Interview with Cathriona Foley

Sarah Burns

Sport Editor

Former Cork captain and three-time All-Star Cathriona Foley talks to Trinity News about the problems facing camogie.

This year’s All-Ireland camogie final in Croke Park between Wexford and Cork saw a disappointing turnout of 15,300 – compare that with the men’s hurling final between Kilkenny and Galway, which could fill out the same stadium twice over.

Over 82,000 turned out to see the Cats lift the Liam McCarthy Cup for the sixth time in seven years in September, but less than a fifth of that number came to witness the Wexford ladies pick up their third All-Ireland title in a row. Among the sparse spectators that day was Cathriona Foley, former Cork camogie captain who is now in her third year of her PhD studying reproductive immunology here in Trinity.

Foley led the Cork team to All-Ireland glory in 2008, picking up three All-Star awards for notable performances throughout the 2007, 2008 and 2009 championship seasons. Despite these impressive achievements her name, along with many other camógs, continuously fails to win the same recognition or merit as hurling players such as Henry Shefflin or Joe Canning.

Attendance at the All-Ireland final for both camogie and ladies’ gaelic football has never once gained even half the attendance of their male counterparts. Foley recognises this, but explains that it is not for a lack of history.

“The Camogie Association has been in operation since 1904, which is a hundred years and more. So it’s not that it hasn’t been around for a long time and that there isn’t history there. I think it’s just because people don’t know the girls’ names, they can’t identify with any of the girls playing. I think if people knew a little bit more about the girls playing and could identify with them, they’d find it more interesting to watch.”

From listening to Foley it is clear that players such as herself find it frustrating that counties don’t get behind the women the same way they do for the men’s teams. While she was absent from the Cork lineup this year she noticed that “the standard this year especially was just so high. If people just took the time to appreciate it a little bit more and make the effort.

“The lack of support for people who play camogie, that don’t turn up on All-Ireland day is a bit annoying. People could make the effort for that one day. The girls are only in Croke Park for one day of the whole year and there are only a select number of teams that get the opportunity.”

Dwindling attendance is just one of a number of setbacks that face camógs throughout the country and especially in rural parishes such as Foley’s Carraig na bhFear in Cork. She explains that “when I did start playing there was no camogie club as such in my parish so I actually played with the boys. A girls club was eventually formed for U12s.”

Despite this, Foley has since had to find a new club to play for at home as “the club I used to play for, Rock Bán, it would have actually folded last year just because of a lack of numbers, so a lot of girls now are focusing on study and also due to work commitments and as well for the summer a bunch of girls went off on a J1 so they had to decide to disband the club just for this year. They’ll see what the situation is like again next year.”

Foley herself has had to take a break from county play since the end of 2010 due to the demanding schedule required to complete her PhD. Looking back, she says “it was a decision that was kind of really made for me in a way. Because I tried in 2010, I did play that year but I felt that one night a week commitment wasn’t enough and especially at senior level.

“The team were very good, they were still willing to accommodate me and everything, but I just felt in my heart and soul that I wasn’t able to perform to the level I was used to. It was just very frustrating for me.”

I wonder is a return to the county team a possibility for the future. “I’d love to go back, possibly in 2014,” she laughs. While Foley may be taking a break from Cork, she’s certainly not one to sit back and see her fitness deplete, as she has decided to run the New York City Marathon on 4th November.

The 26-year-old originally took up the challenge as a means of keeping fit and as something to distract her from playing for her county. But these motivations quickly transformed into something different. She explains that “initially I would have set a goal of a marathon way back last Christmas, just simply because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to play with Cork and I needed some other way of keeping fit.

“That was the first aim. I started tipping away at the running twice a week, three times a week. Then around January, February I decided that this was what I wanted to do.As things developed, my brother was sick and he passed away then recently. So after that happened then it became a different motivation. I felt I was given this health and I’m so grateful for it and a lot of people don’t get this chance or opportunity.

“I just felt that the fact I was healthy, there was no better time than the present to do something like this. I thought it was a great idea to do it in his memory.” Foley’s brother, Daniel, who also represented Cork at underage level, passed away earlier this year after an ongoing battle with leukaemia.

While Foley will be running the marathon in memory of her brother, she has also decided to use it as a fundraiser for a number of charities that were related to his condition. She explains that “a month ago, I just put up an event on Facebook saying that I was hoping to raise money for three different charities; the first charity is the Children’s Leukaemia Association in Cork, the second is Friends of Leukaemia Patients, they’re another Cork charity, and then finally the Medical Research Facility in Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin.

“I put those three links up on an events page, invited all my friends and set targets of €500 for each of them over six months. Within a week the three targets were reached.”

So far Foley has reached well above her initial target of €1,500, with €3,500 raised in total so far. “I think because Daniel only passed away in May, it’s still very fresh in people’s memory. They’re still thinking about him. It was great to see everyone’s support and messages,” she says.

The Trinity Camogie team also enlisted their help, completing a “Runathon” in the Sports Centre last Friday. The event saw the girls run 26 miles throughout the day, with Cathriona completing the final half-hour of the run.

“I’m so lucky with the Trinity Camogie team here. They’re great altogether,” she explains. Foley has been part of the Trinity Camogie team for the past two years, during which they were promoted to Division Two in 2011 for the first time in the club’s history. That same year the side also made it to the final of the Purcell Shield, losing out to Dublin Institute of Technology in the decider.

Foley is departing for New York this Friday, competing in her first ever marathon only two days later. Alongside her will be thousands of other participants who will all hope to cross the finish line at Central Park. It will be watched worldwide by around 315 million television viewers; perhaps not what Foley might be used to playing in front of for Cork, but certainly something she could get used to.
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