Wednesday 22 November 2017

Milford aiming to hit top gear on biggest stage of all

O'Riordan insists 'we haven't reached potential yet' ahead of double bid

Elaine O'Riordan
Elaine O'Riordan

Daragh Ó Conchúir

Brian Cody made a point of accentuating the mantra when Kilkenny were winning the four-in-a-row.

So too JJ Doyle, as the Wexford camogie squad compiled three on the trot.

The players repeated it at every opportunity; from Eddie Brennan to Mary Leacy, Henry Shefflin to Ursula Jacob.

'We're not thinking about a three-in-a-row. We just want to win this year's All-Ireland.'

This makes a difference. It might seem subtle but, psychologically, it is huge. Nobody sets out initially to win a succession of consecutive titles. That is never what you dream of. It's too ridiculous. Growing up, you just want to win an All-Ireland.

Milford are 60 minutes away from becoming the third team since the turn of the century to retain the AIB All-Ireland senior club camogie championship. Ardrahan of Galway stand in their way tomorrow.

When Pearses (Galway) and St Lachtain's (Kilkenny) achieved the feat, they went on to make it three-in-a-row, in 2002 and 2006 respectively.

The Milford girls probably aren't even aware of that. Because they have taken it a step forward. They aren't even focusing on winning an All-Ireland.

"I suppose it would be nice but we're not concentrating on a back-to-back," insists skipper Elaine O'Riordan.

"We're concentrating on the game really. Okay, look, there's a massive bonus at the end, it's an All-Ireland alright, but it's the game we're looking at. You can't look beyond the 60 minutes of the game."

The Milford story is a remarkable one. It has always seemed inevitable that the north Cork club would make an impact at the highest level.

Yet there were many speed bumps along the way before they finally made the breakthrough in 2012 and O'Riordan got her hands on the Bill Carroll Cup 12 months ago. She has always been captaincy material but there is no shortage of leadership within the group.

Anna Geary was Cork captain last year, while Maria Watson – who scored two goals in last year's club final – O'Riordan and Geary led the Rebel sides that harvested All-Ireland minor championships from 2001-03. It was a stupendous contribution to the county cause by a club only established in 1997.

A team was entered in the county U-12 championship. They won and carried on winning. The core of that panel is bulwarking the current heroics.

They fielded their first senior team in 2003 and won the league. A championship final was reached the following term. But they could not maintain the pace, having progressed too quickly. And when they did mature, the defeats had scarred them. Nobody was talking about All-Irelands then. Mecca was getting just one county title. They lost three finals in all before bursting through the glass ceiling.

It was as if they had been relieved of a debilitating weight. They soared and haven't stopped since.

"We lost so much and when we started winning, you want to win as much as you can because you know you've only a certain amount of time to do it," explains O'Riordan (pictured).

"Our motto is 'win as much as you can while you can'. While the hunger is still there and the confidence is still there, we're going to keep going. But those losses are still driving us."

There has been a change of management but there is continuity too. Ex-Toomevara goalkeeper and Galway coach James McGrath had been part of Frankie Flannery's back-room team and fitted in seamlessly when Flannery accepted the opportunity to join Derek McGrath with the Waterford senior hurlers.

The pressure has increased once more though: the expectation is back.

"When you're winning, you're at the top and everyone's trying to knock you. It was definitely a different approach this year," says O'Riordan.

"We were unknown last year, people have seen us enough this year. We have to work that bit extra hard."

The 27-year-old accepts that Croke Park experience is beneficial but says it won't be a deciding factor. "It was all new to us last year whereas now we know what to expect. But that's the same for Ardrahan. They were up here for an intermediate final (in 2012). Win or lose, playing in Croke Park is experience.

The fact is that Milford have returned to the big stage without approaching the form brought them there initially.

Derry's Eoghan Rua went very close, with the five-point margin flattering the champions. They found a way though, whereas once upon a time, they would have floundered.

"I don't think we've played to our potential this year," says O'Riordan.

"In the semi-final, Eoghan Rua were very good, but we didn't play to our potential. Hopefully we'll get things together this week because we haven't hit 100pc yet."

An All-Ireland final is the place to do it. Win the game, and the rest falls into place.

Irish Independent

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