Confirmation of greatness by Denise Horan

Confirmation of greatness By Denise Horan

Quiet satisfaction is a feeling frequently associated with
All-Ireland winning teams. After the hype is over, the game
is done and the cup has been safely lifted and carried into
the dressing-room, sometimes players just want to savour it
on their own. Sit down and take it all in. Quietly. Not last

In the Mayo dressing-room, the vocal chords got plenty of
exercise, even to the point of straining. Five years on, this
team has learned to celebrate in its own way. In the early
days, it was all new. Radio and T.V. interviews were a big
deal and everyone was delighted to say their piece. Some shook
with nerves, others casually shrugged their shoulders and
babbled away as if to the camera born. Now, it’s just something
that has to be done, just another part of All-Ireland final
day. Win or lose, the media must be met and their questions
answered. In the five years since this team first hit the
big time, it has matured immeasurably. Yesterday morning,
after the celebrations of the night before had been shaken
off with a few hours sleep, that maturity was there still.
Claire Egan, a battle-hardened warrior and veteran of five
All-Ireland finals, embodied it on the pitch, making light
of her tussle with the vaunted Angie McNally. In City West
yesterday, that same maturity that helped her to perform so
well, was still shining through. “This was a very satisfying
victory,” she said thoughtfully. “Last year our motivation
was to avenge the defeat of the previous year. This year that
wasn’t there and you wondered what was left for this team
to do. We did it for ourselves this time, that’s what made
it so satisfying. “The manner of the victory was pleasing
too. We never panicked, we just kept plugging away,” she said.
Going into the game, she had her worries though.

The hype that surrounded McNally in the build-up to the game
was inescapable. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t extra conscious
of the fact that I’d bemarking Angie McNally. She was such
a high profile player coming into the game. I had to make
sure not to get bogged down in that. I tried to focus on my
own job, on the role I had to play. You can’t let the hype
about one player affect what you have to do and your role
on the team.” The Louisburgh legend responded to the challenge
with her usual degree of excellence. And in the end she was
in no doubt that her side were worthy winners. “The fact that
we didn’t panic was vital. When they got the lead point there
were about four minutes left and I thought back to 2001 when
the game was lost in ten seconds, and I knew there was plenty
of time for us to come back. I think we all knew that. “We
took our chances when they came and we showed great resolve
to come through in such a tight finish. The experience we
had in the Galway game probably stood to us on the day and
in the end we deserved our win.” The morning after following
in the footsteps of an elite group by lifting the Brendan
Martin cup on the steps of the Hogan Stand, Helena Lohan couldn’t
stop smiling. She rarely does anyway. With the same grace,
style and eloquence with which she does her talking on the
pitch, she delivered her acceptance speech. It was a special
moment for the Shrule native.

“It was pretty cool alright,” she said of the moment she lifted
the cup. “It’s an experience you know you’ll never have again;
it’s a once in a lifetime thing. But it was brilliant.” So
was her performance, as always. And if she felt weighed down
by the responsibility of being captain, it didn’t show. “Yesterday
was the first time I really enjoyed playing in Croke Park
and wasn’t fazed by anything. Before I was bothered by the
crowd and the surroundings, but yesterday I just focused on
the game, nothing else. I didn’t feel under any added pressure;
I was a bit worried about the speech, but that wasn’t till
the end,” she said. So great was her focus, in fact, that
she was oblivious to the heightening drama of the last few
minutes. “I didn’t know where the clock was, so I had no idea
how long was left when Diane got the goal, but I thought there
were about 15 minutes. When I eventually saw the clock I realised
there were only 25 seconds to go and I knew we had it won.”

Though many attributed Sunday’s success to luck, Lohan was
anxious to dispel such suggestions. “I don’t think it was
luck that won it for us, I think we were the better team on
the day. You need a bit of luck in every game, but we played
our hearts out, our team spirit, commitment and hunger showed
everywhere on the pitch.” Another veteran and another hero,
Nuala O’Shea, was taking stock yesterday morning too. Her
thoughts were all positive and happy. “It was unbelievable,
a really sweet win. There was so much talk about Dublin before
the game, we were almost forgotten about! That made this win
extra special, because they were the favourites and they were
playing at home. The way we won it too, by such a narrow margin
and in such a dramatic finish, was brilliant,” she noted.
If there was a lot of talk about the Dublin team in the build-up
to the game, the hype about their supporters was incredible.
But the people of Mayo matched them, if not bettered them,
in terms of numbers and it was noted. “Oh my God, the support
was unbelievable. When we ran out onto the pitch, we couldn’t
believe it. We were expecting a sea of blue, especially with
the Hill opened for the day. I had heard very little talk
about people from Mayo travelling to the match, but in the
end they didn’t let us down, they never do. It was fantastic,”
said Nuala. So what did she think of that defence, in which
she was one of the star performers?

“More than any year, I was very proud of our defence and the
way we played as a unit. We had been trying to do that all
year and it didn’t come right in the Galway game, but it did
yesterday. Everyone was supported, no one was left isolated,
we all just worked for each other and everyone was involved
in the game. Everyone defended, not just the six backs, the
forwards worked so hard tracking back too. It was such a team
effort.” What of the future for this team? “A lot depended
on the outcome of this final. Before Sunday, we didn’t really
know what the future held, but I think we’ve turned a corner
now and I’m sure this team will stay together.” Turned a corner
perhaps. Confirmed their greatness – definitely.

Article kindly donated by The Western

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