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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 23 February, 2020
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'It's absolutely amazing to even think about it. God, it's unbelievable - no words'

Aoife Ní Chaiside starred as Slaughtneil secured an historic All-Ireland three in-a-row yesterday.

Slaughtneil star Aoife Ní Chaiside.
Slaughtneil star Aoife Ní Chaiside.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

NÍ NEART GO cur le chéile. 

The Irish seanfhocal that means “there is no strength without unity” has been a mantra for Slaughtneil over the past few years. So much so that it’s printed on their jerseys.

Like any club team, they’ve been through it all together. Ups and downs, highs and lows, peaks and troughs, swings and roundabouts, good days and bad ones. 

But yesterday was most definitely a good day — perhaps the best — as the admirable camógs wrote more history and sealed a third All-Ireland senior title on the spin in Croke Park, which had transformed into a snow globe by full time.

“Absolutely delighted,” star defender Aoife Ní Chaiside told The42 just after, shivering with the cold after torrential rain turned to sleet and sleet turned to snow at HQ.

“Can’t believe it. You know before hand, you don’t really… well, you don’t want to think about it too much. Now that it’s done, it’s absolutely amazing to even think about it. God, it’s unbelievable, aye.

“History, exactly. History for our own club, winning two and then winning three. It’s just… ah God… just amazing really. God I don’t even know what to say. No words.”

Niamh Glass and Faoiltiarna Burke celebrate with teammates Slaughtneil players celebrate at the full-time whistle. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

One of three sisters — Brona and Eilís are the others — that marshaled the Slaughtneil defence against St Martin’s, Aoife was delighted to share the occasion once again with family.

She lifted the Bill And Agnes O’Carroll Memorial Cup for Slaughtneil’s maiden victory in 2017 and ní neart go cur le chéile were the last words of her acceptance speech delivered as Gaeilge.

Her late father Thomas had passed away earlier in the campaign after a long battle with cancer, and as joint manager, he has been remembered accordingly with every win since then. 

Again, she was captain in 2018 but Gráinne O’Kane and Siobhán Bradley took the reins this time around.

“It’s lovely, the three of us,” she smiles when her sisters are mentioned. “It’s brilliant.

“With the whole team, there’s sisters and cousins. There’s a whole area and a whole club at home — everybody’s linked into it someway. It’s just brilliant to be bringing the cup home again to Slaughtneil.”

Aoife Ni Chaiside lifts Bill  Agnes Carroll Cup Lifting the silver in 2017. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

While Tina Hannon’s early goal set the tone and Slaughtneil drove on from there, Ní Chaiside was quick to compliment St Martin’s never-say-die attitude and the period of pressure JJ Doyle’s side but the Derry Girls under in the second half.

But players like Hannon and the excellent Louise Dougan stepped up when it mattered most to ensure a 1-9 to 0-7 win for Slaughtneil.

“Ah,” Ní Chaiside beams as those names are mentioned and the pride in her team-mates shines through.

“You’re lining out with them girls, they’re fantastic players and you expect nothing else from them. Just how hard they work. They’re magnificent players.

“Ceat McEldowney in corner back as well, she’s a super player and she’s so young. Siobhan McKaigue (now Bradley): her leadership on the pitch today when we needed her. Making them runs forward.

“Tina was absolutely fantastic. It was just a brilliant performance.”

Tina Hannon and Katie O’Connor Tina Hannon had a superb game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

And what about that stunning point she scored into the Hill 16 end, set up brilliantly by Player of the Match Hannon?

“That’s right,” Ní Chaiside laughs. “I nearly forgot about that. When you have a player like Louise Dougan covering your back all the time, it’s no bother pressing forward a few times from the half-back line.

“We wanted to do that a bit today. With Louise back already as sweeper, you have that opportunity to press forward a wee bit more. They’re always advising me to push forward. That was good actually in the second half.”

Shivering more and more as our conversation comes to a close and the excitement of jumping in a hot shower heightens, a few last words must go to the adverse weather conditions. 

It’s difficult to comprehend just exactly how tough it was to play in yesterday. Outside the dressing rooms in the Cusack Stand with the strong wind creeping into the bowels of the stadium, Ní Chaiside attempted to do just that.

“It was really horrible,” she condeded. “We watched a wee bit of the first match, the intermediate match. We seen that it was wet and slippy. Our manager just said to us, ‘Even if you’re 100% sure that you’re going to get the ball or that your team-mate is going to get the ball, always support them, support them.’

Slaughtneil celebrate with the trophy after the game All smiles with the trophy. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“On a day like that there ,you just don’t know if the ball’s going to slip away off the hurl, if you won’t catch it or whatever. We always had that in the back of our minds.

“It got colder and colder and colder then. We had to change the jerseys today because there’s a clash so we were all white. With the snow, you could barely see the jersey!

“I don’t know, it was absolutely terrible. I just asked the referee how long was left. With the snow, nobody could feel their hands. ‘Two minutes, two minutes’. I was like, ‘Oh God, is this ever going to end?’ Eventually, it did blow thank God and we celebrated in the snow.”

That they did, and that they’ll continue to do. There’ll be great celebrations indeed, she concludes before heading straight for the shower.

“It’s a lot of training and a lot of commitment for a long time so we’ll definitely enjoy this week.”

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Emma Duffy

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