Claire Stakelum may not be working at home but as a Garda based in Waterford city, she isn’t escaping the All-Ireland final build-up.
By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Indeed, the Holycross Ballycahill native was on the beat as the Déise camp held a ‘Meet and Greet’ with members of the public and while the Suirsiders dashed Tipperary’s hopes in a pulsating senior semi-final, Stakelum can’t but feel pleased for a group that includes many of her friends and former teammates from her time at WIT.
Of course had it been Tipp instead of Waterford that prevailed at UPMC Nowlan Park last Saturday week, the county would be chasing a remarkable double as she is part of squad taking on Clare in Sunday’s Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Premier Junior Camogie Championship final at Croke Park (12:50pm throw-in, live on RTÉ2).
Stakelum is getting ready for her last night shift before the final when this conversation takes place and is thankful for the accommodation of her bosses that will also include just a couple of days this week to facilitate her readiness for the big day.
Tipp had their own open night at The Ragg last Tuesday week and “there was a right crew” according to Stakelum.
This will be the 24-year-old’s first All-Ireland final appearance but she is an experienced player, despite her youth.
What’s more, she has been reared on the family feats, in story and first-hand viewing, with a lineage that includes 18 senior hurling All-Irelands, nine All-Stars and a variety of high-profile management, coaching and administrative roles.
She has always embraced that heritage rather than shy away from it. That includes serving in An Garda Síochána, influenced by all she saw and dreaming of joining the force since she was five years old.
Wearing the blue and gold was another ambition. Leadership and captaincy is a strong trait too – think granduncle Pat Stakelum, uncle Richie and first cousins Pádraic Maher and Declan Hannon – and Stakelum is joint-skipper with Ciannait Walsh of the Tipp juniors.
“I’ve grown up knowing no different, heading to Croke Park, sitting in the Hogan Stand, dreaming I suppose, believing some day I’d get an opportunity to play there as well and I’m very grateful this year we are there,” muses Stakelum.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have been in Croke Park to see my cousins play and win there and it’s been a good insight into what goes on on All-Ireland final day.”
That includes supporting Limerick in recent years, though Hannon’s absence from this year’s All-Ireland with a knee injury reduced the tension for the Tipp contingent.
“It hit close to home when the news came. It is hard for him. We have been following him and been up at the Limerick All-Irelands. We went again this year but it is a lot different when he’s not playing. By the looks of it, he’s still enjoying the celebrations so there’s no fear of him that way!”
Another cousin, Ronan Maher went toe-to-toe with Hannon earlier in the season but his older brother Pádraic had a new role as a selector, having been forced into retirement by a serious neck injury.
“Obviously that news was massive as well at the time and it was a hard one to accept but he was blessed that nothing worse happened when he was actually playing and that they picked it up. Lucky enough he was offered the opportunity to go in and be part of the management team with Tipp. He has so much experience and knows all them players inside-out, at a professional level and friend level. I think he enjoyed it but it is unfortunate his playing days are over.”
For this week, the family focus will be on Claire and the battle with Clare.
“It will be a tough one although we know very little about them because we haven’t met them all year. We watched the first half of their game (against Armagh), after our game against Roscommon and God, they’re a great outfit and will really put us to the test but we’re looking forward to it. It will hopefully make a good game.
“All year management have let us concentrate on what we do best and they do all the work on looking at the opposition. It’s paying off and that will continue to be the main focus, to concentrate on what we can do, compose ourselves and take control of the game. That’s the aim anyway!
“Obviously nerves and emotions will be high on the day but we have to control that.”
One imagines that her job is helpful in that regard but Stakelum suggests she is not the type to become paralysed by tension.
“I’d be considered laidback as it is anyway. Everyone is asking me if I am nervous but I was lucky enough to get up for the launch of the finals and even looking out at Croke Park, it sill hadn’t sank in properly. Maybe on Sunday morning, when we’re leaving from the Anner, maybe it might hit me but until that, I’d say I won’t think about it too much.”
That should probably come as no surprise. After all, this is what the Stakelums and the extended branches of the family tree have always done. Now it is her turn to add to the legacy.