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'I don't think I've ever wanted something as bad... I think I can say that collectively from the team'

After endless heartbreak, the time is now for Eimear Meaney’s Mournebbey to reach the Holy Grail.

“I DON’T THINK there are words to describe or explain exactly what it could mean.”

This is it. A fifth stab at that elusive All-Ireland senior club crown.

eimear 2 Eimear Meaney.

Mourneabbey have come agonisingly close over the past four years. Now five in-a-row Cork and Munster champions, they’ve fallen just short in the All-Ireland final in 2014, 2015 and 2017, while in 2016 they suffered a semi-final defeat.

“I’ve been lucky that I’ve played on a lot of teams between county and college, even with my school I’ve been successful,” Eimear Meaney picks up where she set off, “but I don’t think I’ve ever wanted something as bad. I think I can say that collectively from the team.

“We have players who have eight, nine All-Irelands with Cork, but I just don’t think you can put into words how much every player on that panel wants to win.

“That’s coming in from the other years as well: it’s that hunger that’s been built from that heartache and disappointment. You have to bottle that and take the positives from it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those matches and the hurt we felt.

“I’ll definitely be thinking of that when I feel my legs can’t go any longer on Saturday, I don’t want to be coming off that pitch the same.”

***

As Meaney settles into her seat and prepares for questioning at the All-Ireland ladies club final media day in Croke Park, the first topic of conversation that arises is last Saturday night’s All-Star awards.

The fact that they boast four nominees for 2018 says a lot about Mourneabbey as a club. Herself and Maire O’Callaghan made the 45-strong shortlist of exceptional players across the country this year, while Ciara and Doireann O’Sullivan were named in the final 15.

Ciara collected her fourth award and was nominated for Player of the Year, while her 23-year-old sister Doireann scooped her first gong.

cd Ciara and Doireann O'Sullivan.

“It was massive to have four nominations,” Meaney grins.

“We were extremely honoured to be up there and obviously it’s a great boost going into the final on Saturday having Ciara and Doireann taking home very well deserved All-Stars. It’s an honour to play with them and we’re very proud of them as a club.”

A great boost indeed, but surely they’d swap them 100 times over for the one piece of silverware they’ve been chasing for the last five years. The one they really want.

There’s a real buzz around as Meaney delves deeper into the remarkable journey her Clyda outfit are on. The excitement in the room is something else with this coming as the first time many of the clubs present have been at such an event, preparing for such a landmark occasion.

Mourneabbey are no strangers by now, of course.

“I was talking to some of the girls and it’s their first All-Ireland up here,” she explains.

“Obviously our first year was massive as well, and it was a great honour to get to the final. But I think we’ve gotten over the honour at this stage. We just want to win the All-Ireland, to put it plainly. 

“At the start of the year we came back, obviously you have to win the county and Munster to get here — but our goal wasn’t to win the county or win the Munster, we are going for that elusive title. This is our fifth year running.” 

The 21-year-old defender, like everyone else, has been involved right the way through. She’s been there for the good days and the bad, the highs and the lows, the smiles and the tears. She can’t help but think back on the one heartbreaking loss that has occurred once a year for the last four gone by.

Eimear Meaney dejected after the game Meaney after last year's final loss. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

In 2014, off the back of first-ever Cork and Munster senior crowns, they were in dreamland as they reached the All-Ireland final. A loss to Donegal’s Termon followed suit but 12 months later, they found themselves back in the top two.

Monaghan kingpins Donaghmoyne had the edge that day, before knocking them out at the semi-final stage in 2016. Last year then, Carnacon ended the ‘fourth time lucky’ bid and broke Mourneabbey hearts on the biggest stage once again.

After returning to the house of pain once more, and somehow dusting themselves off to go again, 60 minutes of football or so and Dublin powerhouse Foxrock-Cabinteely now stand in their way of finally lifting the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup.

“You don’t forget how disappointing those finals were but, to be honest, some of them are a bit of a blur,” Meaney sighs. “The matches passed us by.

