In stark contrast to December’s chilly Camogie All Ireland in an empty Croke Park, this Sunday will see the league final between Kilkenny and Galway transpire amid better Coronavirus circumstances and the bustle of up to 3000 spectators cheering them on.
One of sixteen trial events that will pilot the return of crowds to sport, tickets were available over on camogie.ie this week running up to the showdown.
Also an outlier is the fact that throw in is to occur at the unusual time of 7:30pm due to RTE’s scheduling restrictions, something which Kilkenny manager Brian Dowling described as “strange” in recent days, but star player and Cats legend Miriam Walsh has ruled it as inconsequential.
“It's mad really, half seven, but I actually think it's good. I think we'd have more tuning in at that time rather than the two o'clock or three o'clock throw in because people are going to be going off places” she says.
“Camogie kind of comes first, so no, we're just really looking forward to it and the time doesn't matter to us.”
While last year’s triumph couldn’t be witnessed by her loved ones in person, Walsh reflected on the lack of onlookers and festivities at the match as “weird”, but while they had to watch it from the comfort of her home couch, the moment with those nearest and dearest to her was still “cherished.”
— Miriam Walsh (@miriamwalshtul1) December 13, 2020
“Sure our families were watching the All-Ireland from the sitting room!” she says.
“They were at home waiting for us at our houses, so it was nice to go and just meet them. We didn't really mind too much about the [lack of] celebrations then.”
In the Tullaroan woman’s mind the added benefit of the fans this weekend has far reaching ramifications too in that it may inspire the next era of camogie heroes and increase the awareness and recognition of her and her fellow players here in Ireland.
According to a recent study sponsored by Littlewoods, 89% of the country couldn’t name one single senior inter county camogie player, a stat which many are vying to change.
“It's so good that our spectators are coming back to Croke Park for the little girls, the younger generation, you know, I'm sure some of them might go up and it's just great to think it might add to the atmosphere too” she says.
“Littlewoods Ireland have been a brilliant sponsor to us and they're doing brilliant work promoting our game and promoting sports.”
“It would be nice to be more out there, but I still think we're after getting that bit more recognition even this year. I just think [they] are after doing an amazing job. Even their adds on the tele are really striking… It's a great time for supporters and spectators to get behind us.”
Far from the days of travelling with her cousin Grace Walsh (2021 All-Star) to see her dad and her brother Tommy make history in GAA HQ, Miriam herself now feels it is time to “stand up and start being a leader on the team.”
— Miriam Walsh (@miriamwalshtul1) January 13, 2021
With “huge losses” such as stalwart Ann Dalton retired and dynamic Katie Power out injured, Kilkenny scraped their way past Tipperary and into the final to get them over the line, which the daytime Montessori teacher attributes “heart and determination” to.
“We just haven't really got gotten going yet. I don't know if it's a lot of pressure on us from winning last year's All Ireland. I don't really know, but you know, I still think it's early in the year and I wouldn't panic just yet” she says.
With Galway waiting for them in the long grass on Sunday, Walsh is well aware Cathal Murray’s side will be “looking for revenge” but says her team are to step it up a notch in a game that will showcase “two good competitive sides” with “brilliant battles all over the field.”
The match will be available to watch on RTÉ with throw-in time at 7.30pm.