Louise O’Hara Dublin And Erin’s Isle Camogie Legend Still Going Strong
By David Coughlan (Deputy Sports Editor Irish Daily Star)
CAMOGIE ace Louise O’Hara has been working out the dates. The Dublin hero is eight and a half months pregnant, but still hopeful of seeing some action for her club Erin’s Isle this summer.
“You never know, might get a bit of championship in at the end of this year,” she said, laughing.
Considering some of the obstacles O’Hara has overcome in her life, it would be no surprise.
The Finglas woman grew up just yards from the Erin’s Isle clubhouse in an area that was ravaged by drug addiction including her own family.
Four of her six siblings were heroin addicts and O’Hara admitted that camogie and the local club saved her life.
She lost her mother Rita to breast cancer and her father Michael to a brain tumour, but through it all she had the support of her club and county teammates as she rose to the very pinnacle of the sport.
In 2006, she became Dublin’s second ever All Star, guiding the capital to a second All-Ireland junior title in-a-row.
That year she also set up her first business, Clever Cloggs creche in Clontarf and her partner Mary had their first child Ellen.
In her spare time she represented Ireland at netball. She now runs two creches with an overall staff of 44 and is due in three weeks’ time with the couple’s second child, although that hasn’t stopped her pucking a few balls around.
“I suppose that’s one good thing about being in a same-sex relationship, Mary had the baby 12 years ago so I didn’t have to stop playing,” said O’Hara.
“I’ve known Mary for 16 years. It doesn’t feel like that. I hope it doesn’t feel like that for her anyway!
“Ellen’s been part of the furniture with Erin’s Isle. Grew up with the team. So much so she doesn’t want to play camogie now!
“Because Isles have been so good for me, I want everyone else to be a part of that. That club saved me.
“Between that and camogie and Dublin, God knows what I’d be doing if it wasn’t for them. So anyone I try get them up there.
“I think you have to be there on a day to live it, to understand it. We’re in an underprivileged area.
“We don’t have much. We fight for everything we have. We come out on top all the time.”
O’Hara joined Isles as a nine-year-old after her teacher Miss O’Malley at St Malachy’s spotted some potential.
“I was just tough, I got stuck in. I suppose when you grow up in a house of seven (children) you have to fight your corner,” said O’Hara.
A heroin epidemic in the 1980s and 90s crippled disadvantaged areas of the capital, like Finglas, and O’Hara’s two older brothers and two older sisters fell into addiction.
“I had four other siblings that just got in with the wrong crowd and that was it,” she recalled.
“That was their life for another 10 years. Involved in drugs and what-not. That was them.
“I was lucky I had Erin’s Isle. I was up the road week-in, week-out.
“I would look at them now and look at other people (with drug addictions) and think they were never as bad as that, because you don’t look at your family in that way.
“But other people have a different perception of that.
“People disregard them. They say: ‘Oh they’re junkies, ignore them’. Well actually they’re not. They’re someone’s brother or sister or child.”
O’Hara shared a room with three sisters, two older ones caught in the grip of drug addiction and one younger one.
At first she wasn’t aware of the downward spiral of her older siblings, but as their drug dependency increased it began to take a toll on her parents.
“They didn’t have the tools to deal with it back then,” said the 39 year old.
“Back then, it happened in your house, you put your head down and that was it. It wasn’t talked about.
“Your parents were stressed out, but as younger siblings you weren’t told: ‘This is happening’. You just kind of figured it out as you went along.
“I think now, they might be more equipped to (intervene). But back then, it was nearly like ‘the shame on the family’, so you kind of kept it quiet.
“There would’ve been four of us girls in one room and three boys in another. On any given day we could’ve had a relative living with us too.
“That’s the way it was. If someone had a job, their kids got left with a relative. We were probably that house.”
Last year Dublin men’s footballer Philly McMahon chronicled his late brother John’s battle with heroin addiction in his book with Niall Kelly ‘The Choice’.
O’Hara can see similarities with her own background.
“You could beat yourself up a million times. I could look at myself and say: ‘Look at all the opportunities I got’. But I think I made some different choices.
“They all went to the same school, they went to a mixed school. When it got to me, I was like ‘I don’t want to go to that school’.
“It took its toll. Probably on my mam more. You expect the boys to get into a crowd, into trouble a bit more. But I think when the girls got involved in drugs it was a sucker punch.
“My mam struggled with it for a long time. But she never turned her back on them.
“As they got older they moved out, so my mam wouldn’t have seen some of the signs. When they’d come to see us on Sunday they’d be functioning.
“They were functioning. We didn’t find them on the side of the road. We were lucky that way.
“It’s a bit of a contradiction, but it was lucky there was a group of them, because they looked out for each other.
“And they did want help. They did want to get out of it.
“The biggest step probably was my first brother went to England. There’s more help over there.
“He rang home and said to the others, get your act together, get over here. He came home to get my brother and that was it.
“The girls stayed here and did it themselves. They were a little bit younger and as time progressed there was a little bit more help.
“They got on the straight and narrow over here. But they had the belief that they could because my brothers could say ‘we’ve done this, you can get yourself together’.
“They’re all doing good now.
“We’re lucky that we’re all stubborn in my house, we get through things.”
That stubborn streak helped O’Hara become one of Dublin GAA’s greatest ever players, being involved at
inter-county level for 25 years.
She lost her mother to breast cancer in 2012 and three years later her father was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Once again the family’s stubborn streak kicked in.
“They told my dad he had six months and he said: ‘I’m not dying in six months’. So he died in eight. That was typical of him,” she said.
“He also told me he wouldn’t die on a training day and he died on the first Wednesday that I had no
training. There you go.
