Back once again

'Nothing is as special as your club. I still don't think we can put into words what it meant to everyone'

After so much hurt and heartbreak, Mourneabbey were finally crowned All-Ireland champions last year. Now, they defend their crown.

JUST SHORT OF 12 months on, there’s a slight sense of Déjà Vu.

All-Ireland ladies football club finals media day in Croke Park, and Eimear Meaney is the Mourneabbey representative present. 

meaney2 Mourneabbey defender Eimear Meaney.

But then again, things are very different this time around. 

A fifth stab at the elusive All-Ireland crown was the lucky one, as the now six-in-row Cork and Munster champions finally lifted the Dolores Tyrrell Memorial Cup last December. Before finally getting over the line, they fell agonisingly short in the 2014, 2015 and 2017 deciders, while in 2016 they suffered a semi-final defeat.

“I don’t think I’ve ever wanted something as bad,” Meaney said in the build-up last year. “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 from the other years as well: it’s that hunger that’s been built from that heartache and disappointment. I don’t think there are words to describe or explain exactly what it could mean.”

So, the big question is: did winning live up to those expectations?

“Absolutely, yeah,” she responds immediately, without a second thought.

“It’s a penultimate, it’s your club, it’s where you start and probably where you end playing football. It’s the foundation of everything you’ve learnt. Nothing is as special as your club. Obviously you have other competitions but nothing compares to club.

“I still don’t think we can put into words what it meant to everyone. Not even just the players but everyone in the community, everyone that’s been involved with us over the last 10, 15, some people, 20 years. There’s so much commitment there.

“I think it just was so special for everyone. It was just sense of relief. All those years’ training, dedication and commitment; it was finally worth it. It would have been easy to throw in the towel after one, two, three, even four years, but we just kept on going and kept on going. I think it made it all the sweeter that we finally got there.”

mourneabbeys-players-celebrate-with-the-trophy Mourneabbey celebrating the 2018 win. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

The 22-year-old, like everyone else in the parish, has been there through it all. The highs, the lows, the good, the bad, the smiles and the tears.

Every season up until the last ended in bitter disappointment. Desolation, even.

But each and every time, they came back for more.

Donegal’s Termon ended their dream 2014 in the national showpiece, after winning their first-ever Cork and Munster senior crowns. It was Monaghan powerhouse Donaghmoyne that inflicted the pain in 2015 and 2016. Carnacon in 2017, before Mourneabbey finally put the hurt and heartbreak to bed against Foxrock-Cabinteely in 2018.

Dreaming for years of becoming an All-Ireland club champion finally became reality.

“I think it lives up to everything, and more, to be honest,” Cork star defender Meaney smiles.

“It’s so, so special to win such a competition with the girls that you started off with. There’s girls on that team that have been playing together since they were five and six years of age and I just think it means so much more when you know people so well.

“There’s players there that have made massive sacrifices over the last few years to continue playing. You have players that have come back from injuries that they were told they’d never play again.

“There was such a dedication and a hunger to do it so I think it’s so, so special that you finally get to do that. You’re doing it with your best friends which makes it all the more sweet.”

There was no way they were losing that Parnell Park showdown last year. Like women possessed, they laid down a marker from the start and never looked back.

“I think sometimes we can be a second-half team but we really started strong in that game,” Meaney nods. “I think you could nearly sense it: we weren’t coming out of there losing. I think there was just fire in our bellies, we weren’t leaving it behind us that day.”

eimear-meaney-dejected-after-the-game Meaney after the 2017 final loss. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

And the feeling when that final whistle sounded? Relief.

“Initially, I think the feeling was relief. It’s the worst place in the world to be when that final whistle goes and it happened us three times [losing an All-Ireland final].

“I think initially it was just relief, and then excitement, joy, every kind of emotion. But I think initially I was just so relieved that we had come out on top, finally.

“Then obviously it was just really emotional, I think, for everybody involved that it had all just finally come together.”

But that’s all in the past now, as recent UCC graduate Meaney knows well. 

Next up is the challenge of Galway kingpins and first-time All-Ireland finalists Kilkerrin-Clonberne at Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds on Saturday [throw-in 5pm, live on TG4].

And defending the trophy rather than chasing it is a nice position to be in. 

“Yeah, it is different,” the speech and language therapist nods. “I suppose this is exactly where we want to be, but you kind of have the monkey off your back. That real pressure is nearly a bit relieved because of last year.

“Every other year, we were coming back on a loss and it was quite difficult to regroup every year. I think this year we were just buzzing to get back. We wanted to be in a position that we could win again and we are here so we’re just delighted to be back.”

That said, it hasn’t been the easiest road back for Shane Ronayne’s side.

eimear-meaney Meaney in action for Cork earlier this year. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Bolstered by the addition of Dublin three-in-a-row All-Ireland winner and 2017 Footballer of the Year Noelle Healy, they’ve been tested game after game on the journey.

And that all started with a competitive county championship.

“Obviously our aim at the start of the year was to get back to an All-Ireland final and thankfully we did, but you have to take it competition by competition,” Meaney explains.

“Cork is so competitive. Getting out of Cork is our first step and it’s not an easy step. We had a really tough semi-final, some very good championship games and then meeting West Cork again in the final. Obviously that went to a replay last year so we knew that was going to be tough.

“Moving on from that, we met Ballymacarbry in the Munster; another really, really tough game. I think while they’re really tough games, they stand to you as you move on in the competition.

“Then we met Donaghmoyne in Mourneabbey a couple of weeks ago, another really tough battle. We’ve had some really good battles, we knew it was going to be tough but when you advance from those games, you learn a lot from them.

“We made loads of mistakes in all of those matches but I think we learned as we moved forward. We’ve had a really tough battle on our path to the final, but hopefully that will stand to us going into Saturday.”

Likewise, Kilkerrin-Clonberne — with the likes of All-Star twin duo Nicola and Louise Ward, fellow county stars Olivia Divilly and Lisa Murphy, and Galway legend Annette Clarke in their ranks — have had a roller coaster ride to their first senior final.

They made it fourth time lucky at the semi-final stage against Dublin’s Foxrock-Cabinteely — two of their previous last four defeats came at the hands of Mourneabbey (2018 and 2015) so the sides are no strangers to one another. 

Their captain, Louise Ward, reckons they were “physically beaten” by the reigning champions last year, but a year older and a year wiser now, Saturday’s shaping up to be a mouthwatering clash.

eimear-meaney-with-louise-ward Eimear Meaney and Louise Ward at Monday's captains' day. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Mourneabbey will remain focused on themselves, no doubt, with the same levels of excitement as every year before building and building in the North Cork area.

“To be fair to our supporters, they never get sick of it really,” Meaney concludes.

“Year on year, even when we were losing, every year had the same build-up, the same excitement, the same bunting around the place and signs. They never really do give up and I think that reflects on us as a team, that we have that support.

“It’s like it’s the first one we were ever in every year, which is really nice because they never give up on you. I think it’s the same excitement again, but it’s like a new feeling.

“They’re backing us all the way, hopefully.”

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