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'We've been there so many times as a supporter but it'll be so different running out'

Lorna Hannon captains Athenry as they contest the All-Ireland intermediate club final in Croke Park on Sunday.

AFTER THE POSTPONEMENT due to Storm Emma and the Beast from the East and resultant re-fixing, two Galway clubs are finally preparing to hit the road to Dublin on Sunday.

Athenry's Lorna Hannon. Athenry captain Lorna Hannon. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

In a repeat of the 2017 All-Ireland senior decider, Sarsfields will be seeking to exact revenge on Slaughtneil as they go head-to-head for the Bill and Agnes Carroll Cup.

But first up, Athenry will be flying the flag for the Tribeswomen in the intermediate final as they face Kildare’s Johnstownbridge.

“It’s great for Galway, great for Galway camogie,” Athenry captain Lorna Hannon tells The42 at the launch of the AIB All-Ireland club finals.

“Obviously we’ll be supporting Sarsfields and they’ll be supporting us. There’ll be a great Galway contingent in Croke Park. It might be a different story next year when we’re up in senior alongside them!”

For now, all is good though. Athenry are exactly where they want to be, and have produced a meteoric rise of sorts over the last few months.

After being relegated from the senior grade in 2016, the east Galway outfit bounced straight back up in October as they lifted the county intermediate title.

“We were obviously so dejected and so disappointed after going down,” Hannon recalls.

“It was a bad old year, we lost every match pretty much. 2016 was a bit of a lull in the club really. Like we said in the dressing room after, ‘We have to get back up straight away and the year to do it is the following year’.

Athenry celebrate after the game Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Athenry has such a tradition of camogie, we couldn’t stay down in intermediate. (We had) a great year last year, we didn’t lose a match so that puts us back up.”

Hannon’s not exactly sure what changed across the space of a few months. Everyone bought in, she reckons.

A few older players had left as they started families, younger girls fell away as they went to college. There was that period of transition, one which every team experiences.

“Katherine (Duane) came on and took us over,” she explains. “It obviously wasn’t easy coming taking over a team who had just been relegated.

“First evening back it was just getting together, to make sure we were all on the same page, that everyone was in on it to win the intermediate and get back up senior.

“From the get go, it was really positive around training and everything. Everyone just really enjoyed it which is the main thing. Girls came back. There was just a great buzz around training and everyone’s hearts were in it.”

Here they are now, in the national showpiece. Obviously, the aim from the get-go was to secure the county intermediate title and power back up a grade. But did they ever think they’d be in an All-Ireland final?

“One of our selectors, Veronica, from the first day was saying, ‘We have to make it to Croke Park, we can do it,’” she grins.

Athenry celebrate after the game Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“From the first week, she was saying it. But winning the county, that wasn’t easy. There were good teams — Carnmore in the semi, Mountbellew in the final, we had met them in the league final and we knew they were good, fit and young.

“It was tough but we came out on top.”

And so, they’re in the top two sides in their grade in the country now. Not for the first time — they contested All-Ireland senior finals in 2007 and 2009 but were defeated in both by Tipperary side Cashel.

“I would have gone to them but I wouldn’t have really known what was going on,” Hannon, who’s 21 now and a student in NUIG, remembers.

“I would have been young. They lost the two All-Ireland finals so obviously it’s such a big deal for the girls that were playing back then to be back now, in another All-Ireland final.

“My younger sister would only have been seven back in 2007 and now she’s playing with girls that would have been playing back then. It’s come full circle nearly.”

It’s her — and her sister, Ciara’s — first time playing on the biggest stage in Gaelic games, a family occasion to be relished in itself. They’ve only been to watch Galway in the past.

“There’s such excitement really,” she beams. “We’ve obviously been there so many times as a supporter but it’s going to be so different running out.

“People still have their flags up nearly (after September’s All-Ireland hurling final win). It’s really positive. Any win in any grade is great for the club and great for the county. Everyone is just delighted for us and wishing us the best.”

Lorna Hannon and Tanya Johnson Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

To conclude, the challenge on the day and the side in their way of lifting the coveted title — back-to-back All-Ireland junior champions Johnstownbridge.

“We would know a bit,” she concedes, stressing that the focus is on themselves, on Athenry.

“They’ve won two All-Irelands obviously the past two years so (they’re) successful and stuff like that, but at the same time, we concentrate on ourselves at training. We wouldn’t discuss them too much, we’ll keep concentrating on ourselves.

“There’s great excitement, a great buzz.”

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Emma Duffy

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