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'It's deja vu' - Defending their All-Ireland 12 months on against the same opposition

‘We believe that if we play well and to our potential, that we will come out winners,’ Slaughtneil captain Aoife Ní Chaiside says.

“NOT BAD,” 2017 All-Ireland senior club winning captain Aoife Ní Chaiside smiles.

“Absolutely delighted to be in this position again. It’s funny the way it worked out, the same four teams in the semi-finals. Now the same two teams in the final, it’s deja vu.”

Aoife Ní Chaiside Slaughtneil captain Aoife Ní Chaiside. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It’s Slaughtneil and Sarsfields going head-to-head in Croke Park once again this Sunday, 12 months on from the Derry side’s historic two-point victory last time out.

“It’s going to be a tough game. We look forward to the challenge of Sarsfields again. Definitely, looking forward to the 4 March. This time it’ll be different.”

Of course, the back-to-back finalists had an extra two weeks of looking forward to do, with adverse weather conditions forcing a re-fixture.

At the time of our conversation, the Slaughtneil men’s footballers were still going strong and Ní Chaiside was pleased that the rest of the club was focusing on that rather than the camogie showpiece.

It was a distraction of sorts, but one which swung in favour of Cork’s Nemo Rangers and now all eyes are on the camógs and their quest to retain their All-Ireland crown.

Looking back to last year and that fateful day, the standout memory for Ní Chaiside during the match is more than likely her sister, Eilís’ late point to seal the win.

And after? She can hardly find the words to describe lifting the cup on behalf of her team.

“After was….. mind-blowing,” she tells The42, just barely finding a few words to string together. ”Aye, amazing.”

Aoife Ni Chaiside lifts Bill  Agnes Carroll Cup Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

Off the back of a hard-fought semi-final win which took extra-time to separate them from Kilkenny’s Thomastown, Ní Chaiside feels that the intensity that day will benefit them in the decider.

“It was a very, very physical match,” the podiatrist, who’s actually working as a classrom assistant in an Irish language secondary school at the moment, remembers.

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“There were legs cramping and all sorts of things but we got over the line in the end. A fantastic game in preparation for an All-Ireland final. The intensity of it, the hooking, the blocking, tackling. They’re a fantastic side.

“The scoreline was low but that reflects how tough the game was. It was a brilliant game to come out the right side of in preparation.”

But all eyes are on GAA HQ, and the 60 minutes of action ahead of them on Sunday.

“It’ll be a different experience. We were in Croke Park last year, we’ve played there, so we’re looking forward to being fit to play, not being as nervous kind of, not being completely new to the whole thing.

“There’s not that nervousness, there’s still the excitement of playing in Croke Park and the whole team going down, but hopefully we can focus on the game more so than anything else.

“They’ll be eager to win an All-Ireland final, especially since they were there last year and especially since it was us who beat them. They’ll be hungry for it, to get one back on us.

“But we’re still equally as hungry. We believe that if we play well and to our potential, that we will come out winners. As long as we perform on the day.”

Going in as defending champions, there may be added pressure to some extent though.

Orlaith McGrath and Aoife Ní Chaiside Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

This time last year, they were coming into the clash slightly more under the radar. While now, they do have that title, that label that they are the holders.

“Aye, that’s true,” Ní Chaiside agrees. “But to reach the All-Ireland final again is one thing.

“Yeah, we’re defending champions but we wouldn’t be defending champions if we weren’t in an All-Ireland final, you know what I mean.

“We’ll be focusing on it as a game and take it as it comes, whatever happens during that game. Obviously, we are the winners of last year but we’ll not be thinking of that. It’s just another game.

“So be it, you can think about things like that after but beforehand you’re just focusing on the game as much as you can.”

Here are the fixture details for next Sunday’s hurling league quarter-finals and relegation play-offs

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Emma Duffy

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