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'Our household is manic on the best of days, but on All-Ireland day it's a complete joke!'

Anna Farrell is lining out alongside two of her sisters in today’s All-Ireland senior camogie final as Kilkenny eye a back-to-back double.

REWIND — IT’S ALL-IRELAND camogie finals day 2016, and the Farrell house is buzzing.

Anna Farrell Anna Farrell. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Three of the sisters — Anna, Shelly and Meighan — are ready for the biggest game of their lives. They’re all down to start, and the task ahead of them is a mammoth one.

It’s been 22 years since Kilkenny have won the All-Ireland senior camogie title, while Cork are on course for their third O’Duffy Cup in-a-row.

But the Cats are hungry. They’re fully focused on the task at hand, the 60 minutes between them and the climb up the steps of the Hogan Stand. The end of the drought.

The bags are packed. They’re heading out the door to get on the road to Croke Park.

“Stop,” their father Martin shouts. ”You can’t go anywhere. There’s two bulls out on the road!”

And so, there’s another job to be done first. Off they went, no complaints.

“They had to hunt the bulls before they could go out,” their mother Helen laughed on The Marty Squad later that day, when the camogie was done and dusted.

“At least it took their minds off the match, so they were grand.”

The distraction back home in Thomastown did them the world of good after all. Anna and Meighan struck up the midfield partnership and won that battle, while Shelly rattled the net for her side’s crucial goal as they ran out four point winners.

And 12 months later, it’s almost déjà vu for the Farrell sisters and Kilkenny. Today, they face the Rebels again in this year’s decider. Win, and it’s a double-double, considering they’ve also won the last two Division 1 league titles.

But the big question is, will there be a similar pre-match ritual this year?

“Ah, more than likely!” the eldest of the sisters, and Kilkenny captain Anna tells The42. “I dunno does Dad time it for big days or something, because they were out before the semi-final as well.

“We had to go and move them, just me and Shelly. I dunno is he gone superstitious now that he lets them out on the big day! I don’t know,” she laughs.

Shelly Farrell celebrates her goal Shelly Farrell after she hit the net in last year's final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Hurling and camogie means everything in the Farrell household, if that isn’t already evident. As well as the three sisters who line out for the senior county side, 17-year-old Eimear is impressing at underage level, while Jonjo — the only boy of the family – is a two-time All-Ireland winner with the Kilkenny hurling side and has made a notable impact of late.

“We’re so used to playing with each other at this stage,” Farrell smiles. “Everyone else’s focus is on it, but we’ve been playing together for so many years. When you have it instilled in your family, you’re going to stay going.

“It’s just the love of the game. It’s brilliant to play with your sisters. Sometimes you might get a few shouts that you wouldn’t get from another girl. But look, it’s brilliant and you know that they’ll always have your back anyway, and they’ll always drive on with you.”

And of course, every single conversation over the past few weeks, and between now and throw-in will be about one thing.

“Our house, it’s non-stop camogie and hurling talk. We’ll probably have people up to visit, and in to wish us well but we always let it go over our heads.

“We’ll treat it as a normal day the day before, we might go out for a few pucks together to be more relaxed with each other,” she said at the media day last week.

“You’ll always have someone there then if you’re under pressure, if you think you’re struggling with something, you can say it to them and they’ll always drive you on again.

“Our household is manic anyway on the best of days, but on All-Ireland day it’s a complete joke!”

To be there again this year, Ann Downey’s side have come through a few tough challenges.

Just one point separated themselves and Offaly in the Leinster decider back in May. In the group stages of the All-Ireland series, they won three of their four games — dropping points following a draw with Clare.

Kilkenny captain Meighan Farrell with the Division 1 trophy alongside John Goodwin (Littlewoods Ireland), President Michael D.Higgins and Camogie President, Catherine Neary Meighan Farrell with the Division 1 league trophy in April, after they beat Cork. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

And then, Dublin proved stiff competition in the semi-final, but Kilkenny pulled away to book their second All-Ireland decider on the bounce three weeks ago.

