From being told „You’re going to be in a wheelchair by the time you’re 30” and dealing with Arthritis to win the Camogie All Star Award, Niamh Rockett is one of a kind. The captain of the Waterford Senior Camogie Team talked to us about motivation, teamwork and chicken dinner videos.
Hi Niamh, congratulations on the Camogie All Star award, first of all.
Thanks. My Dad is so proud. It’s like he won it himself. I should remove my name and put his on it! I keep it at my parents’ house.
Can you tell us how you got into camogie?
My father played [hurling] for Waterford when he was young, and then my brother played for Waterford as well. When I was in school I played every sport…. hockey, soccer, [Gaelic] football, and camogie. I played a variety of sports; I just loved them. I had a lot of role models in that regards when I was growing up, and they just pushed me to try my hand at other sports.
A hurley was put in my hand by my father when I was very small, but he never pushed me into camogie, just encouraged me to play whatever type of sports I liked. Later on, I got a knee problem and I had to just choose one sport. That’s when I picked camogie. There was no pressure to pick camogie, but it was something I liked and I had more friends involved in it.
Where do you get your motivation from?
My mother always said it was something I was born with. I was always very motivated to succeed in whatever I did… academically, or with sports or whatever the case was. It was something I always had in me. I would never give in. I’m a bit of a stubborn person and wouldn’t give someone the satisfaction of beating me.
My parents were quite strict, nothing came easy. They always pushed me, sometimes maybe too hard, but it didn’t do any harm to me. My mother is a really strong woman. She had to take me to the hospital a few times. I had a dislocated finger just popped back in in the hall [of the hospital] without any gas… I don’t feel pain, I’d be known as “numb” ! My siblings and I would go out on the grass, and it’d be like Croke Park with competitiveness. Out on the lawn, it was men, women, and children all playing together, no helmets, everyone for themselves. I remember there was a loose band on one of the hurleys. I was about 8 or 9 years old at the time. Someone pulled on the ground and the band hit me. I was on the ground and [my siblings] told me to get up, and said I was grand. Then they saw that I was pumping blood, and said “we better get you to a hospital”!
I’ve had three operations on my knee. I’ve had to be so resilient and so strong mentally, not only physically. That was really tough…. when I was 16 and was told “You shouldn’t be playing”, and “You’re going to be in a wheelchair by the time you’re 30”, and “You’ve got arthritis in your knee”. That was tough, and I’ve had to be mentally resilient to get through it.
What can we do to promote camogie and LGFA in Germany?
Watching the games is a big thing because they look at how many people view the matches. I do think that it’s great that so many matches are streamed [since Covid-19], and so many people got to view the games last year, and hopefully they’ll keep it up, so that more people can watch it and see it.
I’m one of the people on the GPA [Gaelic Players’ Association] and we try to support more equality in sports.
Could you imagine the Camogie Association, the LGFA, and the GAA codes coming together under the same roof?
I’d be all for it. You see our male counterparts in Waterford, and in other counties too, have so much respect for female athletes and other players. I got so many well wishes from male players, as well as female players, for getting the All Star. There’s no divide there. Anyone who knows what female athletes go through has great respect for them. The women’s GPA and the [men’s] GPA merging is brilliant news. It’s something people like Gemma Begley worked so hard for.
Hopefully, it’s a stepping stone towards eventual amalgamation and shared facilities… we sometimes can’t get pitches! In fairness to the GAA, they are going to prioritize their own groups; they don’t want to go out on a muddy pitch if we’re after digging it up, and they’re not under the same branch so they’re not under any obligation to give us a pitch.
All the player’s support each other 100%, it’s just important to bridge the gap from the top level, and bridge the differences between the Camogie Association, the LGFA and the GAA. Sometimes it’s overwhelming.
Do you have any tips for learning hurling and camogie from scratch as an adult?
I’m a PE teacher and my mantra is about enjoying yourself and making it enjoyable for everyone. I took up tennis last summer, just to do something different. I found it so hard! There were some elderly people beside me absolutely hammering the balls and I was barely getting it over the net! I kept at it and got some of my friends involved, and it became more enjoyable. My boyfriend joined in then, but we are nearly too competitive with each other. Just doing it myself against the wall wa very hard, but when my friends got involved there was much more craic! It’s never too late to join something new!
During lockdown we had to do our own individual training…. going running and pucking the ball yourself, but that’s not what I enjoy about camogie. I enjoy doing it with friends and family. Encourage your friends to come along to training.
How did you keep up the fitness and motivation during lockdown?
We did a lot of HIIT sessions together with my team on Zoom, and sent each other challenges. We posted baking and nutritional videos and tried to be funny and creative, for example cooking chicken wearing a chicken hat, and nominated each other to do the next one. Or setting challenges like hitting the ball 30 times against the wall in a set time. When the nutrition videos had run its course and we got sick of looking at chicken dinners, we had karaoke challenges, or who could come up with the best rap or funny poem as a voice message. A few of them see themselves as poets alright!
Can being a member of a team go beyond sports?
Of course! There’s no such thing as an off-season. These girls and I have experienced joy, happiness sadness, and heartbreak, and the people you play with, and the managers go through the highs and lows with you and would always have your back. It’s more than a sport; I’ll be friends with them for life! They gave me motivation through lockdown. I’d do anything for them.
I know how much sacrifice and dedication they have put in. It’s not professional, it’s an amateur sport, and when you’re playing you’re probably out of pocket, and at elite level you’ll probably have more heartbreak than happiness. When everyone is sharing that common goal and still wants to go out in the rain or in the snow, when you can’t even see the sliotar but you’re still trying to pick it up. I remember one training session with snow way up above our ankles… you wouldn’t do this without the camaraderie you have with your friends. You wouldn’t make the sacrifices or be out of pocket if you didn’t get something back.
How important is winning?
Winning is everything. In a match you expect to win. It’s pure euphoria when you do win. In my club, I always had a drive to win and would take it very personally if we didn’t win, and we’ve been lucky to have had success.
From a coaching perspective, I’ve a different point of view. I used to think everyone was as competitive as me. Now I see people have other motivations. At elite level it’s important to have that drive to win, but something close to my hear is the drop out level for girls playing sport, and I think as a coach I’d always try to give everyone a game, and give everyone a chance. At a certain stage you put out your strongest team and try to win the game but it’s not the be-all and end-all. It’s about striking a balance. When I was told I shouldn’t really be playing because of my knee, it made me step back and decide to enjoy every one of these games as if it’s my last game, because I don’t know what injuries I’m going to get.
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Interviewers: Lea Janßen and Laura Kennedy