IN THE DYING minutes of today’s All-Ireland ladies football final, Mick Bohan turned to the stand and let a booming roar up towards Sinead Aherne to join him on the sideline.
Dublin’s skipper had been withdrawn at half-time but she was reintroduced in the 59th minute to ensure she was on the field of play when the final siren sounded.
Aherne, who has long been Dublin’s primary score-getter, faced a fitness battle to take her place in the starting team after suffering a hamstring tweak against Armagh in the semi-final.
She wasn’t moving quite as freely as normal and missed an uncharacteristic free with her first placed ball of the game, though she did slot over her second.
With Dublin holding a five-point lead in the dying minutes, Bohan brought Aherne back into the fray. Shortly afterwards, she became the first captain to lift the Brendan Martin Cup for the fourth year in succession.
Bohan indicated it was a sentimental decision to bring her back on for the final few seconds given the history at stake.
“Look Sinead Aherne more than anybody epitomises what this group is all about,” remarked Dublin boss Bohan.
“We are delighted you don’t often get an opportunity for sentiment to play a role in sport but for her to finish on the pitch today meant a lot to us as a group.”
The nature of her hamstring problem meant that Dublin were never going to risk her doing further damage by leaving her on the field for the full game, particularly given the cold conditions.
“He said to stay warm and we’ll see what happens in terms of coming back in and what arises in the game,” said Aherne.
“I was feeling reasonably good at half-time but obviously the longer you leave it the bigger the risk is.
“It was his call to bring me back in. It was lovely to be on the pitch at the end. Look, I know it was a horrible position for the Cork girls.
“To be in there for the last 60 seconds knowing we’ve done enough to get [over the line], even without a crowd and the usual countdown from 10 on the clock, it was just fantastic for us.
“Just delighted for the girls it was a super second-half performance after a pretty poor one in the first-half. Great to know that once we did what we needed and found a way to win.
Dublin’s Lauren Magee and Caoimhe O’Connor celebrate with the team as All-Ireland champions.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
“Obviously I’m hugely privileged to be able to captain the team when Mick came in to ask me to do that. I just think there’s huge leadership in the group. You saw that out there today.
“I have the honour of walking up the steps and taking the cup on behalf of the players – that’s what it is, it’s on behalf of the players. They’ve just grown so much over the last few years from where we were at, you could see it today.
“No panic just well able to step up all over the pitch and the girls coming in off the bench. It’s a hugely exciting time for the group and I’m just so privileged to be part of it.”
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This was her 17th season lining out with Dublin and the retirement question inevitably crops up at the finale of each year.
“I’m not sure,” the St Sylvester’s clubwoman said of her future. “Usually I’d say I’ll think about it over Christmas but sure Christmas is coming quick this year.
“No look, I’ll just give the body a bit of a rest and see next year. It’s been such a bonus for us to play football this year and it will be a happy Christmas for us.”
It was an unusual experience for the stalwart to be watching on for the second-half, but she always felt confident Dublin would pull through.
“To be honest I wasn’t nervous, I felt that we were coming back into the game and building nicely. I never really felt we were in danger of losing it. I had massive self belief in what we were able to do out there and how we came back.
“The girls stood up and did that. Obviously I’d have preferred to be out there but I’m so delighted for everyone.”
Amid the celebrations, Dublin gathered in silence at the Hill 16 end as Aherne laid a wreath in front of the Bloody Sunday memorial as a mark of respect for the lives lost that afternoon 100 years ago.
Sinead Aherne lays a wreath at the Bloody Sunday memorial in Croke Park.
Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
Dublin have been involved in 11 All-Ireland finals since Aherne made her debut and the 34-year-old now has five medals to her name, in addition to seven All-Stars with another potentially to come in the weeks ahead.
Fellow Sky Blues forward Noelle Healy was effusive in her praise of the team’s captain.
“She’s a phenomenal leader, she’s the most selfless person,” she said.
“She cares so much about everybody and the team. She’ll do anything for us. We’re lucky that we have an awful lot of leaders on the pitch like Sinead Goldrick and Siobhan McGrath.
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“So she shares that out but she just quietly goes about her work behind the scenes, she puts so many hours in.
“The work that she put in to get herself right for this final is absolutely phenomenal. She’s so selfless. She got her half and she was delighted with that. We were delighted to see her start that came and to come back on as well.
“I honestly couldn’t put into words how special a captain she is. It’s desering that she’s that decorated a player to have done that and there’s nobody else that we’d want to lead us to do that.”