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'We didn't come back to win a county or a Munster. That might sound ridiculous but...'

Mourneabbey and Doireann O’Sullivan’s eyes are firmly on the All-Ireland senior club title, but there’s a lot of football to be played yet.

IT WAS THIS time of year, way back in 2007.

Doireann O’Sullivan was just 12 at the time, full of excitement as she hopped on the Mourneabbey team bus destined for Offaly.

Ciara O'Sullivan Doireann O'Sullivan. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Cork outfit were contesting the All-Ireland intermediate final, 60 minutes away from adding the title to the junior crown they had won two years earlier.

She laughs as she casts her mind back, unsure as to why she was on the team bus. Probably doing water or something, she grins. But she does have one distinct memory of the day.

The bus got lost.

“Literally, we arrived just over 10 minutes before throw-in,” she recalls.

“When you watch back the DVD, it legitimately looks like their warm-up was on fast-forward! They’re just going 100 miles an hour, absolutely panicking.

“I remember for the first half an hour of being lost, everyone was relatively calm. Then the girls started togging out on the bus and you could just feel the atmosphere change.

“It was a case of literally, ‘Are we going to be on time for the match?’ Inch Rovers were playing after us and that was being televised so our game had to start on time.

“There was absolute commotion. That’s actually the only match I can remember. The panic was something else!”

Low and behold and against all odds — you could use every cliché in the book — but Mourneabbey did it. They got through all of the commotion and panic, and ran out winners.

In the space of just two years, they had lifted the All-Ireland intermediate and junior titles. An achievement to truly sit back and admire.

But that’s not how they do it in Mourneabbey.

***

Here they are, 10 years since that time the bus got lost on the way to the intermediate decider, and it’s their fourth year in a row in the All-Ireland senior semi-final.

After back-to-back final defeats to Donegal side Termon in 2014 and Donaghmoyne in 2015, along with a fall at the semi-final stage at the hands of the Monaghan kingpins once again last year, fourth time lucky is turning into a mantra of sorts.

There’s a small group that were there for the junior title win in 2005 and they’ve been there since, through thick and thin. O’Sullivan counts them: her two older sisters Roisin and Ciara, Catherine Coakley, Eimear Harrington and Kathy Anne Stack.

Louise Glass and Ciara O'Sullivan Ciara O'Sullivan in action on that day in 2007. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Síle O’Callaghan too, she adds, but injury has ruled her out for the year.

There’s a sense that this is it. Time is ticking on, but they’re not going anywhere until they reach the Holy Grail and get their hands on the coveted senior title. Make it three titles across three grades.

“It is an unusual thing for a club to have won the junior All-Ireland, intermediate All-Ireland and to be in contention to win a senior All-Ireland in just over a decade,” O’Sullivan, now 22, tells The42.

“It just shows that group of players that have been playing together for so long, that it does count for something. They’re all the best of friends and they grew up together, so hopefully that’ll stand to us.”

The fact that this year could be a case of fourth time lucky is put to O’Sullivan, who also stars in the Cork forward line. She doesn’t want to get too far ahead of herself, but is well aware that this is it.

Of course, they’re still 60 minutes away from booking their spot in the final. There’s plenty of football to be played yet.

But finally being crowned All-Ireland champions is, and has been, the ultimate goal.

“I suppose unbeknownst to ourselves, that has been to the back of our heads,” she continues. “The start of the year, that was our goal.

“We didn’t come back to win a county or we didn’t come back to win a Munster. I know that might sound ridiculous, but this is our fourth year at it now.

“People are moving on. There’s people getting married, having children. For me, I’m only 22, but we have to be realistic as well. Mourneabbey’s a small place, we won’t have — well I don’t think — a better panel of girls together again.

“We have to take every chance we get. We’re just hoping this year that we get over the line.”

Her mind wanders further down the path slightly, but she reins her thoughts back in as quickly as they spiraled away. The task at hand, and the challenge of Leinster champions Foxrock-Cabinteely, is a mammoth one.

They’ve come through serious challenges in the past though. Looking back through their 2017 campaign to date, it’s been business as usual for the Clyda outfit.

Shane Ronayne and Aisling Murphy’s forces have won their fourth county and provincial titles on the bounce, beating St Val’s and Waterford’s Ballymacarbry in doing so, even though things may have gone right down to the wire.

mabbet This could be a case of fourth time lucky for Mourneabbey.

This time of year, when they’re winning week in, week out and they have a clear focus and end goal, it’s easy. Players are fit, training is enjoyable, and everyone is in good form.

But coming back to the drawing board in January time and time again is a completely different story. Rewind 11 months or so at this stage, and Mourneabbey were trying to rally the troops to go again.

Just a few weeks beforehand, they had been so close but yet so far once again. Left heartbroken for the third consecutive year.

“It’s a long year,” O’Sullivan concedes. “In January you’re like, ‘How are we going to go again?’ You’re scared.

“The thought of going through the slog of running, fitness and all that, it’s tough. It’s unbearable really.

