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Dublin: 21 °C Thursday 13 August, 2020

'As soon as the whistle went in Croke Park I knew I had to go again... I can't end it like this'

Ten years after making her senior debut for Dublin, Sinéad Finnegan hopes to finally get her hands on an All-Ireland medal in 2017.

Sinead Finnegan Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

ALONE WITH HER thoughts on another disappointing Sunday afternoon in September, Sinéad Finnegan paid little attention to her colleagues on the Dublin team bus as it made its way from Croke Park to the Citywest Hotel.

There’s usually not much of an appetite for conversation among the members of a team coming to terms with defeat in an All-Ireland final. Finnegan already knew that all too well. But 25 September last was slightly different.

A first-half incident in Dublin’s 1-7 to 1-6 loss to Cork was the main post-match talking point online and in the following morning’s newspapers. Carla Rowe kicked a point for the Dubs in the 22nd minute but the umpire ruled it out and no Hawk-Eye technology was in place to amend his error.

The controversy dominated social media for the evening and Hawk-Eye was being discussed by those around her. But as the pain of a third All-Ireland final loss in a row kicked in, Finnegan was oblivious.

“I was just so disappointed that we had lost that I actually didn’t give it any attention whatsoever,” explains the 2015 All-Star centre-back. “It actually didn’t come to light until after the game. I wasn’t aware of it at the time when it happened and neither were any of the other backs because of the fact that we were down at the other end of the pitch.

“It wasn’t until we were on the bus to the hotel afterwards that I became aware of it. Everyone was kind of talking about Hawk-Eye. But I just kept thinking that we had our chances and kind of shot ourselves in the foot. I think we had about 11 wides, which is far too high. All I kept thinking was that we didn’t perform as well as we could.”

Finnegan won’t celebrate her 30th birthday until next September but, having made her senior inter-county debut back in 2007, she’s one of the most experienced campaigners on the Dublin panel.

“I had kind of thought about this year being my last year,” she says. “But as soon as the whistle went in Croke Park I knew I had to go again. I can’t end it like this. I have to end on a high.”

Sinead Finnegan Source: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

This Dublin team has already experienced more than its share of disappointment at Croke Park, but Finnegan is perhaps more entitled than her team-mates to feel aggrieved by their three consecutive final defeats.

Three years after making the breakthrough with her county, Dublin became All-Ireland champions by capitalising on Cork’s only major slip-up in the past 12 years. But Finnegan didn’t feature in their comfortable victory over a Tyrone side that had overcome the Rebels at the quarter-final stages in 2010.

The sudden death of her father, Jarlath, had forced Finnegan to take a hiatus from the inter-county game, which coincided with Dublin’s first ever All-Ireland senior triumph. Since her return in 2011, Cork have won six titles in a row.

Finnegan’s love of the game emanated from her father, who represented the Dubs at minor and U21 level during his own playing days. As is often the case when it comes to any major decision that relates to her football career, Finnegan asks herself ‘What would dad say?’ when considering the prospect of bringing her Dublin career to an end before getting her hands on an All-Ireland medal which has so far proven elusive.

“If it was up to my dad I’d probably be playing into my 40s,” Finnegan laughs. “I was only having a chat recently with Ciaran Whelan — he’s Raheny and so was my dad — and we were talking about when my dad was 45 and he was still playing for the Junior B team.

“He was full-back and his friend, who was also in his mid-40s, was full-forward. They were the experienced lads on the team and everyone else was probably in their early 20s. So if it was up to him I’d be playing as long as he did.”

Were it not for an absurdly successful Cork team, Finnegan’s wait for All-Ireland glory would almost certainly have ended by now. Only a total of four points has separated the teams over the course of three finals, but it’s the Munster side who have emerged with the Brendan Martin Cup on each occasion. September’s triumph was their 11th in 12 years.

Finnegan: “I think the difference between them and everybody else is the fact that they don’t know how to lose. Winning is a habit and they’re so used to winning that they’re so relentless, in the sense that they just cannot lose. They have that winning mentality.

Ciara O'Sullivan with Sinead Finnegan Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“A few teams have come very close to them, including ourselves obviously, and afterwards people will tell you that you should have won. But at the end of the day, Cork still always win.

“I think it’s a case that other teams have to get some of that ruthlessness and selfishness that stops you from letting it slip. I think that’s what they have. They’ve got great leaders, great players, great experience and they’re a fantastic team. A credit to ladies football.”

She adds: “I think success does breed success and if we were to get that one All-Ireland then Ì’d like to think that we could get one or two more after that as well.

“The underage structures in Dublin are really strong. Lauren Magee came up from minor last year, played midfield in a senior All-Ireland final this year and was probably unlucky not to get an All-Star. Dublin football is in a very good place.

“We’re very lucky to have a lot of young talent coming through. Dublin have been very successful at underage level so hopefully they’ll bring a bit of that ruthlessness into our team and push the senior girls on.

“I love playing against Cork. I get so excited for those games and they’re a fantastic team. But I do believe that we’re as good as them. Hopefully we’ll get the better of them and that it won’t be too far down the line.”

The day after this year’s loss, Finnegan was one of the members of the Dublin team who convened with management and the county board to discuss how best to handle the controversy over Carla Rowe’s point that never was. Ultimately, however, they resisted the temptation to appeal for a replay.

“Some of the players did have an input into that. We agreed amongst ourselves that there was no point in appealing it. We just didn’t think it would get us anywhere, that there wouldn’t be a replay, so we just had to move on.”

The Dublin team line up Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

After that, Finnegan kept her phone switched off for a few days and did her utmost to avoid the topic — easier said than done when you earn a living with one of the country’s busiest sports PR agencies, PSG Sponsorship.

In spite of the injustice, it still wasn’t the most bitter defeat that the Fingallians player has endured. For that, rewind to the 2014 final when Dublin entered the last quarter of the game with a 10-point lead over Cork but still came out on the losing side.

“That’s the one that haunts me the most,” she admits. “With this one I kind of buried my head in the sand and didn’t pay attention to it. But all the losses are tough. You train for so long to win an All-Ireland. Getting so close and not making it can be really, really hard. Mentally draining more than anything.”

The long seasons are beginning to take a toll on Sinéad Finnegan, and although she’ll be taking a holiday early in the new year, the 29-year-old is enthusiastic about starting from scratch again in 2017. With Gregory McGonigle stepping down as manager, Mick Bohan will look to bring a fresh impetus to the set-up and Finnegan is keen to be involved.

“The reason I want to keep playing is because I want to win with this particular group. If I stepped away from the panel and the girls went on to win an All-Ireland next year, while I’d be absolutely chuffed for them, I’d be completely heartbroken for myself,” she says.

“Greg and the rest of his management team have left us in a really positive place. Maybe it was needed after the last few years to have someone new come in and freshen it up, and for the girls that have been there to stick together and give it one more push.

“I think it’s a group of players that haven’t done themselves justice in the last few years. We haven’t gone that one step further to get that All-Ireland medal. To change that with this particular group would be really, really special.”

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Paul Dollery

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