Aoife always happy to answer the Derry call

Derry v Cork
Sunday, Owenbeg, 1pm

By Niall Gartland

WHENEVER you come across the name Aoife Ní Chaiside, it’s easy to think of the trailblazing Sleacht Néill camogs over the last five years.

Aoife captained the side to their historic inaugural All-Ireland title win back in 2017, and that was only the beginning of the story as they won the next two All-Irelands and continue to boss matters on the provincial front.

Her club feats are legendary at this point and she was named as Gaelic Life’s camogie player of the year back in March after yet another Ulster success, but something that sometimes goes unnoticed outside the confines of Derry is her commitment to their intercounty team.

Ní Chaiside has never missed a season in her decade’s involvement with Derry and takes special pride in representing her county.

Whatever happens in this year’s Intermediate Championship – a win against Cork this weekend should see them advance from their group but that outcome isn’t yet guaranteed with two games remaining – it won’t be for a lack of trying from their Sleacht Néill star.

“I’ve always played for the county and feel like it’s an honour to represent your county, and I’d encourage all honours to do the same from underage right up.

“From u-14 right up I’ve played for the county, I don’t think I missed any years actually, it’s just with the club season running over I’ve missed a pre-season or parts of the national league.

“But I love representing Derry and playing for them.”

Ní Chaiside is accustomed to playing against the cream of the crop at national level in All-Ireland semi-finals and finals with Sleacht Néill, but Derry ply their trade at Intermediate level. She says the standard isn’t any lesser, however.

“The Intermediate standard is very high. The level of camogie is good, and the physicality and fitness of the players is very good. There’s Kilkenny, Cork and Wexford’s second teams and I’m not sure if they’re training with their senior teams, but there’s a lot of time and effort being put into developing those players as well. It’s challenging, in the Kilkenny game, they were very physical and strong and that’s what you’re going up against every time you’re going out.”

While Derry are spearheaded by players with vast experience like Ní Chaiside, Megan Kerr, Shannon O’Doherty, Grainne McNicholl, Aine McAllister and others, there’s also plenty of talented younger girls coming through the ranks.

“There’s a lot of energy being put into underage teams at the minute. There’s young girls graduating onto the team like Cliodhna Ní Mhianáin and Rachel Downey, and then at the next stage after that you’ve Maria Rafferty from Lavey.

“There’s a few of us older ones around the 30 bracket but there’s a good blend. It’s always good to see more youth coming through, developing them and getting a bit of experience.”

After claiming two wins from their opening three games (a defeat to Kilkenny on their last day out their only slip up to date) they now face into their final two games against Cork and Wexford.

“If we were to beat Cork this weekend, we’d definitely be sitting in a better position with a bit of the pressure off for the last match. We definitely have to win one of them to qualify for the quarter-finals,” said Ní Chaiside.

While Sleacht Néill have dominated the club front, at county level it’s Down and Antrim who have made waves and are currently competing in the senior championship. It’s always good to have something to aspire to, and Derry brought Down to extra-time in the Ulster Championship this year.

“We get to play Antrim and Down in the Ulster Championship, we’ve also played them in challenge games since.

“It’s absolutely fantastic they’re playing in the top level and there isn’t that geographic barrier for us, we don’t have to go too far south to play teams at that standard. We do aspire to win All-Irelands, we want to push on and improve the overall standard in the county.”

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