New faces helped to ease pain of defeat
Molly Lamb insists last year's defeat to Cork will not be a factor today
Molly Lamb and Sarah McCaffrey had to pack more than just their gear bags before playing Armagh in the All-Ireland semi-final a fortnight ago. They were flying to France early the next morning to start studying abroad so everything had to be ready for a quick take-off.
Lamb is a third year French/Spanish student in UCD, while McCaffrey is a French/psychology major at Trinity and both 20-year-olds are part of the latest Irish Erasmus influx into Bordeaux University. McCaffrey will only be there until Christmas while Lamb will be there for a whole year and reaching a second consecutive All-Ireland senior final immediately created new headaches for them.
So how exactly do you tell your college lecturers that you're heading off again within a few days of arrival?
"I told them I was playing in an All-Ireland final but I think that went over their heads a bit," Lamb chuckles. "I tried to explain, 'It's a really big deal at home, there'll be thousands of people there!' A few English students were asking me, 'Do you want to go to a party?' I was saying, 'No, I'm going home,' and they were like: 'What? You just got here!'"
But home they came late last week and they're facing another quick turnaround because, win or lose today, they are flying back again on Wednesday.
Football has always been a way of life. McCaffrey is a younger sister of Dublin star Jack, while Lamb's family are steeped in Kilmacud Crokes. Her mum Daphne, who coached her at underage, also played hockey for Railway Union and the Irish under 23s and Molly also enjoyed that sport all through her school days at Loreto Foxrock.
"I went to the first few hockey sessions when I got to UCD but then the football schedule clashed and I decided to stick with just one sport," she explains. "I was always more comfortable with Gaelic and my circle of friends has always been football-based. Hockey was always number two, even though I really liked it.
"I started playing football and camogie when I was about six. I was one of those Kilmacud nursery kids and probably spent most of my childhood on the side of a pitch because I've three older brothers who all played as well. Conor was on the Kilmacud team when they were winning Leinster Championships so hopefully they'll get that going again."
Like Carla Rowe, Olwen Carey and new senior full-back Muireann Ní Scanaill, both are part of a new golden generation of young Dublin women who have, largely, known only success in their burgeoning football careers. Lamb (20) won an All-Ireland minor at her first attempt and two All-Ireland under 21s followed.
But this time last year she was at midfield in the senior final when Cork, somehow, prised Dublin's fingers off the Brendan Martin Cup to pull off the greatest escape ever witnessed in a women's final.
The Jackies were ten points up at the end of the third quarter but got hit with 2-5 in 11 minutes and were pipped by a point - a collapse of catastrophic proportions.
Manager Gregory McGonigle has had an unenviable task. Not only is his team back facing the same legendary side who have never lost in nine finals, but he has had to totally reconstruct his own team on several fronts. Dublin have lost a dozen players since, including former All Stars like Sinéad Aherne and Cliodhna O'Connor and their entire full-back line.
Yet rebuilding them mentally has, arguably, been an even tougher challenge. A meeting in a Santry hotel last November was initially used to 'park' their heartbreak.
Through their statistician Ray Boyne, McGonigle got a well-known American motivational speaker Gian Paul Gonzalez to address his players last summer and has repeated that this season. "His message is, 'It's not a slogan it's a lifestyle,' and that's it for us," McGonigle says. "After beating Monaghan in Clones (their quarter-final) they all went off together the next day to do their own recovery, either in the 40-Foot or a pool on the Northside. There was no management there, it was all player-driven. That's the key now."
The players also had a few cathartic nights out together, including a team trip to Edinburgh last Christmas. "The UCD girls couldn't go because we were in the middle of exams but we're all close anyway," Lamb says. "We go out for food sometimes, do different things and our WhatsApp group is buzzing all the time."
Her own recovery was aided by the GAA's equivalent of the hair of the dog - a Leinster IFC first-round game against the Longford champions just a week later. Kilmacud went all the way to the All-Ireland intermediate club semi-final where they lost to Castleisland in extra-time.
Since then Lamb has played Cork twice at under 21 level (won both) and beaten them in the league but she discounts those as irrelevant in today's context. She insists last year's collapse will not haunt them today.
"We are such a different team this year. There was no point in talking about last year when most of the people who were on the pitch then aren't here anymore. There's only a handful of the same starters.
"You just have to put it to bed. I had a good stretch with the club and then I got injured and had to take some time off and during that I sorted it out in my own head. I just said to myself, 'Right, that's done, finished!' I am never going back there."
McGonigle is similarly bullish as they face the greatest women's team the game has ever seen.
"Did they pull it out or did we lose it?" he reflects. "That's what we've had to answer inside our own dressing room and that's where that answer is staying.
"Within 60 minutes we've as much chance as they have to win a football match. Sometimes you can create a mental block, building up a 'Superteam' but they're only human. They don't have any extra superpowers that we know about. That's the way we look at it."
Dublin: C Trant, O Carey, M Ní Scanaill, F Hudson, S Furlong, S Finnegan, C Barrett, M Lamb, S Goldrick, N Healy, A Connolly, C Rowe, N McEvoy, L Davey, H Noonan.
Cork: M O'Brien, M Ambrose, B Stack, A Barrett, V Foley, D O'Reilly, G O'Flynn, R Buckley, B Corkery, C O'Sullivan, A Hutchings, A Walsh, V Mulcahy, Á O'sullivan, D O'Sullivan.
Sunday Indo Sport