The seeds of the Camogie Sevens were sewn back in May, 1974 when the first tournament was held. For the next two years it was held in May, until the late Padraig Purseil suggested it be moved to the eve of the Camogie All-Ireland in September.
Now in its 46th year, the sporting event is a staple of the All-Ireland final weekend and is inextricably intertwined with Kilmacud Crokes, the GAA Club that has been the competitions’ homestead since inception.
While it has all gotten bigger over the years – the growth of the club, the competition’s popularity – there’s the sense that the community spirit is as strong as ever.
Anne Noctor has been instrumental in building the camogie section of the club, her contribution encompassing many roles. Now a retired player, she is involved in committee work and also sings in the Kilmacud Crokes’ Choir.
“I can’t sing but nobody has sussed me out yet,” she jokes.
Anne’s stories of the club are punctuated with perseverance, warmth and comradery.
She recalls the early years when matches were played in the Phoenix Park and there were no Home and Away games. She says, “the women and children of the club” hand prepared all of the food, the night before and the morning of the Sevens.
In the event of last minute drop outs, it wouldn’t be uncommon for committee members to visit the club at midnight, typing revised fixtures on an old typewriter.
In the late 80s, the Senior team faced the prospect of disbandment.
“With marriages, emigration and injuries we were down to about 7 players. The choice was either to disband and maybe join another club if we wanted to continue playing or to stick with Kilmacud Crokes and work hard to rebuild,” Anne says.
“We took the second choice. We started a big recruitment campaign, dropping leaflets into all the local businesses advertising for new players. We put a lot of effort into the few juvenile teams we had and we looked to the future. It took a lot of work but we kept training and within a short time we rebuilt our team. Who could think of playing for another club!”
1990 saw the arrival of an extra team on the day which led to Kilmacud Crokes withdrawing their own team from the competition. “The girls were very disappointed but the team understood that our visitors had to take priority,” Anne says. “The Crokes’ girls took part by umpiring and helping out in other ways.”
For Anne, the change from the 12-a-side to 15-a-side and the use of full-size hurling pitches, was an important milestone in the game. “Rule changes over the years have brought the game more like hurling than in the past.”
“We had no helmets, no shinguards”
The club stalwart’s camogie journey stems back to 1976; she was twelve when she started playing the game.
“Eileen Hogan [the late Eileen Hogan is credited for starting camogie in Kilmacud Crokes] used to cycle down on her Triumph 20 bicycle with a couple of sliotars and a spare hurl or two under her arms to train us,” Anne recalls.
“We had no helmets, no shinguards, no first aid and certainly no protective gloves. There was no insurance, health and safety or any of that.
“We wore yellow airtex tops and little pleated wraparound skirts. We were encouraged to wear black pants (not shorts) for modesty!”
Anne says camogie has kept her fit and healthy over the years, “even with various injuries – which in those days we were encouraged to play through.” She also attributes the game to building her self-confidence.
“It gave me confidence in myself because I took on roles from a young age,” she explains. “I was on the Executive Committee at the age of eighteen holding my own amongst the male hierarchy in the club to keep camogie’s interests alive in the club.”
She recalls the significant moment she witnessed her daughter playing in the competition.
“I had played in it for so many years and I was very proud to see that we had managed to keep the Sevens going (with a lot of hard work by a lot of people) for so long that now another generation were getting the same enjoyment as we had,” she says.
Greater visibility in female sport
Female sport has gained momentum in recent years with initiatives like 20×20 aiming to bring it to the forefront. Anne is positive about the campaign, although she believes there’s still a long way to go before female sport is on par with the men’s equivalent.
“For too long, young girls could see their brothers, fathers, male friends being lauded in public for their sporting achievements,” she says. “But very seldom do they see coverage of women in sport. If the girls don’t have role models, they don’t know they can do it themselves.”