Louise Henchy – “There’s no lonelier place when you’re losing and the clock’s ticking down”
CLARE’S most experienced player knows that there are few lonelier places than Croke Park when your All-Ireland dreams are slowly slipping away.
That’s where Louise Henchy found herself in 2008 when the Banner County lost the TG4 All-Ireland ladies intermediate football final against Munster rivals Tipperary. And that’s why she understands the hunger that last year’s runners-up Kildare will bring to Croke Park on September 25. Henchy played in 2009, as captain, when Clare made amends by defeating Fermanagh to lift the Mary Quinn Memorial Cup.
Now Clare are back again for another crack at the title and Henchy is one of just four survivors from seven years ago. Henchy (34) and Banner club-mate Niamh Keane lined out against Fermanagh while goalkeeper Emma O’Driscoll and wing-forward Sarah Bohannon were panellists back then.
Given her vast experience, Henchy has been anxious to let the younger Clare players know just what to expect from Kildare as the two counties battle it out for a return to the senior ranks. When they met earlier in the year, Clare ran out comprehensive 2-15 to 1-6 winners but Henchy insists that there is no fear of complacency setting in.
She said: “Both teams have changed a lot since that. With them losing the final last year, they’ll be favourites going into this year’s final.
“They’re a serious team with (captain) Aisling Holton at midfield and Noelle Earley up front. They’re girls I’ve played against before – serious players.
“In 2008, when we lost, there’s no lonelier place to be than in the middle of Croke Park when you’re losing and the clock is ticking down.
“I’m sure and certain that’s motivating Kildare all year. We know too well what that’s like.
“It’s a huge day out and massive for myself, Niamh, Emma and Sarah who’ve been there before but we’re hoping to bring that to the group and let them know what’s ahead of them and how Kildare will be feeling motivated for this match. It’s important that we’re ready to go from the throw-in.”
There was some doubt about Henchy’s participation this year after she missed the 2015 campaign due to study commitments. But Henchy, an accountant with Organic Lens manufacturing in Ennis, decided to go again and is now glad that she did, even if the demands of inter-county football seem to be increasing year on year.
She said: “It’s tough but the lads have been talking to us all year about recovery.
“I’m very lucky that I’ve stayed injury free and I try to recover as much as possible. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older but the pace of the game is getting faster all the time and the fitness levels that teams are bringing to the table are just savage.”
And Henchy hopes that if Clare do get over the line, that they’re better equipped to compete as a senior team.
She recalled: “I know when we won the intermediate before and went up senior, it’s a huge gap and we were on the wrong end of a few defeats.
“But I just hope it’s closer between intermediate and senior now. We’ve had some really good quality games in the intermediate championship and you look at Waterford and what they’ve done.”
Waterford stormed to All-Ireland intermediate glory last year and kicked on from there, winning the Lidl Division 3 National League title before giving a fine account of themselves in the senior championship. Waterford were competitive in their games against Cork and Kerry in Munster before claiming a famous qualifier victory over Armagh.
Kerry knocked them out in the next round but Waterford can still look back on their first year back as a senior team with a fair degree of pride. And Henchy agreed: “They’ve given other teams hope that they can compete at senior level, that it’s not about winning intermediate, going back up and coming down again. You really need to build and I think they’ve been excellent this year.
“We played them in a challenge match and they’re a great team, with the pace of their game and everything. It’s brilliant to see that happening and it’s important that if you win the intermediate, that you don’t stop there, that you develop and bring something to the table.”
Clare will arrive at Croke Park full of confidence following an epic semi-final victory over Tipperary. It was sweet revenge for Clare after they lost to the Premier County in the Munster final but Henchy didn’t necessarily view it like that.
She reflected: “Both days we played them, there wasn’t much between the sides.
“I don’t think we felt we were robbed or anything the first day and a few people have said to me that if Tipp had won the All-Ireland semi-final, they would equally have deserved it. It wasn’t really about getting revenge – it was about getting a performance out of ourselves and getting over the line. It was great to win a match that was so close.”
Star of the show for Clare was their remarkable forward Niamh O’Dea, who scored all but one point of her 2-5 tally from play. And Henchy acknowledged: “Niamh was excellent, she’s just a brilliant, brilliant player and we’re lucky to have her. We didn’t get the ball up that end very much but when we did, the girls did great and Niamh was very well supported with Gráinne Nolan and Ciara Hickey on either side of her.”
Even though Clare lost to Tipp in the provincial decider, O’Dea was still named as player of the match. She’s one of the very best forwards in the country and her recent O’Connor Cup exploits with University of Limerick have seen O’Dea mix it with the very best players in the country. Henchy, however, is a former All-Star nominee herself and intends to add more silverware to her collection before the time comes to finally call time on a stellar career.
She smiled: “You know how you have to retire two or three times before you go fully!
“I was doing a course last year and didn’t have the time but I was in two minds about not playing again.
“You get to a certain age and it’s tough to give the commitment you’ve given in the last ten to 15 years. There are a lot of younger girls on the panel now and I remember that the 2009 team had been building a long time, a lot of the girls had other commitments and we probably lined out the following year without a lot of that team. But now it’s a totally new team with very young players. They’re all taking the opportunity and it’s great.”
Show your #SeriousSupport at the TG4 Ladies All-Ireland Football Championship Final on September 25th in Croke Park. Get your tickets here!