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'I had my 87-year-old Granny out there with me so this one's for her. It's a dream come true'

A truly special day for Galway’s two-goal All-Ireland final hero Ailish O’Reilly.

A DREAM COME true on the biggest stage.

ailish-oreilly-celebrates-with-her-grandmother-mary-oreilly Ailish O’Reilly celebrates with her grandmother, Mary O’Reilly. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The outpour of emotion as the final whistle sounded at Croke Park said it all. 

After falling at the short so many times over the past few years, Galway finally reached the Holy Grail with a stunning six-point win over Kilkenny yesterday, and lifted the O’Duffy Cup for the first time since 2013.

Three first-half goals from Oranmore/Maree clubmates sent them on their way; two of those coming from Ailish O’Reilly and the other poked in by Niamh Hanniffy.

The immediate feeling when that final whistle sounded, so?

“Relief,” two-goal hero O’Reilly smiles. “I don’t even know if it’s sunk in. 2013 feels like a lifetime ago. I was vomiting all that morning and I flew off on Erasmus a few days later so I didn’t appreciate it enough. By God am I going to enjoy this one.”

Of course, she had to get a word in for her clubmate Hanniffy, who joined her in raising green flags at the Hill 16 End. A really special day for the duo.

“We were messing in the car on the way up and we said this was what we were gonna do, score goals,” she laughs.

“It’s actually a dream come true for clubmates. I’ve been with her since November driving up and down so we have that bond. And we’re not afraid to rat each other out and just be straight with each other! I’m so happy for her and myself.”

ailish-oreilly-and-niamh-hanniffy-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle O'Reilly and Hannify celebrate at the final whistle. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

O’Reilly adds of her brace, which she was unlucky not to make a hat-trick: “Being me, I’m going to be kicking myself for the one that I missed.

“But I suppose I didn’t get a whole pile of ball against Cork [in the semi-final]. It took me until the last 10 minutes of the Waterford game to get settled in.

“I could have just thrown in the towel but that’s one thing that has changed this year. We did not give a damn who was scoring and who was putting them over. We were winning and that was the main thing.”

Another word for a very special person in her life. The record-breaking attendance of 24,730 is put to O’Reilly, but one fan in particular of that number springs to mind. 

“Incredible. There was a serious Galway crowd out there. I had my 87-year-old Granny out there with me so this one’s for her.”

The sentimental bits and pieces are always a huge talking point after matches of that magnitude, but so is the journey. The highs and lows, the ups and downs, the good days and the bad; it all adds up.

Bullish afterwards, the 25-year-old star forward says that the pre-match talk surrounding 2016 champions, and 2017 and 2018 finalists Kilkenny, suited Galway down to the ground. 

ailish-oreilly-celebrates-scoring-a-goal O'Reilly celebrates scoring her early goal. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

In one of her first answers about goals winning games, she made her feelings known from the get-go, explaining just how irked she was that all the hype surrounded their opponents after the Tribe had beaten them in the league final and dethroned Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final.

But after being written off, O’Reilly is pleased that her side again showed true character and “proved a lot of people wrong” yesterday.

“We had three goals, but we were capable of getting a couple of more,” she began. “There was a lot of talk about the Kilkenny forwards and I think every time we ran at them we looked dangerous

“The pressure was on them and we went out and put everything out there for 60 minutes. I’ll appreciate this one for sure.

“We beat them in the league final and all the talk was they beat us in the first round of the championship. What was the point of giving anything away then? We were definitely going to have to play them again.

“We beat Cork by a point and again all the talk was about Kilkenny and that suited us down to the ground. I think we’ve proved a lot of people wrong today. We showed what we’re capable of. We beat Cork and we beat Kilkenny so I think we deserve this one.”

The criticism her side have shipped over the past few years has definitely cheesed her off.

niamh-hanniffy-and-ailish-oreilly-celebrate-after-the-game-with-the-oduffy-cup O'Reilly and Hanniffy with the O'Duffy Cup. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Spoofers. Bluffers. Bottlers. Falling at the semi-final stage over and over. Her team-mates have spoken about it time and time again this year, and O’Reilly doubled down hard on all that was said before.

“Okay, we were losing but you look back to 2013, what was the biggest margin we lost to Cork and Kilkenny by? Fair enough, we kept falling and people had every right to criticise us but this year that wasn’t going happening.

“Fair dues to Cathal [Murray] and his management team – go out and ask them, I don’t know what the secret ingredient is but just a bit of belief and confidence. I suppose the league final and the league semi-final against Cork gave us the belief that we could go on and beat anyone.”

She can’t pinpoint exactly what Murray and his team instilled in the side or what was different this year, but belief, winning and losing as a team, playing as a unit from one to 30 and work-rate are all mentioned.

And it comes back to that when the loss of key defender Tara Kenny is mentioned.

Galway were forced into a late change after Sarsfields star Kenny tore her cruciate in training just days before the big day. That devastating injury, and seeing their team-mate missing out just drove them on.

“Whatever Cathal has done this year with our team, there’s a mentality and a belief there that whatever is thrown at us, we were going to come fighting back even two times harder. We did it for her.

ailish-oreilly-celebrates-with-her-grandmother-mary-oreilly With her grandmother, Mary. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Teeny [star forward Caitriona Cormican] went back and you would barely even know that [key Kilkenny player] Anne Dalton was in the game. I don’t think our backs have gotten enough credit all year.”

O’Reilly agrees that the victory is massive for Galway camogie, and backed the intermediate side to bounce back after their defeat to Westmeath beforehand: “They’ll be back.

“We had to wait seven long years for this one. How many years did we wait before that for one?”

17: they won their first in 1996 under Tony Ward, the same man who masterminded the 2013 win.

But it’s all about 2019. And what a year it’s been for Ailish O’Reilly, and for Galway.

“I forgot we’d won the double to be honest but it makes it even sweeter,” she laughs. “I firmly believe everything happens for a reason and we have proven so many people wrong this year.

“I am just so happy to be honest.”

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Emma Duffy

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