“It lapses during the year. People go away on holidays and what not, and it is hard to keep the club scene going. We don’t have 35 players, we have small-ish numbers, and then you’ve girls going off to college in Limerick and Dublin. It is hard to keep it going.

“But then again, at the end of the day, what else would we be doing? We absolutely love it.

“It’s grand now, it’s the business end of the year, there’s momentum. Everyone’s in good form, everyone’s excited.”

There’s one important goal set immediately though. There’s no talk of anything outside of the county championship, and the final challenge usually comes in the form of a robust St Val’s side.

“That’s 100% true about winning the county final — it’s extremely hard.

“You’re just saying, ‘Jesus, I’d love to win an All-Ireland’, but when you come back in January, the first thing, the first hurdle to get over is the county final.”

Earlier this year, O’Sullivan had struggled with injury but she’s back at her best once again, and right on time.

Thankfully, her campaign with the club hasn’t been affected and her knee surgery which called a slight halt to her progress with Cork earlier this summer feels like an age ago.

“Thank God,” she smiles. “Even for your own mentality going into a game… if you’re going in half-training or missing training because you’re injured, it’s hard to go in 100%.”

Even hampered by injury though, she’d still give it her all. She’s moulded into a key player on the admirable Cork side, captaining them to Lidl Division 1 National League glory in May.

The Rebels’ bid for their 12th All-Ireland senior title in 13 years came crashing down at the semi-final stage in August when they were stunned by Mayo, to the surprise of many.

By their remarkable standards since their resurgence in 2005, this was not a good year.

Doireann O'Sullivan dejected at the end of the game O'Sullivan dejected after Cork's championship exit. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

With Cork’s early exit came more time to focus on club, and it’s fair to say that for the strong Mourneabbey contingent who don the red jersey with pride, their shortcomings on the inter-county scene have given them an extra drive to succeed on the biggest stage with the club.

“We don’t have a lot to show for this year,” she agrees. “A league title is all we have to show for this year which would be unusual for Cork.”

“At the end of the year you look back on how you did, and how you did in terms of basically what you’ve won, and we do feel that we can win more.

“We were devastated not to be in Croke Park obviously. We were talking about it when we got knocked out with Cork. The only thing that kept us going was the thought of the club. We’re very lucky to have such a good club and great people behind us. It was extremely tough after that.

“But we made the comparison that when Cork last lost the All-Ireland semi-final it was against Tyrone in 2010, and Inch Rovers went on and won the All-Ireland. That was literally all that kept us going.”

A recently-graduated teacher working in Youghal, O’Sullivan lives with Máire O’Callaghan and the side’s captain Bríd O’Sullivan in Wilton.

They’re well accustomed to each other at this stage. Growing up together and playing alongside each other for both Mourneabbey and Cork, the house is usually a mad one, but even more so this week.

“The game is literally all we’re talking about, and that’s making the week drag so much. We’re talking about the meetings and training and I’m just like ‘Can the match just be on?’ We’ve been talking about it for ages and we just want to play it.

“We’ve another two (housemates) to keep us sane. I’d say they’re sick of us this week, on about it.

“One girl doesn’t play any sport, hasn’t a clue about sport at all. She’s like, ‘C’mere now, could you compare this? In the amount of matches ye have in a year, how does this compare? Is this an important one now?’”

Bray plays host to the showdown between the two powerhouses (throw-in 3pm). With Derry Cronin and Conn O’Sullivan also involved in the management team, they’re planning for three-in-a-row Dublin and Leinster winners Fox-Cab.

Doireann O'Sullivan on the attack O'Sullivan in action against Termon in the 2014 decider. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

They’ve never crossed paths with them but O’Sullivan is wary of what lies ahead.

“Even we were flicking through the Dublin programme (for the All-Ireland final against Mayo), and obviously you’d know Sinead Goldrick and Niamh Collins, those names.

“But it was frightening the amount of girls they had on the panel. Some of our girls, Máire (O’Callaghan) would be on the panel, Roisin (O’Sullivan) would be on the panel for Cork, and those girls are massive for the club.

“They’re our main girls for club. So that was scary to see how many they had on the Dublin panel, let alone the team, but the subs as well. They’ll be a serious outfit.”

There’ll be no shortage of support from the parish and surrounding areas in Wicklow later today she mentions, but there’ll be one notable absentee.

Mourneabbey native Ted Linehan tragically drowned last weekend and has since been laid to rest. A huge supporter of the club, even since he moved to Cahir, Linehan continued to follow the ladies team’s progress with pride.

“He literally came to everything. Whether it was a league match or the All-Ireland final, he was at it, club or county. It’s extremely tough. He was just a mad GAA man.”

Sadness has obviously hung over the preparations, but one thing’s for sure – they’ll play for him today.

“That’s it,” O’Sullivan concludes.

Plain and simple. There’s a job to be done.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

How a small Cork-based club rose to the brink of All-Ireland glory

Cork kingpins hope to honour late supporter by booking All-Ireland final spot

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Emma Duffy

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