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Dublin: 7°C Thursday 6 May 2021

Season 16, and Dublin star Aherne is enjoying life in the fast lane more than ever

The 2018 Player of the Year turned 33 today, and is still loving every minute.

THERE’S A NERVOUS laugh when it’s brought up, but it does have to be acknowledged.

Sinead Aherne Sinéad Aherne. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Dublin captain and 2018 Player of the Year Sinéad Aherne is much more at ease when she’s talking football, but then the day that’s in it is brought up.

Birthdays are landmarks, of course. A chance to look back on what’s been and gone, they must be celebrated and recognised accordingly.

“I’m ageing backwards like I said,” she grins upon turning 33. “Benjamin Button style.”

Aherne has been at it a while now. Now a three-time All-Ireland winner, having captained the Sky Blues to back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, she made her debut in 2003. 15 full seasons played since, with a year out to travel in 2015.

It’s been some journey. 

And she’s been absolutely immense every step of the way, establishing herself as one of the finest players across the length and breadth of the country, producing remarkable scoring exploits week in, week out.

Another giggle comes when she casts her mind back to 2003 with Mick Bohan at the helm back then too. A fresh-faced 17-year-old at the time, they lost the All-Ireland final to Mayo. But that’s not the lasting memory.

“I was only a young one, back in the size 16 jerseys! I looked like I was about 12,” she laughs. “I still look like I’m about 12!

“Ah, no… I wish.”

Clare Egan and Sinead Ahern Lining out in that All-Ireland final in 2003. Source: INPHO

How does she do it?

She’s reminded about a conversation we had before the 2017 All-Ireland final, before Bohan returned and before Dublin put three heartbreaking decider defeats in 2014, 2015 and 2016 to bed.

“I didn’t want to go out or step away after it finished how it did last year, being so close,” Aherne said back then.

Still here and arguably in better shape than ever before, she tells The42:

“Every year, you reflect: do you have what it takes to get back on board? Close defeats are obviously a little bit tougher — when they come again and again to maybe see yourself face back into January.

“Look, I suppose when things are going well, the set-up is good and you have players involved that are really working together, rowing in — and you’re enjoying what you do, then obviously facing into January is a little bit easier.”

So there are plenty of years in her yet?

“Ah, I don’t know about that now. One year at a time, one day at a time at the moment!”

The lure of more silverware and everything that goes hand-in-hand with being at the top would surely make any player stay put, but when three in-a-row pops us, Aherne would rather not give a whole pile of thought to that.

“Every year, the margins are so small,” the seven-time All-Star continues. “Even the years that we lost were a point, two points.

Sinead Aherne lifts the trophy Lifting the trophy last September. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We’re under illusions — last year really bares very little resemblance to what’s going to happen this year. We’ve seen it in the league this year, it’s very competitive.

“Any team, I think, of the top four or five teams can beat each other on the day. You really have to bring your A game every time you’re going out.”

Another area in life which Aherne must bring her A game to every day is her job. An accountant working as associate director of tax at KPMG, she also lives life in the fast lane on that front. 

Between work, the endless inter-county and club commitments, life off the pitch with family and friends and whatever else is part of the daily grind for the St Sylvester’s star, she hardly gets a second to breathe. 

It’s a real balancing act. But Aherne gets it all done, no excuses. Especially not when it comes to work and football.

“I suppose there’s times of the year, there’s pressure points and you just kind of hope that they don’t overlap too much. I think there’s a bit of give and take on both sides.

“If things are busier, or you’re overstretched, you might get a bit of a lift from one or other at key times of the year. We’re all working or studying and playing football. We do it because it’s something we love. It’s a release and everything from work.

“There’s times where maybe you don’t get the balance right but so long as you can readjust every so often, then it’s okay. Such is life.”

Sarah Dervan, Steven Wade and Sinead Ahearn Sarah Dervan and Sinéad Aherne launched the 2019 Kellogg's Cul Camps today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With Galway captain Sarah Dervan also sitting in on the interview, the fact that the county’s 2017 hurling success spurred them on is discussed. Likewise in Dublin, looking to Jim Gavin’s men’s team as they both train in DCU inspires them.

“There’s a bit of crossover and it solidifies that whole approach to being as professional as you can in an amateur set-up,” Aherne adds.

“Obviously, they’ve brought the men’s game to a different level. While people are saying the gap is closing, I think it’s something to aspire to: the level of attention to detail that they have and the ability to change and adapt to what’s put in front of them. That team has a lot of great characteristics.

“There’s lots going on in Dublin and thankfully the teams are doing well,” she smiles, after giving the hurlers and camógs their fair dues. “Hopefully that continues.”

The league so far is reflected on along with the Dubs’ loss to Cork at the weekend, but take two is just down the tracks with the old foes to go head-to-head once again in the semi-final. 

The excitement for championship and the need to hit the ground running there, and the work of Mick Bohan is also looked at, but perhaps a fitting way to round off our conversation is just how far ladies football has come on in every sense.

The changes, both on and off the pitch, through the years have been colossal. 

“Even the last five years probably, the level of change is huge if you look to the five years before that. Hopefully that trend continues,” she enthuses, delighted in her role as a 2019 Kellogg’s Cul Camps ambassador.

Sinead Aherne signs a jersey Signing a young fans jersey. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Her mind wanders back to starting out all those years ago, learning the skills of the game in a fun environment and getting that introduction to competition.

“I was mad for it! I always wanted to be on the Dublin team when they were giving out the county colours when it came to the blitz at the end of the week,” she grins, saying that builds and builds going forward, before her attention switches back to the now.

“You have Kellogs willing to bring female ambassadors on board with the camps and kids see that from early ages. Hopefully that’s something that builds a platform for women in sport to get kids in early. Get the skills up, the training up, coaching; everything like that.

“I think those structures need to come up. When you have the talent in the game, that’s where you need to get people to go and watch the game and sponsorship, media interest, everything follows if there’s something there that people want to go and see.

“Ladies football is in a good place. If the last five years, we can bring forward into the next five and so on… there’s big steps that we can make every year and hopefully that continues.”

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Emma Duffy

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