THERE’S more to being a successful sportsperson than raw technical ability, and even though Rachael Merry is one of the most skillful camogs in Ulster, she’s really benefited from an improved work-life balance this year.
While her colleagues at Belfast-based software company Kainos have always afforded her a degree of flexibility, working from home this year has allowed her to tick boxes that previously may have gone unchecked – diet, rest and the like.
She’s been in fantastic form for her county en route to this weekend’s All-Ireland Junior Championship final against Cavan, and it hasn’t happened by accident.
“I’ve been there since my placement year in university, I’ve been there nearly five years now.
“I was in Belfast for ages but I’m working from home now. It’s helped so much, I’ve so much more free-time.
“I’m not going up the road at maybe 10 o’clock at night. I wasn’t really eating properly because you’re going straight from work. It’s given me so much more flexibility, I’m even sleeping and eating better so it’s been so much better for me.
“In fairness before all this I could work from home one or two days a week and I was able to do flexi-time. They were very understanding even though they didn’t really have a clue what camogie was!”
Merry, who plays her club camogie with Granemore, has been steeped in the sport since she was no age. Her mother Rosemary is involved with Ulster Camogie at a high level and had a successful playing career with Monaghan. Her father John, a well-known sports photographer, is actually from Dublin originally but is now a dyed-in-the-wool Granemore man.
The talented forward is a dab hand at football as well, but when it came to the crunch, there was only one sport for her.
“I won the minor All-Ireland in both camogie and football. Football was more of a hobby and I couldn’t keep going with both as I’d have been out literally every night of the week so I had to choose a path. I do like football but doing both isn’t physically possible.
“Camogie is definitely the driving force behind our family, football is more just a hobby really. My mum played for Monaghan and Ulster, and my dad just ended up in the middle of it all, he’s big into the club.”
Redemption is on the cards for Armagh as they lost the All-Ireland Junior Championship final to Carlow in 2016. They underperformed that day, so the chance of making amends is undoubtedly a driving force for the players who remain involved.
“We’d actually played Carlow in the group stage that year and beat them by three or four points, so we were definitely going out with the expectation of winning.
“Maybe the occasion got to us, a bit. Carlow took the lead and we were fighting a losing battle after that.”
Armagh were made to fight for their place in the final as they came out on the right side of a surprisingly competitive semi-final against Tyrone.
On the whole though, everything is going to plan as they push towards taking the final step in Saturday’s decider at Kingspan Breffni.
“I think this season we’ve had more girls on the panel than we’ve ever had, there’s about 35 of us and we’re all fighting for a position. We’re just going well, the motivation’s there and a massive factor in that is girls getting out on the field.”
All-Ireland Premier Junior Championship final
Armagh v Cavan
Saturday, Kingspan Breffni, 1.45pm
By Niall Gartland