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Dublin: 11°C Monday 19 April 2021

'She said, 'It's different... we're crying different tears today' - and we were'

Cork and Mourneabbey star defender Eimear Meaney is hungry for more after 2018.

START WITH THE good times.

After four Januarys of returning to the Cork set-up after endless heartbreak with the club, star defender Eimear Meaney found it slightly easier to get back at it in 2019.

Mourneabbey's players celebrate with the trophy Mourneabbey celebrating their win. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Mourneabbey finally reached the Holy Grail and lifted the All-Ireland senior club title in December after three decider losses (2014, 2015 and 2017) and a 2016 semi-final exit. 

So close but yet so far time and time again, the Clyda outfit reached the promised land after an incredible team performance against Dublin’s Foxrock-Cabinteely.

“Unbelievable,” Meaney smiles, almost two months on at the launch of the Lidl Ladies National Football League in Croke Park. Her focus has switched back to Cork but the memories, of course, are nice to revisit. Especially after the hurt of September.

“We were a long time waiting for that win so it made it even sweeter in the end. Five years, it was brilliant. We were just delighted to finally get over the line. It meant so much to all of us as a parish, as a club.

“Everyone in Mourneabbey was celebrating for about three weeks, there was no work done. It was brilliant. It was a nice lead up to Christmas as well, it was unreal.”

Although the outcome was decided from early doors with Shane Ronayne’s Mourneabbey like women on a mission who absolutely weren’t leaving Parnell Park without a win, the outpour of emotion at the final whistle said it all.

How much this meant. 

How sweet it was.

Source: LadiesFootballTV/YouTube

“It was so weird to be there and not be upset when the final whistle blew,” the 21-year-old continues. “We were nearly accustomed to that at that stage.

“I think Doireann [O'Sullivan] said it in an interview, she was emotional after but she said, ‘It’s different… we’re crying different tears today’ and we were.

“We were all just so overjoyed and for once, we were coming off that pitch delighted with the performance we had put in and buzzing to get the win at the end of the day. It was brilliant.”

As aforementioned, there were pretty stark contrasting fortunes at the end-game with club and county. That euphoric win with Mourneabbey perhaps took away slightly from Cork’s painful All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin three months earlier.

Throwing her lot in with the club after swallowing that bitter pill was good for Meaney though, a welcome distraction.

“While we were half allergic to going back training after losing, I think it was a really good think to put all our energy into, concentrate on and get a real buzz for championship with Mourneabbey.

“It was really good for us in a way, and it helped dissolve that loss a small bit because we had something else to concentrate on. By the time October came, you were just so engrossed in what was happening with Mourneabbey.

“It wasn’t until December that you kind of reflected back on the disappointment of September. It was really good to have something to concentrate on and take your mind off it a small bit.”

Eimear Meaney dejected after the game Meaney dejected in 2017. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The celebrations through December and the festive period also helped to keep the Mourneabbey contingent in flying form coming back onto the inter-county scene.

With captain Doireann O’Sullivan, her older sister Ciara and many others also among the group, it was two-fold. Their positivity brought a nice lift to Cork training, with their county team-mates hungry for success after seeing them thrive on the club stage.

“It’s nice to come back in,” she beams. “It’s kind of difficult if you come back in from September on that loss. You’re not training again until January. It’s nice to come in on a buzz and with that excitement after some celebrations and success.

“It gives you that bit of hunger to go again and hopefully be successful in a lot more competitions this year, not just with club.

“We have big ambitions for this year but you have to take every competition as it comes. We just want to have a good league campaign and get the year off to a good start.”

While they suffered an opening day defeat to Galway, Cork got off the mark against Westmeath last time out while it’s Munster rivals Tipperary — managed by Meaney’s club manager Ronayne — up next on Saturday.

The wait for a Páirc Uí Chaoimh bow continues, how and ever. The 11-time All-Ireland champions were originally pencilled in to play that clash at the main county grounds as part of a double-header with the men, but circumstances have since changed.

Niamh McEvoy with Eimear Meaney Meaney in September's All-Ireland final against Dublin. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Development work has led to a venue switch, with Páirc Uí Rinn now playing host to the double bill. While a chance to showcase their skill at the Páirc would have been special, all is not lost. It will happen sooner rather than later. 

Meaney was more than pleased that her side were getting their just deserts when we spoke, focusing more on the double-header element rather than the Páirc Uí Chaoimh debut, which was set in stone at the time.

