Camogie has shaped four-time All-Ireland champion Mags D’Arcy into the person she is today.
“DREAM BIG, BE confident in your ability and block out anyone who says you can’t, because if you believe, you can achieve.”
Mags D’Arcy’s most recent offering on Twitter is a video she shared from ESPN. It’s an inspiring message to young girls in sport narrated by tennis legend Billie Jean King.
“Dear little girl…. Yes, you… I see you, ready to play,” it begins.
Now a four-time All-Ireland senior camogie winner with Wexford and two-time All-Star goalkeeper, she was once that little girl. And the introductory quote is her main takeaway from that video, a piece of advice she’d offer to younger girls in sport, perhaps some words of wisdom she’d share with her younger self now if she could.
Camogie has well and truly shaped her into the person she is today. It helped her discover who she really is, both on and off the pitch.
Camogie made her ready for the real world, as per the message in a recent video she took part in to launch Liberty Insurance’s coverage of the All-Ireland camogie championships.
“Liberty Insurance’s ‘Camogie Made Me Ready for the Real World’ campaign shows how the skills you learn on the pitch can be taken and applied to other aspects of your life,” she tells The42 as she maps her own journey.
The highs, the lows, the ups, the downs, the good days and the bad. Both on the playing field and away from it, with club and county, in her personal life and through professional endeavours.
“For me, camogie and many other sports I played throughout my youth forced me to learn from my mistakes and grow and learn from failure. We all know life is no straight line, you’ll always face adversity, it’s how you react to tough times that matter the most.
“I’ve also learned that perseverance is important, whether you’re on or off the pitch so honing in on that skill has really helped my professional and personal life.”
She lets her mind wander through the years. Her love for the game was instant, although she could hardly miss it. Her family were steeped in hurling and camogie, and heavily involved with the local club St Martin’s.
Like most kids, D’Arcy got a flavour for several different sports growing up. She developed a real grá for soccer and played with the boys up until U12s or so — she did similar with the small ball game.
She often tells a brilliant story of a goal she scored out in the schoolyard in May 1999. The week before, Ryan Giggs had fired home in the FA Cup semi-final replay and took his shirt off to celebrate, and young Mags decided she should do the same. The memories are fond ones, she smiles as she reels in the years.
Camogie was always the one true love though.
“All I ever wanted to do was play for Wexford and be like Damien Fitz, Brendan Cummins and ironically Davy Fitz,” she continues, grinning from ear-to-ear. She worked in Fitzgerald’s Wexford hurling set-up this year.
“I just loved looking at them every Sunday, playing with passion and putting their bodies on the line for a bigger cause.
“I remember the last week of sixth class in primary school, we were asked to write down what we wanted to be when we grew up. Without a second thought and to the amusement of my teacher, I scribbled down: an All-Star.
“I didn’t see sense at the time in doing anything outside of what you love, but little did I know about paying bills then!”
Of course, at 30 she knows all about that now. She’s learned that through camogie. She still has an undying love for it, of course, but it hasn’t just been plain-sailing as she likely anticipated it would be back then as a primary school kid.
The years that followed brought turbulent times; teenage insecurities, fears, frustrations, learning about who she really was.
Camogie was a constant through it all. It kept her grounded and it was a way for her to express her thoughts and feelings.
“Being a teenager for me was all about identity and establishing self-worth,” she explains.
“You get caught between wanting to be your own person and having to conform to what’s expected of you within society or the school gates. I was never the dream child back then but camogie was an outlet that let me be myself.
“When I see some of the younger players at that same stage in their life now, I give them a quiet word after a training session, or on the way to a game to let them know that I get what they’re going through.
“You can physically see them relaxing and starting to feel part of something, a team, a tribe of like-minded individuals who just want to achieve something together for their parish or county.”
D’Arcy herself has had no shortage of achievements through the years between the posts both at club and inter-county level. As mentioned earlier, she was involved in four All-Ireland senior championship title wins with Wexford: 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
That was all done by the age of 25. Those truly incredible moments on the pitch, parading the O’Duffy Cup around Croke Park, the celebrations back home; the highs were endless.
But those highs made it hard to adjust to regular life. Often after a win, she’d find herself depleted. Other parts of her life were neglected as she pursued the next victory. She was almost in limbo.
She was doing what she loved between the posts, but not in other aspects.
“Throughout the golden years, winning games, I saw my mood switch from immediate elation to fear and thinking, ‘What now?’” she says.
“Camogie brought huge gratification and I found it hard to get the same sense of achievement in other areas off the field. Things moved slower than I liked in terms of career movement but upon reflection, I entered the working world in the middle of a recession and I was probably hard on myself — the opportunities just weren’t there.
“It’s a little bit of a catch 22 as well. You have to leave the office on time most evenings to get to training instead of working on a project for an extra hour or two. You also have to do a lot of commuting and training mid-week so you end up neglecting a lot of work life activities to compensate for the gratification felt through camogie.
“The gear change of perspective for me was taking on the Jim Madden Programme with the WGPA. I learned a huge amount about myself through simply letting down my guard. It forced me to think long-term and establish objectives that I’ve longed to achieve off the field, like undertaking a Masters for example.”
She’s currently studying Digital Marketing in Smurfit Business School and says that she’s rediscovered a thirst for learning and self-improvement.
And while she didn’t play for Wexford herself this year, she took up an interesting coaching role with their hurler counterparts. As mentioned in the video, she discovered that all the skills she had mastered through camogie could be used in other areas of her life such as coaching and mentoring.
“Let me help if I can,” as she puts it in other words. She learned to find the same sense of accomplishment, to seek out the same successes and achievements in her personal and professional life as she did through camogie.
And working under Davy Fitzgerald in the Slaneysider set-up brought that coveted sense of achievement this year.
“I get a real buzz out of seeing people self-improve, on or off the field,” she says.
“It was a very positive environment to be in. The lads are an honest, hard-working group of players who always tried to do their best for the jersey, led equally by a committed, honest and passionate individual in Davy.”
Likewise, she’s enjoyed taking more of a hands-on role with her club team, St Martin’s. They won a first-ever senior camogie title in the Model county last year and followed it up with a magical run in Leinster but their dreams were dashed in the decider.
Based in Dublin for many years now, she spent three seasons with northside outfit Na Fianna. Those were great days too, but she’s happy to be back with her roots and following the family tradition.
“I suppose I play a ‘senior’ role on the team now,” she smiles.
“To me that means giving confidence to the younger players, by encouraging them to speak before the game on our expectations as a team or by stepping back from taking a free and letting them know that they’re well able for it.
“I just love being surrounded by people who have a grá for improving, learning and moving things forward and that is what the club environment offers.
“We’re also very fortunate to have excellent club facilities, board members and a special manager in JJ Doyle.”
Confidence shining through her every word, D’Arcy admits that she’s often bored in the number one jersey. She just wants to be in the thick of the action. But she’s learned that less is more — a motto she often uses in life.
If she doesn’t touch the sliotar in a game — puck-outs being the exception — she believes she’s delivered an excellent performance for her team. Communication to her defence is key, relaying the correct information at the right time.
“The game has taught me to be confident in my own ability,” she concludes, when asked of the biggest lesson or most useful skill camogie has taught her.
“And to trust the people around me to deliver, that means always trying to maintain an honest, open and positive environment so that we can get the best out of each other.”
That’s applicable both on and off the pitch.
Camogie really has carved Mags D’Arcy into the admirable person she is today.
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