“In every final and semi-final we lost we definitely had the ability to win those games and that’s something that is very hard to accept.

“If we go out and perform to the best of our ability on Saturday [and lose] then we can only hold our hands up and congratulate them. Whereas if you go out and don’t perform to the best of your ability, you’re kicking yourself for the next 12 months until you get back there.

“If a habit repeats itself it’s very difficult. You can’t pin it down to any specific moment in any match, there’s too much happening. All I can say is I don’t think we every performed to our best in any final yet and that’s what we’re hoping for.”

Looking back through the years and dissecting the defeats is tough of course. It’s difficult to compare or rate them, she concedes, but surely each one has been harder than the last.

“To be honest they are all as difficult as each other. Maybe the first year I think we were a bit more accepting of it,” Meaney recalls, echoing the fact that 2014 brought their first county and Munster title wins and everyone was on a high.

Sile O'Callaghan dejected at the final whistle Dejection in 2014. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It all happened so fast. It was all new to us. It was still a massive achievement to get to the final. Obviously we were bitterly disappointed with the result but reflecting on the year we probably took massive positives from it because we had done so well.

“So to turn around in the second year was very easy, knowing that we could get that far and that we had the potential. Turning around last year was probably the hardest year. It’s very difficult.”

She assures that losing a semi-final is just as difficult — if not more — before settling on the decision that last December’s gut-wrenching loss, and the latter days of 2017, were tougher than those that came before.

The questioning of whether everyone would commit to go again was in full flow, and within no time, pretty much everyone was back on board. ‘This might never happen again,’ is something that was, and is, said over and over.

One last shot with this special crop of players. 

“It’s just wanting to win so badly,” she responds when she’s asked what they did to get back here. “It was devastating, we were all heartbroken, but this is exactly where we wanted to get back to.

“If we could have fast-forwarded in time that day last year to next Saturday, I think we all would have, and turned around and played the match again. It’s exactly where we want to be.”

Meaney continues: “I suppose it’s easy for me, I’m only 21, it was never… I wasn’t going to be hanging up my boots, hopefully I have a long career of me. But some of the older girls, some of the girls wanted to go travelling, it was a lot more difficult for them.

“You probably put it off for a couple of years and there is only so many years you can put it off. Cork is such a competitive county, we could have been out before any county final and then you’d be kicking yourself that you didn’t go.

Niamh McEvoy with Eimear Meaney Meaney starred for Cork this year. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“They make such massive sacrifices, they’re extremely dedicated. I think when you see them, and Shane Roynane, it was his fifth year and when you see all of the management wanting to get back involved again; the club, the support that we have….

“Five years running and we’ve lost three All-Irelands in four years and they still come out and support us the length and breath of the country. That’s what spurs everybody on.”

After a tough campaign in 2018 and with a few really tough battles under their belt, Mourneabbey are more than ready for what’s ahead of them. They firmly believe that this is their time to finally taste All-Ireland success, to reach the Holy Grail.

That said, nobody has any God given right to success — and they’re well aware of that by now. As are Fox-Cab. 2016 All-Ireland finalists themselves and four in-a-row Dublin and Leinster champions, they’ll hope that they can finish their own job at hand.

No doubt they’ll also be seeking revenge on the Leesiders for last year’s semi-final. It took extra-time to separate the sides.

“We won by a point but I think we were extremely lucky to come out of that match to be honest,” the final year Speech and Language Therapy student in UCC adds.

“There was nothing between the two teams on the day and it will be the same the next day again. It’s a game of inches and there’s a lot of different variables on the day.

eimear At Tuesday's media day in Croke Park.

“Different things can go wrong or right so you are hoping for a bit of luck and that all the training and hard work you put in over the year stands to you.

“The only thing we have gained since the first year is experience and that’s something we really need to draw on now,” she concludes. “We should be able to keep the head and when things go wrong hopefully we can let it go and drive on to the next one.”

It’s pretty much written in stone at this stage that they’ve driven on to the next one time and time again when things have gone wrong in the past.

There’s no doubting that one.

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Emma Duffy

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