“Again I had camogie through all that. Imagine how horrendous that would’ve been without camogie. Sitting in hospitals everyday. I’ll never forget players coming to see me, coming to check up on me.
“Just shows you what sport does.”
O’Hara believes camogie still has some way to go to catch up on Ladies Football in terms of promotion.
The Erin’s Isle stalwart has witnessed gradual progress in the sport over an amazing 25 year career in the blue jersey, but admitted there is more work to do.
“I sat in Croke Park on the day of the Ladies Football All-Ireland and there’s flags handed out to everybody. It’s in your face, the promotion. It’s in the supermarkets. It’s live on TV. The names are on the jerseys,” she said.
“They might seem like petty things, but they’re stepping stones. Stuff we need to push.
“We constantly seem to be skimping. There’s some fantastic people there with some fantastic ideas, but they need to run with them.
“The Women’s GPA has come in and secured a Government grant, but there’s much more to be done.”
She hasn’t ruled out running for the camogie central council in the future.
“I’d say I’d be thrown out after a week. I’d have a list as long as my arm!” she joked.
“I just think the girls put so much into it, they should be getting more out of it.”
O’Hara bowed out with the Dubs in 2016 and was delighted with the progress made by David Herity’s side, who beat Offaly in their All-Ireland Championship opener on Sunday at Parnell Park.
The game featured on the Sunday Game’s highlights package over the weekend, but O’Hara would like to see the Dublin camogie team live on TV and in action at Croke Park more often.
“Why aren’t they showing the earlier rounds on TV? Why aren’t we asking for it?” said the 39 year old.
“Camogie championship matches are still being fixed for club grounds. They should be in stadiums.
“There should be only a certain amount of distance a team should have to travel to play a match.
“These are things that show respect to the players and show that it’s worth it.
“You need to keep asking. The more you ask the more they realise they’re refusing you.
“In the first round of the Leinster camogie Championship, Dublin played in Parnell’s in Coolock and the Dublin lads played Kilkenny in Parnell Park on the same day.
“It’s down the road. There was no match before the hurling. Why weren’t we in there?
“I know people might say the manager doesn’t want it, but we have to look beyond what managers want. We have to look at what’s best for the game. Promote the game.
“There was 10,000 at the lads match. Some of them would’ve got a glimpse of the camogie and maybe thought, ‘these are good, let’s support these’.”
O’Hara is grateful for the backing of Bernard Brogan in getting camogie under the Dublin GAA umbrella once AIG came on board.
Dublin’s large sponsorship deal has come in for criticism outside the county, particularly with the success of the men’s football team.
However O’Hara, who helped Dublin to the All-Ireland junior title in 2005 and 2006, admitted the move started a massive shift in attitudes towards the camogie team.
“It’s the first time we’re all in the same jersey. I mean we were in the Arnotts jersey for years after Arnotts had finished sponsoring the team,” said O’Hara.
“That was the way it was. We had times when we got no kit. Or you’d get a top one year and told you’d get bottoms the following year.
“That’s all changed now. AIG’s profile has helped.
“In fairness Bernard Brogan pushed that an awful lot. He said ‘why not the girls too?’
“When someone as high profile as that steps up and speaks on your behalf, people will listen.
“AIG have been fantastic. They have had the girls at any promotion.”
Last year Dublin got to their first All-Ireland semi-final for 27 years and O’Hara was watching in the stands, having just returned from holidays.
She still wears the tracksuit, still occasionally trips herself up when people ask how she is doing with the Dubs, but after a lifetime in blue O’Hara has no regrets about retiring.
“The timing was right. And after 25 years, there’s not much more you can do,” she said.
“It was kinda hard, it’s been such a part of your life. But you just slot back into club.
“The first match, I drove down to Cork on my own because I had to see them.
“I was playing Dublin senior football at the age of 14 before I was playing camogie for the Dubs.
“It’s funny, when you’re the young one you think ‘oh my God, look at all these ould ones’. And then when you are the older player, you think ‘I’m not really that old!’’
At 39 she is still starring for Erin’s Isle and is full of praise for the club, who have consistently backed the camogie team over the years.
“When I’m out with Dublin and I listen to some of the stories about how other girls are treated by their clubs,” she said.
“Lack of support. They wouldn’t get a pitch. Have to concede home advantage to the other side because there’s no pitch available.
“We’re included in everything in the club. We get a massive amount from Isles.”
Daughter Ellen has recently started playing ladies’ football and O’Hara admitted to feeling like a turncoat in helping her school team, but is relieved she has at least joined the Finglas club.
“She wanted to join Clontarf a couple of years ago. I said: ‘Mary, you can bring her down!’ I’m a true Erin’s Isle person and a true Dub!” said O’Hara, laughing.
“But she’s in the club now, so my work is done. I’m just delighted she’s come down. It’s so important to be a part of a team. I know how much a team has helped me in life.”
O’Hara’s camogie team are the highest ranked side in the club and they’re not shy about reminding the men’s teams of that.
It’s a special place with mothers and daughters playing side by side and kids, however small, are a big part of the set-up.
“Some of the girls, they retire, then come back they miss it so much. They come training, they bring their kids along.
“We played Ballinteer earlier this year and a couple of goals went in and a fella on the sideline commented on it.
“I said: ‘The goalkeeper is getting married tomorrow and the sub keeper is her daughter, so we’re down two keepers’.
“The fella just laughed and said:
‘That’s what I love about Isles’. That’s what we love too.”
The next addition to the club will be arriving in the next few weeks.
He or she might even get to see their mother togging out in the championship later this year, with Louise O’Hara, anything is possible.
Article Origin: https://www.buzz.ie/