HomeFootball‘It really drives everyone on’ – Offaly’s Nicole Buckley says the county’s...

‘It really drives everyone on’ – Offaly’s Nicole Buckley says the county’s All-Ireland U20 hurling victory has lifted the county

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Thanks to a superb final victory over Tipperary last Saturday, Offaly made history by claiming a maiden All-Ireland U20 Hurling Championship crown. Aside from the quality of their performances throughout the competition, a notable feature of this memorable march to underage glory was how people came out in their droves to see Leo O’Connor’s men in action.

Having beaten Dublin in front of 15,215 spectators at Laois Hire O’Moore Park, Portlaoise in an enthralling Leinster final on May 22, the Offaly U20s subsequently added a national title to their list of honours on a day when 25,825 patrons passed through the turnstiles of Nowlan Park.

Their 2-20 to 2-14 victory against Tipp was a major topic of discussion when the Offaly ladies footballers assembled for a training session the following day and Buckley is hopeful it can be a springboard for many teams within the county.

“It really just shows us and shows everyone in the county basically where we stand. It shows how big of a buzz and how much hype is in the county after winning such a big final. It really drives everyone on and encourages people to keep going training and pushing it hard,” Buckley acknowledged.

“We had training after that on the Sunday morning and even at our training, there was such a good buzz. Everyone talking about the lads and stuff like that as well. It really drove us on in our session as well. I feel like it really will drive the county on now with other levels and other age groups.”

The U20 hurlers weren’t the only big sporting story to come out of Offaly last weekend, however, as Tullamore boxer Grainne Walsh sealed a spot at the forthcoming Olympic Games in Paris by getting the better of Armenia’s Ani Hovesepayan at a qualifier bout in Bangkok on Sunday.

As a gifted fighter herself – within the past two years she has won Irish Intermediate Championship, Irish National Championship, Irish U22 Championship and Irish Third-Level Championship titles – Buckley is well-acquainted with her fellow Offaly native and is thrilled that she will be boarding a plane to the French capital later this summer.

“I don’t think anyone deserves it more than Grainne. She puts in so much work and I was delighted for her. I know she will do brilliant out in Paris. I wish her the best of luck because she is just an incredible athlete. So many people look up to her, she’s just amazing.”

After being regularly active in both sports when she was growing up in the Faithful County, Buckley has continued to strike a balance between both Gaelic football and boxing as a young adult.

While her presence at the European U22 Championships in Budva, Montenegro ensured she was absent for her club Naomh Ciaran’s Leinster senior club final defeat at the hands of Kilmacud Crokes last November, she managed to feature in all 10 games that Offaly played between Division 3 of the Lidl National Football League and the TG4 Leinster Intermediate Football Championship earlier this year.

As if that isn’t enough, Buckley is also a student teacher in DCU and is currently on a placement at a primary school in Rahan, Co. Offaly. She has a year left before she completes her third-level education and despite not ruling out the future pursuit of an Olympic dream, this is her main focus for the time being.

“I think it could be something I would potentially look towards, but at the moment I’m mainly focusing on just basically finishing college. Getting the degree, getting college out of the way. After that then, I think I will probably decide what I’m going to do because if I do decide to go for the Olympics, I’d have to probably cut football out of it.

“I’d probably need a lot more sessions with the boxing than what I’m doing at the moment. It’ll be a big decision to make, but I won’t be worrying about that now until I have my degree in college hopefully.”

For the immediate future, Buckley remains a vital defensive cog in ladies football for both Offaly and the aforementioned Naomh Ciaran.

It was with the latter that she had one of her most memorable sporting days to date as she lined out in the full-back line when the Ferbane-based outfit secured the All-Ireland intermediate club championship title with a 2-11 to 2-9 victory against Antrim’s Naomh Pol at Kingspan Breffni on November 23, 2019.

“That was my first year I was actually brought up onto the senior team with Naomh Ciaran. Even when they won the county title, all the girls were relaxed about it. With me, even just sitting down and watching them, it was just a great thing to witness and to see,” Buckley recalled of Ciaran’s successful 2019 campaign.

“Then we went onto the Leinster series. I think I came on in one of the matches and I was so shocked I even came on. To win the All-Ireland, it was just an amazing feeling. To get to be part of the team, it was even better.”

Buckley ultimately hopes to enjoy similar success at inter-county level with Offaly and after paying a visit to Clare this weekend, the Faithful will round off their All-Ireland Intermediate Group 2 campaign by welcoming Monaghan to Glenisk O’Connor Park tomorrow week (June 16).

They are expected to have tough tests against two teams who had a compelling battle at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones last weekend – Clare emerged victorious over Monaghan on a final score of 6-6 to 1-13 – but Buckley is in a positive mood ahead of their meeting with the Banner tomorrow.

“Clare are a good side and we are in a challenging group with Clare and Monaghan, but I feel that it will be a great contest. They are a good team and they did beat us in the league, but I feel like we’re up there now with the teams. We have potential now of winning against these teams and getting to where we actually want to get,” Buckley added.

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