SHE works in a tough business where there is no absolutely no room for idle hands or shirkers so Louise Mahony confesses to sometimes feeling bad when she heads off to play camogie for Laois.
“When there’s matches every Sunday and there’s loads going on here at home, you’d kind of feel guilty leaving them with all the work to do, but I suppose I’ve been at it so long they don’t mind now,” she says. Combining a career as a farmer with elite GAA is a lifestyle that few players – male or female – choose these days but the long hours and harsh physical demands of both will all be worth it if Laois finally get over the line in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland junior final on Sunday week.
Farming and camogie are in Mahony’s blood.
Her mum Ann (nee Bowden), a native of Lisdowney, won an All-Ireland medal with Kilkenny and played club and county alongside the legendary Downey sisters. Louise’s younger sister Elaine also plays for Laois and the youngest – Aine – would doubtlessly be alongside them in a week’s time but for a string of serious injuries. Aine’s career – “she was probably the best of us,” her big sister says – has been stalled by not one but three torn cruciates. Louise, remarkably, is actually the only one of the family’s four camogie players to have escaped a dreaded ACL injury. The third youngest of eight children she is also the only one who opted to join her parents on the family farm.
“I suppose people automatically thought my only brother, who is the eldest, would take on the farm but he had no interest and neither did any of the others,” Mahony explains. She studied agricultural science in UCD where Laois hurler Brian Campion was in the same year and Westmeath football star John Heslin is a more recent graduate of the same four-year course. Monaghan’s Kieran Hughes is also a dairy farmer, a profession that Cork dual star Briege Corkery has recently moved to, but farming is now rarely listed as a career in elite GAA profiles.
The Mahonys farm dry stock – primarily sheep (250 ewes) and sucklers – in Cullohill. Springtime, especially the rigours of lambing season, most strains her work-life balance. “There’s two to three months there where it’s non-stop and it coincides with the early part of the (National) League. When we’re lambing I usually take the late-night shift and my father does the early morning checks. If you’ve been working all day and it’s a wet, cold miserable night in February, then you no more feel like going training,” she admits.”Usually once I get out the door I’m fine and I always feel better after training but there would be nights you definitely wouldn’t feel like it,” she confesses.
Yet Mahony has no regrets about her career choice or combining it with the tough training load of modern inter-county players. “Even when I was younger I always loved getting out on the farm and helping,” she says. “I really like working with the sheep, they are easier to handle than cattle and you’re on the go and doing something different every day. I love the way of life, being out in the fresh air and being your one boss – though technically that’s my father!” she laughs.
Mahony also has a part-time job with Elite Farm Services, co-ordinating the recycling on farms of industrial waste/excess produce as fertiliser, explaining that milk from Glanbia, for example, is a great source of plant nutrients and in high demand, particularly from organic farmers.
Laois’ ‘Player of the Decade’, Mahony is a great on-pitch leader for both county and her club ‘The Harps, with whom she has won three All-Ireland junior club titles. But she has also lost four Ashbourne Cup (colleges’) finals in-a-row with UCD and an All-Ireland intermediate club final.
Croke Park holds seriously harsh memories, not just from the latter but from the last two seasons as the O’Moore women have lost consecutive All-Ireland junior finals; to Kildare in 2013 and Down last year. They’re hoping to make it third time lucky now after reaching the Division Two league final (lost to Waterford) and an unbeaten championship run and just Roscommon stand between them and a victory that would mean more than just a trophy.
“To lose the past two finals was desperately hard to take but we’re hoping to make amends this time,” Mahony says. “Over the years we’ve seen the likes of Waterford, Kildare, Clare and Offaly all passing us out while we’ve still been stuck in the junior grade. It seems really hard to get out of it but I think if we manage it we’ll improve even more.”
Living minutes from the point where Laois, Kilkenny and Tipperary converge, the Mahonys are at the heart of a hurling landscape where the banter between neighbours always provides a world of fun at this time of year. With a Kilkenny mother and two daughters chasing All-Ireland glory for the third year in-a-row there are two flags flying on the family farm right now.
If Laois’ camogs finally get over the line this time then that blue and white banner might just usurp the big stripey one.