Take the free-taking of Waterford ace Beth Carton, who was named PwC GPA Camogie Player of the Year last night. From distance, she strikes off her left but closer to goals, it is always off her right.
“My preferred side would be my left growing up so I’d have a longer strike on that side,” says Carton. “But I probably have a better style off the right because it’s more natural, it’s not coming across the body. So that’s why I take the closer in ones off the right and the longer ones off the left. Those longer ones off the left mightn’t end up anywhere near the goals! But I switched to the right and I’m going with it now.”
While so much about 2023 was positive for Waterford, it is hard to get past how it ended — a 19-point defeat to Cork.
“People are saying to you it was a great year but the last thing on your mind is the final. Days like that, you hope never happen in your sporting career but they do and you have to learn from them. You can’t ignore it. It’s hard to think about it but you have to as long as you do it in a way that doesn’t damage you and you can move ahead to next year. We’re still a young squad and if we take what we need to from that, we can move forward.”
Waterford also reached the All-Ireland minor A final this year and from that ground-breaking team, Laoise Forrest forged a starting berth in the senior side, while Bevin Bowdren was on the bench. More can be expected to push through as camogie flourishes in the county.
“It’s been crazy the amount of new clubs being formed. There’s a bit of a buzz about camogie in Waterford. You’d see girls walking down the streets with hurleys, which you wouldn’t have seen before.
“You need starters and finishers now, you need to be thinking about how you’re going to finish a game as much as how you start. And even for in-house games, the stronger the panel the better and it has definitely developed in Waterford camogie over the years. Hopefully a few more of the minors will push through now to improve it further.”
Carton knows all about being an underage prodigy, having been player of the match in both finals as Waterford did the All-Ireland minor B and under 16 B double in 2014. She scored 2-11 in the latter final.
The following year, just weeks after going into sixth year, she starred in Croke Park as the Déise claimed intermediate honours. In the intervening years, the De La Salle virtuoso has led the way as they established themselves among the senior elite.
Game recognises game and no less a figure than John Mullane labelled his clubmate as the best camogie player in the country after the De La Salle team he is a selector of retained their county title last month. The respect is mutual.
“He’s an icon in De La Salle and everyone would look up to him massively. If you saw the work he’s doing in the club, in terms of the hurling and the camogie. He’d train the under 11s in camogie the same way he would the senior lads! Those wins for us were nearly as big for him as when he was winning himself. We’re very lucky to have a man of his calibre in the club and he’s someone we’d all really look up to.”
Carton’s dad Joey is also involved. The Munster GAA games manager is a former coach of Waterford’s senior hurlers as well as the team that won the under 21 All-Ireland hurling title in 1992 but his fingerprints are everywhere in De La Salle.
“We’d have had no camogie team when I was young and he got that going when I was 10. He brought it all the way up and is still involved with the seniors. He’d be your harshest critic but he knows as well when you might need that bit of good advice too.”
Now teaching at her alma mater, Presentation Secondary School in the city, Carton feels the passion for Gaelic games and is thankful for the support the camogie team has received. It was particularly notable as Waterford overcame a dreadful start to see off Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final at UPMC Nowlan Park.
“People say about Waterford we do get caught up in things a bit much,” Carton says with a chuckle, “but the supporters were great that day. They always are but that was unbelievable. And it does make a difference. When you’re in Nowlan Park, there’s a few minutes left and you hear the Waterford crowd, it certainly lifts you.
“People down here were great over those few weeks and even after the final went the way it did, people were very good to us, telling us it was a great year. It’s hard to look back on the semi-final now because of the way the final went but in time we will look back on it fondly and it was a great day as well.”
With Carton leading the line, the best may yet be to come.