Thursday 19 April 2018

Hannon becomes faithful to Slaughtneil cause like a true Derry girl

Tina Hannon. Photo: INPHO
Tina Hannon. Photo: INPHO

Daragh ó Conchúir

Derry girls are the talk of the country right now thanks to the success of Lisa McGee's sitcom, which has earned rave reviews since debuting on Channel 4 at the beginning of January.

Of course the camogie world knew all about them before that, due to Slaughtneil's fantastic AIB All-Ireland Senior Club final victory last March.

Even getting there was considered a remarkable achievement - to become the first club from the Oak Leaf County, and only the second from Ulster to claim the garlands, was scarcely believable.

The lilt of the dressing room has been punctuated by a broader midlands tone since then. Tina Hannon has definitely picked up some of the brogue but there is no mistaking her Offaly roots.

An All-Ireland winner with the Faithful County at Premier Junior and Intermediate level in 2009 and 2010, and an All-Star nominee, Hannon was already building a house with her boyfriend in Slaughtneil by the time of the All-Ireland.

Patsy Bradley is a club legend, a league winner with Derry and captain of the club football squad that claimed a third Ulster title at the end of 2017.

They met on Fraser Island, off the east coast of Australia, and hit it off. Hannon became a regular at games of all codes. So she knew the girls and felt comfortable when Gráinne O'Kane picked her up for the first night of training ahead of the league last April. It was tough leaving Naomh Bríd but with a new job in Letterkenny, and the house being built, it was the only practical choice, although she continued to ply her trade with Offaly. She has yet to make her mind up on that score this year, parking the decision until after Slaughtneil's historic two-in-a-row bid.

She knew all about Slaughtneil's spirit, the emphasis placed on language and culture, and how the community is united in that.

"The pitch is the hub of the community, where everyone goes," Hannon says. "The kids either play football, hurling or camogie and I think that is shown in the appetite for battle they have when they go out on the pitch. It is even evident by the Irish saying on the front of the girls' jersey, Ní neart go cur le chéile (there is no strength without unity). We bring that to battle on the pitch."

Last year's campaign was driven by the desire to honour former manager Thomas Cassidy. He was father of Aoife, Bróna and Éilís Ní Chaiside, but also father of camogie and hurling in Slaughtneil. He was still a selector and had brought in Antrim legend Dominic McKinley as manager when losing his lengthy battle with cancer just days before the Ulster final.

It is different now, more measured, although there was commendable control about them last term. But the emotion never stunted their ability to perform. Now though, they have different reasons. The spirit is clearly still there. The last campaign featured late dashes for the line and it has been the same this time around.

In the Ulster final against Loughgiel, a game in which Hannon scored 10 points, they didn't lead until a 57th-minute goal by Therese Mellon. They needed extra-time to get the better of Thomastown in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Now it's Galway champions Sarsfields, determined to reverse the two-point defeat of 12 months ago. Hannon expects it to go down to the wire once more.

"Nobody will get sick of winning. You do it for everyone," Hannon says. "You do it for yourself, for the person beside you and for everyone in the community as well."

Hannon is a Derry girl for the long haul now. Her form for Slaughtneil has seen her win an Ulster GAA All-Stars award and she would love to put another All-Ireland medal alongside it.

Irish Independent

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