ON Sunday, Glounthaune’s Niamh Ní Chaoimh will lead Cork out onto Croke Park, and in the stand her parents Ann and Denis will be just as nervous as they proudly watch their youngest child.
They’ve been here before, however, as Niamh captained the Rebels in last year’s Intermediate Camogie All-Ireland final, only to lose to Kilkenny. This year, hopes are high that Cork’s Intermediate team can redeem themselves, but it’ll be a tall order against Meath.
Ní Chaoimh plays camogie with Killeagh and football with Erins Own, and incredibly has a senior All-Ireland medal haul that equates to four in football and one in camogie.
As a child, weekends were spent pucking the sliothar or kicking football about in the back garden with her older brothers Shane and Mark — now living in Australia and New Zealand respectively — and from there Niamh progressed to camogie with Erins Own under the guidance of a lady called Hilda Keohane.
But, it was her parents’ incredible support as she grew up that gave Niamh such a great outlook on life, and in particular in her career as a primary school teacher at Gaelscoil Uí Ríordáin in Ballincollig.
“My parents’ input was huge,” she says. “They’ve been an unbelievable support to me.
“Mom wouldn’t be too sporty, but she got into it for me. Growing up she was the one driving us down to Dunmanway on a Saturday morning for football trials at 9am, then driving us back up for a camogie match in Mitchelstown. Then dad would follow on to watch the game, and they were just fantastic.
“We’re a very close family. With the lads away it’s been myself, mom and dad, and we can’t forget the dog (Charlie the Jack Russell)! But, I can’t stress how important their involvement was.
“Dad played hurling and football for Mayfield and Erins Own, and he’s now stuck in Erins Own for the last few years. He’s always on the sideline, encouraging people on . He’s very positive and that was great to have growing up.
“They’ve set a massive example for me. Even with my teaching career, you can see that all the parents just want to keep their kids on the straight and narrow and for them to do their best, and as a teacher that’s what you want as well.”
Having attended secondary school in Colaiste na Piarsaigh in Glanmire, Niamh was known as Niamh Ní Chaoimh and the Irish name followed her to college, so eventually she decided to make it her official name on her passport.
They don’t speak Irish at home in Glounthaune, but given her work, Niamh converses daily, while she’ll also speaks Irish with her college friends.
But, as preparations continue for Sunday’s All-Ireland final showdown against Meath in Croke Park, Muinteoir Ní Chaiomh is just another teacher. Along with two other members of staff, she coached the school camogie team to the Sciath na Scoil finals this year, and Niamh sees first hand just want sport can do for children developing at that age.
“The most important thing I think it teaches them is social skills. Obviously, there’s huge benefits to them being outside, in the fresh air, exercising, but learning social skills is just as important.
“When I got involved coaching the camogie team, you could see the girls growing in confidence every day. They started getting to finals, and that’s not the be all and end all because they lost one and they won one, but it taught them how to succeed and it also taught them how to take a defeat, and that makes you resilient.
“They were so engrossed in it and they were chatting among themselves about the games and training, and they were all really good friends looking out for one another and that’s fantastic to watch.
“It also teaches them discipline, not only to be dedicated because of their teammates, but to have respect for themselves, the other players, and their coaches.
“It also teaches them about time management, because you know if you’re playing, you’re going to have to commit to training, and you know you have to be on time because others are dependent on you.”
But what about pushy parents?
“I haven’t had to deal with pushy parents. 99% of the time there’s no problem. Parents want the best for their child, and you want the best for the child, so communication is the key — like anything in life.
“If a child is ever struggling with anything, you speak to the parents, and the parents will know. They want to help the child, and you want to help the child, so you’ll all work together.
“But, as I say, you can definitely see how playing a sport is so good for them, and I know that myself having parents who were involved in what I did, but who even if they didn’t have the time, showed an interest, and that’s hugely important.”
When Niamh wasn’t training with Erins Own in football, or with Killeagh or the Cork intermediate camogie team, she was completing a two-year Masters in Education, for which she will soon find out the results.
“It wasn’t easy, but having learned to juggle two different codes, and a career, taking on a Masters was just something to add to the list.
“It was all about being organised. That was the most important thing. The night before I’d have all my meals and my gear ready because you could be gone from 8am in the morning to 8pm at night.
“But, if you’re interested in it, you’ll do it. I managed my time and that’s what you need to do. But, it’s the same with everything, if you have the interest and you want to do it, you’ll make it work.”
Niamh will lead her teammates out onto the turf of Croke Park on Sunday, with the game being broadcast live on RTÉ2’s The Sunday Game at 2pm.
In Australia her brother Shane will tune in, and in New Zealand her brother Mark will do the same.
But, standing there in the Hogan Stand with butterflies in their stomachs, will be Ann and Denis O’Keeffe, hoping their youngest can achieve the ultimate in her career on the field of play.