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'The Tipp jerseys haven't been washed, I'd say. They're wearing them to bed and all!'

Tipperary’s All-Ireland winning captain Samantha Lambert is hoping to repeat the feat after a rollercoaster three years – and keep the good times going in the county.

IT’S BEEN A rollercoaster three years for Tipperary ladies football.

tg4-all-ireland-ladies-football-championship-finals-2019-captains-day Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE Tipperary captain Samantha Lambert. Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

From 15 games came 15 wins and three titles in 2017, as the Premier county capped a remarkable year by climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand and lifting the All-Ireland intermediate title.

Promoted to Division 2 and the senior championship ranks then, Shane Ronayne’s side won the league last year and upped a level yet again, but were dramatically relegated back down to intermediate after a mixed summer in the top-tier.

Now, two Septembers since their incredible Mary Quinn Memorial Cup lift, they’re back in the All-Ireland showpiece. And captain Samantha Lambert is clearly delighted.

“It’s brilliant,” she tells The42 ahead of their showdown with 2018 finalists Meath. “Last year we were bitterly disappointed to be relegated from the senior ranks. This was our target, to get back to Croke Park and here we are.

“We want to make the most of Sunday and try get back up playing senior football. We played well and competed well in Division 1 league, it’s not as if in any match we got hammered out the gate. We know that we’re well able to compete with the best teams in the country.

We beat Cork this year in Pairc Ui Rinn, and we got huge heart and belief out of that. We’re not thinking about that though, we’re just thinking about the 60 minutes in front of us. Meath aren’t going to be an easy battle at all, we need to put in a big performance.

The mood back home is definitely good, she assures, after an incredible hurling week for the county last month. With both the senior and U20 teams lifting All-Ireland titles, Lambert is hoping her side can follow suit on Sunday.

She laughs when it’s put to her.

“The Tipp jerseys haven’t been washed I’d say since four or five weeks ago!” the Ardfinnan defender grins. “They’re still wearing them below, wearing them to bed and everything. Hopefully they’ll keep them on now until Sunday.

“The blue and gold will be flying high here in Croke Park. Everyone’s on a high at home after the senior hurlers and the U20s winning All-Ireland final.

It would be great to make it three out of three and bring another cup home to the Premier county, but that’s 60 minutes away in a huge battle.

You may recognise Lambert from recent a RTÉ programme, ‘We Run The World’. The groundbreaking five-part mini series followed herself and four other top female stars — sprint sensation Phil Healy, one of Ireland’s Hockey World Cup heroes Nicci Daly, Limerick camogie captain Sarah Carey and cyclist Orla Walsh  — for a period of time, and made for excellent viewing.

The highs, the lows, the success, the failures the challenges, the sacrifices and balancing it all with everyday life; mapping their story to where they are today.

It was something Lambert didn’t have to think twice about doing, and something she takes great pride in. 

“I just went for it,” she smiles. “When opportunities like that come about, you just grab them with both hands. It was a great experience, absolutely brilliant to get that opportunity.

tipptop Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE. Lambert celebrating the 2017 win. Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE. / SPORTSFILE.

“I’d consider myself extremely lucky out of all the ladies footballers in the country that I was chosen to have that documentary done about me.

It’s something that will always be there. My family and friends are very proud of the fact that I’m there on the RTÉ Player. It was great, you look back on it and you’re going, ‘Did that actually happen?’ It’s great to have and it’s something that I’ll cherish.

This week is one she’ll cherish and enjoy too, of course, the build-up to the big day one of the best parts of it all.

While Lambert concedes she’d nearly rather play the game there and then, she’s focused on keeping the nerves at bay, and trying to keep herself as busy as possible.

“If you’re getting nervous at the start of the week, you’re going to be drained,” the secondary school teacher continues. “I try stay in my own routine and keep busy.

“You have people discussing the game with you and saying, ‘What will Meath be like? Meath will be good…’ You’re trying to keep your own focus and not get too caught up in the whole situation.”

With plenty of positivity in the group after a good Division 1 campaign playing the best teams in the country, and a strong championship showing thus far, Lambert is looking forward to the big one now. To the return to Croke Park.

Unhappy with her side’s semi-final performance against Sligo, where they got “complacent” after 20 minutes, she says, they’ll be hoping to give an impressive display on Sunday.

Meath and Tipperary, they’re no strangers to one another, and although Munster champions the Premier were comprehensive winners in their All-Ireland group stage championship opener, that means nothing. 

Just look at the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final at Semple Stadium which came right down to the wire, and the many other intense showdowns they’ve had.

There’s another one on the horizon in four days time, she concludes.

“I know we’ll be up against it, we’re under no illusions. They’re very physical and fit and strong, so it’ll be a battle.”

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