Ann Gorman is steeped in the camogie tradition
The facts relating to Ann Gorman's career as a camogie player are nothing short of remarkable - in a number of ways.
There's her age for starters. She's 51 and has no problem saying that. 51 and still playing camogie for Kilmessan; still going strong. That fact alone must make her one of the longest serving players in the GAA. It has to be some sort of record - at both local and national levels.
Then there are the other facts. The fact, for instance, that she has played camogie at adult level for around 35 years now - give or take a year or two here and there when injuries, pregnancy or a very short-lived attempt at retirement sidelined her.
Ah yes those injuries. That's another of those career stats that make you shake your head in admiration at the fact she's still a player. She has had enough of them to kill most careers. Not hers.
"I don't really get many small, niggly injuries, I only get the big ones," she adds before breaking into that familiar laugh of hers.
"I ruptured my two Achilles, the one in each leg, both of them were year-long recoveries. I did my first Achilles when I was 23 and my second when I was 40. Oh yes I did my cruciate as well," she adds matter of factly and you wince as she outlines the tale of woe, thinking of all that pain and discomfort.
Yet each time she has been away she has came back. Hungrier, more fired up than ever before. Each time this married mother of two, this non-drinker, non-smoker has answered the clarion call to help her club - and there is every liklihood she will do it again in 2021.
"This year again I will be going with my hurling stick, I will be going with my helmet and if I am lucky enough to win a place on the team, from one to 15, I will put my hands up, yeah, I'll say I'm ready, I'll go for it," she says as she reflects back on her amazing career.
For the past few years Gorman has lined out in the club's third side. Senior, intermediate or junior team the timeless pattern is the same. When the evenings would start to lengthen she would get ready in earnest for another season of Sundays.
Not that it all about winning for her. She gives the impression she enjoys the banter and the craic, the espirit de corps, the fun and the laughter, the training and the playing, far more than winning medals. She has to think when asked how many Meath senior camogie titles she won. "I think it is six or seven, I don't even know where the medals are, they are in boxes, here, there and everywhere," she adds.
It never was about the medals then, but she doesn't believe in anything less than giving 110 per cent either - and more - once that sliotar is thrown in.
"Last year I didn't really want to play but then the competitive steak in me never dies. I was able to win a place, there was no question about it, even though I would rather see a girl of 15 or 16 coming in there from our under-age structure and giving her a chance but the numbers just weren't there and that's why I stuck at it, to keep the third team alive. We didn't want to lose it."
So she did what she has been doing most of her life. She took out her stick and helmet and hit the road. Again.
It's hardly surprising that Ann Donnelly turned her attention to Gaelic games in general and camogie in particular. She grew up steeped in the GAA. Her father Dinny Donnelly was, as they say about some Premiership footballers these days, "a top, top player." He was on the Meath team that lost to Galway in the 1966 All-Ireland SFC final and played hurling for the Royal County. Dinny, who helped Skryne to a SFC crown in 1965, had a vast reservoir of knowledge to tap into and his family of six that included Willie, Paul, Tony, Ann, David and Aileen could seek his guidance if they so wished.
The large Donnelly clan grew up in their home in Kilmessan village: "My father wasn't one to be on the sideline shouting at you but he would encourage you to go and play. As soon as you would return home he'd be asking you: 'How did it go?' My father was an influence growing up, of course, but all we had was the GAA all the time," recalls Ann.
"I would be out there with the lads pucking the ball down the fields or in the garden, with the ball running down the street. We were all afraid of hitting somebody's car but thankfully we didn't get into much trouble."
All the Donnellys made their mark playing hurling with Meath or Kilmessan while Willie had a spell on the senior county football squad. Their mother, Brigid Donnelly, also loved her camogie and was a talented player as well as dedicated official at Co Board level. Ann loved the game from the start and it didn't take long for her to get her chance to shine with the senior girls.
"I started playing senior at 14. It was in Navan O'Mahonys ground and we were short of numbers. I was probably there with my mother. They looked at me and they said 'ah sure we'll stick her in goals, she'll block something.' I don't think I blocked much. We got hammered that day, O'Mahonys were strong then."
While Ann grew up in a happy and settled environment, full of games and laughter, the dark clouds did gather when at a young age Brigid Donnelly had a stroke.
"It turned all our lives upside down, I was only 15 at the time. Mother ended up completely paralysed on one side, no speech whatsoever," Ann recalls.
"We lost our mother really when she had the stroke, she wasn't preparing our meals anymore, she wasn't getting us ready. She went to Dun Laoghaire for rehab and they did as much as possible for her, which was great, but the mother that came back to us after a year wasn't the mother that left us.
"She was only 42 when she got the stroke, I was only a teenager at the time. Mother was a heavy smoker and I think that threw us off smoking straight away. I'm not saying smoking caused her stroke but it definitely wasn't a help.
Twenty years after she had the stroke Brigid passed away."
In time Ann Donnelly was to marry Peter Gorman and today they run 'Wm Donnelly & Son Butchers', the well-known outlet in Kilmessan. They also have two children, Lauren and Conor, both of whom have followed in their mother's footsteps in terms of playing camogie and hurling respectively.
Ann's spell in goals didn't last long. She regularly played in midfield for years before in latter times moving into the forwards where time and again, she displayed a consistent ability to turn opportunities into scores. No matter where she played she was just happy to help out.
For around a decade she was a regular with Meath but they were barren years when victories were hard to come by.
"We were often struggling to field a team," she says recalling the 1990s when she regularly wore the green and gold. There were plenty of disappointment with Kilmessan too. She points out how she lost a series of senior finals before John Watters came in as coach and changed everything.
From 2009 to 2018 Kilmessan became the most powerful force in Meath camogie winning 10 senior titles in a row. They won their first of three All-Ireland junior titles in 2014 defeating Four Roads with Ann Gorman among the substitutes while sister Aileen played a crucial role in the triumph. By the time the club bagged two more All-Ireland junior crowns in 2017 and '18 Ann had retired from senior ranks but she did play her part as a selector; still involved, still contributing. She was also club secretary for 20 years.
Until about 10 years ago she also played football for Dunsany, but the camogie always had a magnetic attraction. Still does.
Always somebody who loves a challenge she ran a number of marathons as she stepped away from camogie for a time. It proved impossible for her to stay away from playing completely.
Two years ago she also achieved an ambition she cherishes. She got a chance to play in Croke Park again, years after she first appeared there in the late 1980s. On both occasions she played rounders at the famous old ground, another sport that's part of the GAA family and one Gorman has enjoyed participating in for many years.
Nearly 50 at the time she had finally made it back to the Big House.