had never felt before.”

There were a lot of tears and joy.

And Jane then had to make a speech.

I remember coming off, I always got a little bit stressed about what I would say in a speech after the match. That day was different because I hadn’t thought about it because my wee sister was having a baby.

I got up to start talking and I thought about all the people who had come to our matches. I thought I had worked in my daddy’s pubs, people saying to us that they hoped that we could win, but maybe not believing it.

I am so proud that I am from the club that I am from.

I remember saying that it is not just for Antrim and Belfast, it is for the Falls road in West Belfast. It makes me proud to say that.”

Grainne Connolly said: “The bus journey home was such good craic. We arrived back and everyone was clapping and cheering us.”

The thoughts after the final should shift to those that who had got them there, but who weren’t playing.

Ciara McGinley was one of them.

I was delighted when they won. It was absolutely amazing. It was everything that we had been building towards in the previous years.

With a bit of luck we went on and won the All-Ireland and I was so proud. I was delighted for all the girls who played that day. It was amazing for the club. It would go down in the history books that Rossa were champions in 2008.”

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