“It’s brilliant,” the UCC student continued.”There’s been loads of buzz about it. It’s been brilliant that we’re getting two double-headers. It’s not just in Cork, you’re seeing it in Croke Park and all over the country for all divisions. It’s brilliant that that’s finally come in.

“I think that we definitely deserve a chance to get to play there like the men and hopefully now, we’ll get the support of the men’s game out to see us beforehand.”

That will still be the case at Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday evening: Ephie Fitzgerald’s charges will get the chance to strut their stuff and showcase the ever-rising standards of the game in front of a slightly different audience.

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This is Meaney’s fifth year on the panel and in her time alone, she’s seen a massive shift and huge improvement across the board.

“The game is developing massively. It’s a game of inches at this stage. It’s not just down to training, there’s so much emphasis on strength and conditioning, nutrition, recovery; all of these things are adding to the game, bringing the standards up and taking it to a whole new level every year.

Eimear Meaney celebrates at the final whistle with Maire O'Callaghan Celebrating reaching the final with Maire O'Callaghan. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I think it’s an advancing game and you’re just trying to keep up with the pace of it. It’s really exciting. 

“Hopefully people that wouldn’t generally go to our matches will get a taste for ladies football and enjoy it and we can put on a good performance for them, that they’ll come out and watch us on other days when the men’s matches aren’t on.”

At the close of Cork’s reign of terror which saw the Brendan Martin Cup winter on Leeside 11 times in 12 years between 2005 and 2016, many of their stalwarts naturally stepped away from the panel.

With younger players coming through, this led to the widespread notion that the Rebels were a team in transition. All-Ireland semi-finalists in 2017 and finalists in 2018, Eimear Scally recently spoke out to reject that claim.

“We’re good enough, old enough and bold enough to go on and push on to win an All-Ireland this year,” she said. And Meaney is first to agree with her team-mate.

She uses star forward Scally as an example. She’s 21 too, but has been playing in Croke Park for the last five years and gaining plenty of experience along the way. They are a young team, but their younger players have a lot of experience. 

They’re not a team in transition and they hope to get over the line this year. End off. 

Although just into her twenties herself, Meaney would most definitely be considered as a leader of that team both on and off the pitch. It’s pretty scary that she’s be considered one of the ‘older’ players at this stage.

Ephie Fitzgerald talks to his team after the game Fitzgerald with his Cork team. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“It’s mad,” she laughs. “You go from being one of the younger players and then overnight, because of the way it went, you were nearly one of the more experienced players.

“It’s good. You have to step up and take a bit of leadership. It doesn’t really matter what age you are. If you’re there, you want to be there.

“I think that’s something that really comes from management down: no matter what age you are, if it’s your first year or if it’s your 12th year on the panel, if you want to be there you need to step up and take responsibility.

“Everyone deserves to be there, everyone has a right to play. We’re trying to get everyone on the team talking on the pitch and stamping their leadership on it. It’s projecting through the team which is really good.”

With Fitzgerald into his fourth year at the helm, the continuity is key and the team are enjoying the ‘professional set-up’.

Another notion that’s been thrown around over the past few weeks and months is that back-to-back All-Ireland champions Dublin are out on their own, Cork are within touching distance and then there’s a chasing pack.

But the reality is that any game can go any way on any given day.

“Especially in the league, I think any game can go any way,” Meaney agrees. “Two years ago, we didn’t make the All-Ireland final. We were beaten in the semi-final. I definitely don’t think it’s… It’s not a two-horse race whatsoever.

eimear (1) Eimear Meaney at the league launch.

“That was just the All-Ireland final last year. It could be any two teams in the All-Ireland final this year. Obviously there’s lots of teams in the league that will put on great performances. I don’t think you can ever go out thinking that anyone’s going to win.

“It’s not a two-horse race at all. There’s plenty of good teams up in Division 1 and come championship, it’ll be the same. We’re just preparing for tough matches all year long to be honest.”

At the time of our conversation, Meaney was braced for an extremely busy period with the college. The final year Speech and Language Therapy student was raring to get back playing ball with her first match with the Skull and Crossbones just around the corner.

“It’s nice to get a break but sometimes it’s good to get back in playing straight away and get a bite for it again,” she concluded.

“The college championship is so short, it’s such a short window. You just have to go hell for leather for it. It’s my last year so it’s kind of do or die.

“I came into UCC my first year with hopes of getting an O’Connor Cup medal. This is my last chance so hopefully I’ll be getting one this year.”

Hopefully, she grins.

Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look ahead to Ireland’s Six Nations meeting with Italy and discuss the week’s biggest stories in the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Emma Duffy

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