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'I didn't want to go out after it finished how it did last year, being so close'

Dublin captain Sinéad Aherne has experienced both All-Ireland joy and heartbreak on a remarkable journey in the Sky Blue jersey.

“IT’S BEEN A long journey,” Dublin captain Sinéad Aherne begins. “Every season, when you start out, the end goal — number one on the list is winning an All-Ireland.”

TG4 All Ireland Championship Media Day Dublin captain Sinead Aherne. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

A long journey indeed. And longer for some than others. Perhaps it’s been longest for Aherne.

She made her first All-Ireland senior final appearance back in 2003, also Dublin’s first. Sprung from the bench as a fresh-faced 17-year-old, she made her mark on the day with a point from play. But it wasn’t to be as Mayo stole the title with a late, late goal.

The following year, she was there again. A year older, a year wiser, but the same outcome. Aherne and Dublin had to wait until 2010 for their next All-Ireland final appearance, but the wait was worthwhile.

As you look back through the archives, they’re the one side the interrupted Cork’s reign of 11 titles in 12 years. She left Tyrone for dead, 2-7 on a day which Dublin will be hoping to relive on Sunday.

All in all, Dublin have contested seven All-Ireland senior finals. They’ve won one, lost six. And Aherne has missed just one — 2015.

She had it in her head that that was the year she would go travelling. In 2014 actually, a group of her friends left during the summer but she decided to ‘give it one more year’.

A devastating final loss to the Rebels ensued however, and the St Sylvester’s sharpshooter packed her bags and said goodbye to her beloved sport for the year.

“I had my mind made up that regardless of the result in 2014, that I was going to take some time out,” she continues. “It was nice to do something different, career-wise it was the time I needed to go at. It gave me that break and that freshness to come back.”

Sinead Aherne celebrates her goal Aherne celebrates her goal in the 2010 final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

12 months later in Croke Park there was a sense of déja vu. Another edition of Dublin and Cork, but this time Aherne had a much different roll.

Home on Irish soil for a week or two, she was on the sideline doing water. Helpless as to how the game would play out, she watched her side fall once again, two points the difference.

“It wasn’t abut me on a personal level,” she says, her selflessness shining through when it’s pointed out that she thankfully didn’t miss out on lifting the Brendan Martin Cup.

“I was asked to come in and do a job and help out on the day. It was very much a secondary theme to the day, it was all about the girls. You just would have loved to see them get over the line.

“I know a lot of the girls that played, and you’d never wish them to miss out on something just because you weren’t there. Anytime there’s an All-Ireland up for grabs, you’d love to see a Dublin team winning it and I would have been delighted [if they won].

“Someone might say ‘Was it not hard to be there?’ but it was incredibly hard for them to have gone through it again and not to have managed to get the hands on the trophy.”

Back in the fold for 2016, Aherne had a fire in her belly. The KPMG accountant was back doing what she loves best, and enjoying life on and off the field.

Gregory McGonigle’s Dublin side failed to reach the Lidl Ladies Division 1 National League final, but another dominant campaign in Leinster saw them gunning for the All-Ireland series.

The semi-final threw up a meeting with this year’s final opposition, Mayo. Breffni Park was the venue and with the game tied in the dying seconds, Dublin were awarded a free-kick.

Aherne was the player deemed to be fouled, and she stepped up to take the crucial kick.

Nerveless. They often say getting to a final is harder than winning one, and Aherne showed nerves of steel to book their Croke Park date for the third consecutive year.

Sinead Aherne kicks the winning point Aherne taking that free last August. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Looking back is something she prefers not to do however, whether that be on the victorious semi-final or the one-point loss in the decider. ‘There’s probably not room for sentimentality in sport,” she says, twice or three times throughout the conversation.

“It’s easy for people on the outside to just remember who got to a final but there was a point in that semi-final, it could have been extremely different,” she says.

“I’ve no doubt that that’s a motivating factor for them coming back this year, but we’re not short of motivation ourselves on that front!

“There’s probably not a whole lot you’d take in terms of that game (the final) is done and dusted from last year, the year before. Performance-wise we would be disappointed in terms of how we executed some of the skills, the way we played on the day.

“When you look back it’s more the practicalities of the game that you’ll try and improve on and try and carry forward.

“I don’t think there’s much room for sentimentality. What happened last year isn’t going to help us when we get out on the day.”

With 13 years of service to the Dublin seniors under her belt — with the exception of 2015 considered — was it tough to come back this year, to gear up for another year of chasing the title?

“Every season, you reassess,” she smiles. “Winter is grim anyway.

“Trying to comprehend coming up to Christmas how you’re going to get back in the saddle, and as you get older as well, it takes a bit more thought. More time away from the rest of your life. Recovery and where the bodies at comes into it. There’s probably a few considerations.

“I gave it a lot of thought this year over Christmas, but having met Mick (Bohan) and seen how the girls were reacting to it, I just decided that I didn’t want to go out or step away after it finished how it did last year, being so close, but once you’re back in the door it’s very much back to the present.

“What happened last year or what happened the year before fades into the background, it’s less and less relevant as the year goes on.”

Again, there’s that element of not looking back, and focusing on what’s next.

TG4 All Ireland Championship Media Day Mayo's Sarah Tierney and Aherne at Tuesday's Captain's Day. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

It’s something Mick Bohan has instilled in his players in his second stint at the helm. He’s very much focused on the basic skills of the game, and Aherne is hoping it will play in their favour on Sunday.

“The style of play, a freshness, a different set of eyes on things gave players the chance to go back and reassess their own game. It’s been something different, a boost that we’ve benefited from.

Frank Browne’s Mayo meanwhile, are riding the crest of the wave at the minute after wins over Donegal and Cork in the All-Ireland quarter and semi-finals respectively.

The Westerners crashed what looked like might be a fourth final meeting between the two foes, but Aherne insists that she wasn’t phased by the result.

“I think the surprise for people might have been that Cork were beaten, more than that Mayo won.

“It’s no surprise to see Mayo beating Cork the year that they’ve had, the way they’ve played since they came out of Connacht. They’d be a team that many people probably would have fancied for a tilt at the All-Ireland.

“They have come through a lot of challenging games. Since Connacht, they’ve turned it around. They’ll certainly come into the game with form on their side. Mayo are a physical team but I don’t think that we shy away from that challenge either.”

There may be no room for sentimentality in sport, according to Aherne, but there’s no doubt how much erasing that pain with a win on Sunday would mean to her.

“Having being close the last few years and a lot of the group being there through those finals, it’s very much that shared experience and that shared desire to win the ultimate prize.

“For that, for the group, for what it would mean to us, it’s be very special on the day.”

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