redemption at last

'It’s the best place in the world to win and the worst place in the world to lose'

Down legend Fionnuala Carr had a memorable day in Croke Park with her club Clonduff yesterday

DOWN LEGEND FIONNUALA Carr surely thought that she had graced the hollowed Croke Park turf for the final time last September.

Claire Dunne is consoled by Fionnuala Carr Clonduff's Fionnuala Carr consoles Gailltír captain Claire Dunne at the final whistle. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

The 2018 inter-county season ended in nothing but hurt and heartbreak as the Mourne county were beaten by Cork’s intermediate team on the biggest stage. 

But six months later, here she was at HQ once again, and a huge driving force behind her beloved club Clonduff’s first-ever All-Ireland title lift.

With 20 years of experience at senior level for her club and 17 for her county under her belt, Carr, along with her sister Sara-Louise and captain Paula Gribben fronted the Clonduff challenge, with their experience key in yesterday’s one-point win over Waterford’s Gailltír.

The Down trio sparkled with Gribben notching 0-6 in a Player of the Match-winning performance, Sara-Louise posted three points from play and Fionnuala stepped up with this monstrous effort from halfway.

carr3 AIB livestream. AIB livestream.

While she looked calm, collected and firmly in control on the field as she delivered a solid leader’s performance, Carr admitted afterwards that she wasn’t just as comfortable 24 hours ahead of throw-in.

“I was so nervous yesterday,” she said when all was done and dusted, and Clonduff had the Agnes O’Farrelly Cup firmly in their grip, ready to head back to Hilltown.

“Sara-Louse, Paula and I were sitting in the car, and we were able to talk it out about how we were feeling. ‘It’s okay, it’s normal.’ I slept really well, I woke up this morning, my nerves were gone and I was so excited and I think that helped with our start.

“After September we probably didn’t think we’d be back in Croke Park. Whenever we started with the club this year, we’d so many involved in Down, it took us a while to get going. Every game we’ve just improved.

“In the last couple of weeks I can safely say we’ve lived as professional athletes. So much preparation has gone into this win.”

John Dermody with Sarah Harrington and Fionnuala Carr at the coin toss Carr captained down last September. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

The feeling at the final whistle was like nothing she’s felt before. And the contrast, that stark disparity to the feeling at the final whistle in September.

The euphoric scenes were something else but in the midst of it all, Fionnuala took the time to console Gailltír captain Claire Dunne. She knows the feeling all too well, and her own celebrations could easily be put on hold.

“It was overwhelming relief at the end. It was down to pure heart. It was dirty ball on a day today, fight for the dirty ball.

“I feel for Gailltír. I’m not even going to tell you how long I’m playing senior camogie. I know what it’s like. I’ve had so many heartbreaks in Croke Park. I think I’ve played five finals [here] and this is my second win.

“It’s the best place in the world to win and the worst place in the world to lose. I feel for them but I know with every defeat and setback, it gives you a bit more resilience and strength and if they keep going, they’ll get here in the end.”

Fionnuala Carr Carr striking the sliotar yesterday. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

With the 4,564 attendance on the day announced during the senior final between Slaughtneil and St Martin’s, there was a huge Clonduff contingent out in force to cheer their heroes on in the first clash.

The sea of yellow and navy in the lower Hogan Stand reminded Carr just how important this was for the club. But to put it in words, just how much does it mean?

“Everything,” she smiled. “The support we have had. People that have moved away from home, people living in Australia and America. Our sponsors for our coats are America-based.

“We have our whole community behind us. I don’t know if there’s anyone left in Hilltown. I heard the chants of ‘Clonduff, Clonduff’, there was 59 minutes on the clock and that gives you so much heart and hope.

“Thank God we were able to pay them back and I hope they have a brilliant night and week.”

- Additional reporting by Daragh Ó Conchúir for the Camogie Association.

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