THE HEARTBREAK, the hurt, the pain. It all came down to this.
Sinéad Finnegan could hardly watch. Her involvement had come to an end just 18 minutes in. The heavy strapping and pain relief she’d taken to numb a throbbing torn calf sustained in training had run their time and it was set off once again.
A jumping motion in an effort to prize the ball off Cora Staunton did the damage and that was that. Lights out, curtain drawn.
Gutted, understandably. But it wasn’t about her. It was about everyone.
The rest of her All-Ireland final played out from a very different vantage point on the bench.
“I was like a possessed woman,” the Fingallians defender recalls. “I felt so sick. I found it very, very difficult to watch.
“At one stage I think we might have been 13 points up and there was three minutes to go. Somebody who was on the bench almost kind of started to celebrate. I was like, ‘What are you doing? The match isn’t over.’
“They turned and said to me, ‘Finno, we’re up by 13 points. I know that Cora and Mayo are good but they’re not that good. They’re not going to score 13 points in that time!’
“I was completely on edge. It was very, very tough.”
She knows more than anyone that you can’t stop until the final whistle. Take the 2014 decider loss to Cork. Dublin were 10 points up with 15 minutes remaining but the Rebels produced the most epic of comebacks to run out one-point winners.
And after further defeats in the 2015 and 2016 showpieces, they go again today.
Niamh McEvoy, like Finnegan, wasn’t on the field as the game came to a conclusion and the Sky Blues were crowned 2017 All-Ireland champions. She played a starring role up until she made way, chipping in with 1-1, but the St Sylvesters’ ace spent the last few minutes on the bench, enjoying the late rally of goals.
Phenomenal is a word she uses time and time again to describe the day. The experience of running out of the tunnel and seeing the upper tier of the Cusack Stand full; her involvement in the throw-in; the noise, atmosphere and colour of 46,286 watching on.
She was there in 2010 for Dublin’s win. She remembers thinking after they beat Tyrone to lift their first-ever Brendan Martin crown that this would become a regular occurrence.
Little did she know just how long it would take to reach the Holy Grail once again, and the gut-wrenching lows they’d have to weather to get there.
“I was only 20, I probably did take it for granted,” she concedes.
“I thought, ‘Next year when we’re doing this and the following year when we’re doing this.’ But it was a long wait, seven years.
“It would be something we’d be very conscious about with the younger girls that you need to improve year on year to retain titles and not to be resting on our laurels.”
Neither McEvoy or Finnegan remember exactly when they started with the seniors. The former recalls being involved in panels at a young age, in and out to make up numbers but her first full year to stick it out was 2009.
Finnegan, likewise. She was first there in 2003 at the tender age of 15. Mick Bohan was manager back then too, steering them to an All-Ireland final against Mayo.
“He doesn’t remember me being there,” she grins. “It was just to make up training numbers so I got brought in for the All-Ireland series.
“I kind of stayed around for the few years after but I never really enjoyed it. I think I was too young at the time, it was very serious, and I wasn’t really ready for the commitment.
“I then kind of half-arsed played for a few years under different managers but never really committed until maybe Peter Clarke’s first year when I said, ‘Ok, I’m actually a Dublin player now and this is what I want to do.’
“For a long time I did it but didn’t enjoy it.”
Something just clicked when she was that bit older. A change of mindset, the want to wear the jersey with pride. She was ready.
“I think around that time that Sinéad is talking about, we had a lot of success underage,” McEvoy intervenes. “We thought it was the best thing in the world and it was great winning an U14 All-Ireland but realistically it wasn’t the pinnacle.
“There was a few of us who were probably not giving the commitment that we should have been if we wanted to be successful. We were kind of wasting our time and other people’s time.
“But I do think the 2010 win was really good for galvanising that group.”
While their entire focus is on retaining their All-Ireland crown and that 4pm throw-in in Croke Park today, both stalwarts are navigating huge changes in their professional lives at the minute.
McEvoy is a fully-qualified primary school teacher and had been working in Holywell Educate Together, Swords but she’s decided to take a new direction.
She’s taking a year out to study a Masters in Business and Entrepreneurship in DIT.
Finnegan meanwhile is doing the opposite, leaving the world of sports PR and sponsorship behind her to pursue the teaching dream.
Sh’s doing a Professional Master of Eduction (PME) degree in DCU and started her school placement in St Dominic’s in Cabra last week, teaching Business Studies and Irish to the first years.
“It’s great, I really love it,” she enthuses, her face lighting up. “I’m very excited about it.
“I honestly loved my time at Teneo PSG. The guys there are brilliant, I’m still in touch regularly with them. They’ll be at the final cheering me on!
“I just wanted a change. I’d been there for five years and I just decided this is something that I can always go back to but I’d like to do something a little bit different.
“I’m really passionate about Irish and the Irish language. I always find people feel they wished they’d paid more attention to Irish in school. That’s a very common regret of people.
“”When you’re in school, your love of Irish is determined by your teacher. I thought I love Irish so I’d love to be able help people love Irish as well.”
While last year’s All-Ireland final was hampered by injury for Finnegan, this year as a whole has been quite disjointed too.
“I broke my hand and then I broke my thumb,” she says, those injuries ruling her out for much of their first-ever successful National League campaign.
“I have an ongoing problem with my Achilles so maybe I should just retire!”
The body is in great shape at the minute though, much different to circumstances this time last year. She jokes that perhaps she should just wrap herself in bubblewrap right up until throw-in.
Unfortunately, injuries do happen. And nothing lasts forever.
Talk of bonus territory rolls around. They’re both ‘seasoned campaigners,’ as McEvoy put it herself earlier in the conversation.
“I still feel like I’m in my prime,” she interjects. “I don’t know how Sinéad feels but I think she is as well, I think she’s flying. I’m obviously taking it year on year but I do still think I’ll commit to it for a good few years depending on injuries.
“Last year was massive and the type of feeling after that match would be something that you’d be chasing again.”
Finnegan weighs in: “At the start of the year you’re thinking, ‘Oh at the end of this year, this is going to be the year,’ but I’ve been saying that for the last five years. I really don’t know what I’m thinking.
“It does get hard obviously when you’re on the wrong side of those defeats. We could have easily rolled over and given up. But we have been able to keep the core group together year on year and I do think that hunger is there.”
The good days outweigh the bad.
They both speak glowingly of how reaching the Holy Grail last September breathed a new confidence into the set-up, and how that continued on as they lifted the Division 1 crown for the first time in May.
And today, they’re hoping the good times can continue.
Another of those days in the sun.
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