‘Tough to manage but good too’ – Balancing hockey for Ireland with Croke Park final prep
THE ALL-IRELAND CLUB camogie final is coming at a good time for Eoghan Rua forward, and Irish hockey international, Katie Mullan.
Eoghan Rua’s Katie Mullan.
If the season had been any longer, she might not have been able to keep committing to both teams. On the day she speaks to the media — one week out from her Derry club’s junior A decider against Clanmaurice of Kerry — she’s in the middle of a training camp with the Ireland hockey team.
The Green Army has a hectic few months ahead as they prepare for the women’s hockey world cup in July.
It’s a tight operation, no doubt, but Mullan is blessed to have the support of her colleagues in both squads to keep all the plates spinning.
“I’m sitting in a changing room on Irish camp right now,” she explains.
“I’m playing pretty full on hockey at the minute. We’re in camp now for three days and we were away in France two weeks ago. We were flying to France the day after the Ulster final, so it’s pretty tough to manage but it’s been good too.
“I just manage it very well with my club coach. The good thing is that the girls in my club team are very understanding, so the main thing for me is to get out on the wall ball with camogie. I go to training and do a lot more of the skill based stuff because I’m getting my physical training in with the hockey.
“So it’s just a real understanding and collaboration, which again, for to support any athlete or any kid playing multiple sports, you need that collaboration between coaches which I’ve had a fantastic experience of the last couple of months.”
Up until the end of last year, hockey was Mullan’s one and only sport. She played camogie as a youngster, and combined it with hockey for a time. But as she grew up and the opportunity to be a dual athlete became less accessible to her, she could only focus on one.
Sticking with hockey proved to be a fruitful one. Mullan captained her country through an amazing World Cup campaign in 2018 which turned hockey into a household favourite for a short spell. Ireland went into that tournament as the second-lowest ranked side, but emerged as silver medalists after reaching the final.
The following year, Mullan’s Ireland qualified for the Olympics for the first time after a dramatic qualifier against Canada in Donnybrook.
But last October, while attending the Derry intermediate camogie county final where her Eoghan Rua side defeated Newbridge, she felt something stir in her.
“I just really got an itch to be back playing camogie,” Mullan recalls about resuming her playing career with Eoghan Rua who were back-to-back All-Ireland intermediate champions in 2010 and 2011.
“So that was when the wee seed was planted, and it’s been quite a good year and quite a good run. It’s in the last month that it’s sort of really clashed for me, but with an understanding coach, with it being an All-Ireland, he’s been very supportive in that.
“I think if it was going on for much longer, I’m not sure I could have managed it but, yeah, very understanding.
“It’s been quite an intense few years with hockey and going away and speaking to my coach about that, I sort of asked if I could go back and play a bit of camogie. A lot of the girls I had played with 10, 11 years ago are still there playing for that team. A lot of them are my close friends so he was quite supportive of me doing that from a mental perspective.
“But also, I suppose, after the Olympics and sort of the comedown from the Olympics, and a break in our Irish hockey training programme after the qualifier in October, I was quite keen to do something different.”
Katie Mullan with her silver medal after the World Cup.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
In the time that Mullan has been away from the sport, she has noticed some changes in the way camogie is played. The endurance levels have increased and the game has become more physical.
Tactically, it’s a different sport to her now too.
“I think camogie players are a lot less stuck in positions, so you’re covering an awful lot more ground and you’re not necessarily in a little 10×10 yard zone, which was maybe the case the last time I played.
“And I know from a skills perspective, I was a huge one for dropping the hurl and getting the handpass away from my right hand. So, I’ve been blown up a few times for that just because it sort of happens instinctively.
“The girls are having to give out to me a bit for that, but it’s loads of fun and even just bringing across a small number of ideas from the game of hockey into the world of camogie, the girls have been super receptive, and I’ve enjoyed that too.
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“There’s so much crossover [between hockey and camogie] from things within a team culture and high performance environment that don’t even relate to the specific skills of the game, that I think can be transferred to many different sports.
“It’s fantastic and the most important thing is that I’m getting to play with girls I grew up in the club with, and I’m getting to pull on the club jersey with them again, which is very special to me.”
Eoghan Rua have just the week to prepare for the All-Ireland final. Their semi-final meeting with Roscommon’s Athleague was originally scheduled for 19 February, but the inclement weather forced a postponement until last Saturday.
It was a tough arm wrestle for much of the contest, with Eoghan Rua leading by just two points in the 15th minute of the second half. But the Ulster club managed to pull away and sign off with a 1-12 to 0-6 win to send them through to the decider.
The team are in good shape after that battle, and explains that travelling the short distance to Letterkenny for the Athleague game has improved their recovery time before meeting Clanmaurice this weekend.
Mullan has said in the past that she always wanted to go back to play camogie at some point, but she believed that it would be after she finished up with playing hockey for Ireland.
Taking the decision to make an earlier return to the sport could result in another All-Ireland crown for Eoghan Rua.
“I never thought it would be something I could do while still playing international hockey.
“It very much just happened naturally and I’m so grateful that it has. And just the way the season has unfolded, a lot of the camógs maybe don’t enjoy winter camogie, and it’s not their first choice. But for me, I’m really enjoying it so I’m very grateful.”
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