IT could have been an opportunity for Linda Kenny to take a rest. To take some time to herself. To take some ”Me’ time. No-one would have said a word if she had handed over to someone else. But no. The energy is still burning and it helps that with every passing year, the popularity of camogie and female sports is shooting towards the stars. Linda wants to help and be part of the process.
The current Treasurer of the Carlow Camogie Board was around when camogie playing numbers were low. She was there when camogie and ladies football hardly got a mention on the national airwaves. She was around when camogie and ladies football match reports were squeezed into low word counts and pushed to the bottom pages of the newspapers. That is all changing.
When her three years was up as Chairperson of Leinster Camogie Linda was obliged to step down. That means she will also relinquish her position as Vice-President of the National Association at Congress in April.
Her three-year term in Leinster was a busy and a productive one.
“A lot of travelling involved. I set out at the start to set up a Leinster Coaching Academy. We ran two Coaching Academies and 32 people graduated,” she acknowledged.
“When I came in a saw a need for an increase in participation in Leinster for referees and the development of referees. I really have succeeded in that we have some of the top referees from Leinster in the Camogie Association. Recently that level of referees from the Coaching Academy are from Leinster.” Last November, Netwatch Cullen Park hosted the senior and intermediate Leinster camogie finals. That meant a lot for Linda.
“There was a lot of work involved and the highlight would be that the standard for the 2023 club championship was the highest from what I saw in my term.
“It was great the stage the finals in Netwatch Cullen Park in my tenure. Two great finals and a huge crowd. I have seen a massive rise in attendances in my time,” she says.
There were successes for Carlow when they won the senior camogie 3A league title while the county played Kilkenny in the Leinster intermediate final. There was underage success too.
“I am being a bit biased but the highlight had to be was presenting the Leinster under 16B and the All-Ireland Shield to the captain of the Carlow team,” she recalled.
Linda says the groundwork is being done in Carlow and is being rewarded.
“When I started in Carlow camogie, we had seven clubs. Now we have ten. We have over 2,000 members in camogie. I would think the LGFA have more. They have 16 clubs but the standard from where I started is immense. While we may not have made the breakthrough at intermediate level, we have maintained our intermediate status.
“We think we are very strong at underage. Our under 16 team last year. Our under 14 teams are doing well. Under 15 all-Ireland. The talent is there. The work we are doing on the ground. We have been very strong in the development of coaches, of referees. I do think in time it will get even better but it will require a level of patience to bring young players through.”
On the national front, there are so many reasons why Linda would be reluctant to step away from camogie at the moment. It is still in the early stages and while the integration of all GAA organisations is moving slowly, it is inevitable all gaelic games will come under the one umbrella in the not too distant future.
“GAA, Rounders, Handball, Ladies Football, Camogie. We (camogie) have made progress as an association in the integration process. I think we are very strong at the table in relation to integration. I would really like to see the integration process move forward and see some sort of a road map for our congress in the next couple of weeks,” she says.
“It will take a huge amount of investment by government, a huge amount of investment and adaption from all codes. The main thing is that we are all equal when the process is finished. I firmly believe that the process will happen and that we will all hold our own and that there is respect for all within it.”
Leinster’s loss will be Carlow’s gain this year. Linda will remain as Treasurer of the Carlow County Board but she has been elected Chairperson of Burren Rangers camogie and hurling club too. She said this was a natural progression for her.
“I am glad to be able to give back to the club. That is where I started when that club was formed in 2009. I am equally delighted to be in a position to go back to where I probably started my involvement in GAA, back to Coiste na nOg as Fixtures Secretary with Michael O’Brien whose father, Pat, was the Chairperson (Carlow Camogie) when I started. I am going to give that a go with Michael as Fixtures Secretary.”
There are issues which are dear to Linda’s heart and not one to let go just because she doesn’t have an officer’s position with Leinster.
“I do have a huge interest in referee development, coaching. I may go back into it at national level, sub-committee or something? One of the things I want to see is more females refereeing. That we look after what we have. That our panel of referees are better. That is what I have really enjoyed about the three years (in Leinster) was that the coaching academy, the referee development. Of course the games, of course the many friends I have made along the way.”
Respect for referees is an issue dear to her heart. It is probably not as big an issue as it is with hurling and football but there are things which have happened in camogie which should not have happened.
“We have our moments. We had one or two incidents last year. We dealt with it very sternly and sent out a very clear message. We had a launch in Carlow. We had a launch in Leinster before club championships in relation to “Respect for the Referee”.
“That is very important that we have these things. Collectively, maybe Carlow camogie, Carlow GAA, Carlow LGFA that we do something as a joint group for this coming year. I do think it worked to some degree for the camogie.
“We had no issues really at underage. We had one or two other incidents which happened which should not have happened and are regretful.
I do think a major launch for all whole codes because what has happened and what I have witnessed towards referees, umpires, lines people is not acceptable. That is not what we are in the game for.”
One person cannot do all that Linda has done without the support of near family, friends and the entire GAA family.
“There have been so many people who have come with me. Orla (daughter) and Paul ( husband) in particular. They have been with me through the four corners and here in Carlow I could not have done it without them,” acknowledges Linda.
“I have got huge support. I have worked on many committees and I have always had great support from them. My club. Carlow camogie. The Executive that I had in Leinster was something else. The Feile committee from 2017, we have all remained friends. I learned so much from being involved with that national Feile committee. They are the people who have guided me.”
The late Pat O’Brien gave her one piece of advice which she still carries with her.
“He always said to me that when you have the rule-book, use the rule-book and you will never go wrong. I carry that mantra through from Burren Rangers to Carlow through to Leinster and on to National. I don’t think I have got into too much trouble. No major issues in my time. Only positive. We all need to be guided by our rule-books,” the long-time Camogie servant acknowledges.
Linda’s work was recognised when she won the Gradaim President’s Award in 2021. She was also presented with the Setanta Award at the 2018 Carlow GAA Awards Night.
“I don’t do it for rewards but to be recognised within your own county and to be recognised by the President, they were special. It is recognition for camogie. A recognition from where we have come from.
Carlow play Derry in a national league Division 2A game on Saturday away from home. It was disappointing but understandable when Peter ‘Chap’ Cleere resigned his Carlow post after he was appointed Kilkenny senior camogie manager. Linda says the new man is preparing the players well
“It is very stable with James (Murphy). Very intense training. Everyone seems to be enjoying it. The same with all our underage teams. Great numbers.”
“We are a small county and I think Covid definitely has had an effect on sport in general. You can appreciate girls taking time out. We are now trying to blood new girls with a cohort of the girls who were there in 2016. It is all about progression. It is all about keeping our status in Division 2 and the Intermediate.
“We are punching well above our weight. I know the talent is there. The aim is to retain our status at intermediate and to get back to that Leinster final and maybe try to win it,” says an optimistic Carlow Treasurer.
By Kieran Murphy