“Everyone is saying that it’s the regular thing of Cork and Kilkenny, there are so many teams that have given us our games. All the teams are trying to catch those in front at the moment.

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“Kilkenny have to keep pushing on, they can’t stay in one position, they have to keep going forward. Clare should have beaten us, we were lucky to come back. I think maybe we took our eye off the ball a bit, and we were feeding into all of the hype around it. We shouldn’t. We have to go back to the basics, and that’s hurling.

“Dublin really had us under pressure. One thing for ourselves is we had a bit of composure, where in previous years we might have panicked. We missed one or two goals in the first half and usually that would kind of throw us and we’d start doubting ourselves, but we didn’t, we stayed slogging away and when the breaks came then we pushed on to another gear.

“It definitely showed us that we had places to improve on before we got to the final which is a good thing. If it had to have been that we had beaten them by a bit, we wouldn’t have learned anything from it. It would have been pointless.”

The composure is there, the ability is there and the hunger certainly is still there.

Ending that 22-year wait last year was just the start, according to Farrell. That taste of glory is something she, and Kilkenny, want to feed off over and over again.

“A lot of the time, people were saying ‘Ye should have won by now,’ and finally we actually have won,” she smiles, thinking back.

“It’s where we want to be. When you start training back in December and January, your aim is for Croke Park in December. We’re delighted to be back again and hopefully we can carry on from last year’s win and go forward on the day.

Rena Buckley and Anna Farrell Cork captain Rena Buckley with Kilkenny captain Anna Farrell. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“The hunger is always there in Kilkenny. Everyone on the team is so competitive. That’s where they want to be, in an All-Ireland final.

“When you have that kind of feeling, like last year when the final whistle blew and you were coming out on the right side for once, you don’t ever want that feeling to leave. It’s something that stays with you.”

With the men knocked out by Waterford in the All-Ireland qualifiers, the camógs will feel a certain duty to fly the flag and take the cup home for the entire county.

“Look, the men have done it for long enough now. It’s only ourselves and the u21s that are left to do the job. Hopefully we’ll be victorious and so will the U21s.

(The Kilkenny U21s were defeated in the All-Ireland final by Limerick)

“The men, usually that’s what everyone follows but at the moment now, there’s a good crowd around Kilkenny that are aware of the camogie, which they hadn’t been before.

“I think that all comes down to it being televised and the promotion, and the work that Liberty and the Camogie Association are doing. I think that has raised the profile for camogie in Kilkenny and around the country.”

And back to the big day — in terms of training and preparation, everything’s going to plan. There are no major injury concerns, and Downey is sure to have her charges in fine fettle for their return to GAA HQ.

“We have a great background team. I can’t say it enough. Our physio Nicola, she has all of us right no matter what. We have two doctors with us. And we have Ann (Downey) and Angela (Downey) and Breda (Holmes), three others as well. A huge background team.

“They just look after us mentally, physically, anything we ask for, they try and accommodate us. When you have poeple like that around you that care and believe in you so much, it makes you want to do it for them as well as yourself.”

Kilkenny team celebrate after the game Kilkenny celebrate with the O'Duffy Cup last year. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Farrell’s focus is solely on the 60 minutes between throw-in, and her opportunity to lift the O’Duffy Cup. She’s not delving too deep into Cork, and she’s dismissing chat surrounding the back-to-back double: “If you have that in your head, you’re not fully focused on what’s in front of you on the day.”

It’s all about Kilkenny, and their own game.

“All you can do is play the game that’s in front of you and the team that’s in front of you on the day. You have to have that outlook. If you don’t, the team’s going to catch you on the hop.

“We’re just preparing for Cork, we’re used to them at this stage I think,” she smiles.

“Really it comes down to whoever wants it more. Hopefully that will be us, and hopefully we’ll still have the hunger and drive that I think is there. Hopefully it will show on the day.”

And at the end of the day — win, lose or draw — it all comes back to family. While Anna, Meighan and Shelly will be playing, their parents, Jonjo and Eimear will be in the stands, backing them every step of the way.

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‘She’s been a stalwart of Cork camogie over the years. She’s certainly a huge loss for us’

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Emma Duffy

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