Earner out to atone for 'absolute nightmare'
Camogie has progressed immeasurably in recent years but the stone age treatment of players is still fresh in the mind of Galway's Susan Earner.
At 29 she is hardly a veteran, but with 11 years of inter-county experience under her belt, the goalkeeper is the oldest player in a youthful Galway side bidding to topple reigning champions Cork.
Approximately 15,000 spectators are expected to descend on Croke Park for tomorrow's Liberty Insurance All-Ireland senior final, a far cry from some of Earner's early memories of life of a camogie player.
"One year we played a championship game in Ennis and everyone thought it was brilliant that we were getting the opportunity to play a double header with a high-profile hurling match," she recalls.
"When the game finished we didn't even get time to tog in because the hurling teams had taken over the dressing-rooms and we ended up getting changed in the car park on the bus. That was atrocious."
The two-time All Star describes the establishment of the Women's Gaelic Players Association (WGPA) as a hugely positive step towards GAA equality but still feels they are the second-class citizens.
Training sessions, matches, recovery and tactical analysis are just as intense as their male counterparts, yet expenses are non-existent and media coverage is limited.
"A lot of people in Galway mightn't know that we're in an All-Ireland final, which is disappointing. We don't get too bogged down in that though because all we want is to play camogie and win trophies," the French and Geography teacher says.
"Girls have been travelling long distances to and from training out of their own pockets but I've never heard anyone complain about it. We have no prima donnas, there is no bitchiness in our panel."
After a "disastrous" 2014 campaign, Tony Ward's side have regrouped admirably and having defeated the Rebelettes to claim League honours in May, they come to HQ unbeaten in 2015.
There is little resemblance to their triumphant 2013 side, with legends like Therese Maher and Brenda Hanney retired and the inspirational trio of Emma Kilkelly, Orlaith McGrath and Ann Marie Starr on the injury list.
But Earner still believes they have the character and class to claim another O'Duffy Cup.
"We have a special bunch of girls. No-one is in this for personal gain and we just want to win an All-Ireland," she says.
"We don't want it for ourselves, we want to win it for each other. We've been hit hard with injuries but unlike others we just get on with things. Nothing gets us down and there is no negativity in our squad."
Working with dual All-Ireland-winning goalkeeper John Commins has helped her immensely since being dethroned by Kilkenny in last year's semi-final, a day the Meelick-Eyrecourt netminder does not remember fondly.
"Anything that could go wrong did go wrong and I had an absolute nightmare. I went to catch two balls and they both went in off my hand," she recalls. "I took me a long time to get over it but then you get back training with the girls again.
"It's easy to let the neggys (negatives) into your head but you just have to power on through it."
Kilkenny's Richie Hogan and Eoin Larkin were praised for playing through the pain threshold six days ago but Earner has been dealing with her own crisis after soldiering through a medial knee ligament injury picked up in their epic semi-final win against Wexford.
She will be strapped up and "100 pc fit" come throw-in time and with memories of bonfires and amazing homecomings fresh in her memory, success is all that's on her mind.
"When we won in 2013 there was a huge sense of relief because we were kind of like the Mayo of camogie. Now the pressure is off and we know what it takes," she says.
"To win tomorrow would definitely mean just as much. I've been playing for 10 years and while one All-Ireland is great, I want more."