Emma Duffy chats to Kinsale captain Aoife Keating ahead of Sunday’s All-Ireland intermediate final with Dunboyne
SATURDAY, 3 December 2016 was the date and Dr Cullen Park, Carlow, the venue.
Kinsale captain Aoife Keating remembers it well.
The sound of the final whistle, the hurt, the heartbreak.
It was the Cork side’s first All-Ireland final appearance but they were stopped in their tracks by Dublin and Leinster champions St Maur’s, who lifted the cup after a two-point win.
Standing in Croke Park almost 12 months later, she admits that a poor first-half performance was probably the difference at the end of the day.
Sunday, 4 December 2017 is the new date their focusing on though and Parnell Park, Dublin, the venue.
They’re back in an All-Ireland final, but up a grade. Meath outfit Dunboyne standing in their way of the intermediate title.
In the thick of the action with matches week in, week out, it’s hard to take a step back and reflect on the remarkable journey that’s been.
But Keating grins when she’s reminded of their rise over the past two years or so.
“It’s a huge credit to the bunch of girls and the management that’s there,” she says.
“Any other team, to lose an All-Ireland final on the 3 December, you could easily just say that’s it now. ‘Have a nice winter and off ye go, we might try again in a few years’.
“But that was never an option. We were back training in January and from the very start, the goal was an intermediate county medal straight away. No break, nothing.”
Once they achieved that original goal, it was onward through Munster and the All-Ireland series.
“Because we’d been there last year, for the players ourselves, it was more ‘No, this isn’t bonus territory. We’re winning this as well’.
Two weeks ago, they hosted Maigh Cuillin of Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. The visitors produced a late fightback but Kinsale — with firepower from Cork players Orla Finn and Sadbh O’Leary — held on to book their final spot.
Keating, who joined the Rebel duo in the full-forward line, says that it was made all the more special on home soil.
“It was huge, it was massive,”she continues. “It was amazing to see the support of the whole town. The place was just blue and white, the amount of work that people put into setting up everything.
“The amount of thought and effort, it’s frightening, it really is. To see that you have people willing to work that hard for you, it’s unreal.
“We’ll never, ever forget that. Those memories will forever be attached to our home pitch which is amazing.”
The 22-year-old recent Biomedical Science graduate grins that she’d be ‘classed as old’ on a starting team with two U16s and a host of minors.
She adds: “Last year we played an U21 county final the week after we lost the All-Ireland and we had only lost three players off the junior team to U21.
“It’s very young but that’s great for going forward obviously. The underage section in the club now, seeing the success of our team over the last few years is bringing big numbers in. It’s unreal going forward.
“That’s what you’ll need to be competitive at the top level down in Cork.”
Of course, there’s a job to be done on Sunday first, but the prospect of senior championship next year is something to the back of their minds.
Delighted with the fact that there are three Cork sides competing across the three grades of finals this weekend, Keating says that the club scene is hugely competitive on Leeside.
“Oh 100%,” she agrees. “Our two Munster matches would have been relatively easy wins for us whereas when you go back to the Cork championship, they were tough matches. That’s stood to us, those tests.
“The Cork senior is hugely competitive and looking to going up next year, already we’re talking about the amount of work that’s going to have to go in to be competitive at that level.
“We’re all just looking forward to it though. There’s no ‘Oh-no’ kind of job. It’s all just excitement.”
Like her own team, their opponents on Sunday Dunboyne have had a notable rise of their own.
Just two years ago, they were crowned All-Ireland junior champions and interestingly, they beat Kinsale’s 2016 conquerors St Maur’s in the Leinster final.
“They’ve done that too,” she says of their transition from junior to intermediate.
“They obviously have similar mindsets to ourselves and we’re aware of that.
“Obviously, the loss last year and the hurt of that has driven us on massively this year. I’ve no doubt again on Sunday, it’ll be the same.”
She adds, when asked how much she knows of the Royal representatives: “I think this year a lot of what we’ve done is focus on our own game.
“There’ll be one or two things sussed out but from the players’ point of view, we just focus on what we’re doing and preparing the best we can.”
Keating refers back to that disappointing first-half performance in last year’s showpiece again, and feels that their past experience will stand to them this time around in Parnell Park.
“A contributing factor to that first half was maybe that ‘We aren’t used to playing here’. A big stand full of people, the noise, everything, we hadn’t experienced that before.
“Whereas this year, we have that behind us. Even the crowd last week at the match, we’re well used to it at this stage. Hopefully it won’t affect us like it would have before.
“We’ve started from the start every match since. We learned a lot from that lesson and it’s really stood to us. That experience should stand to us.”