Girls in blue hoping that failure can fuel success
A victory today would top everything for Dublin's Niamh McEvoy, says Marie Crowe
Cork manager Conor Counihan claimed last week that "failure is the fuel for success" and Dublin midfielder Niamh McEvoy couldn't agree more.
At 30, McEvoy is a veteran of the game. Like several of Counihan's squad who finally tasted All-Ireland success, she has had her fair share of disappointment. Since graduating to the Dublin senior panel over a decade ago, McEvoy has won seven Leinster titles but has lost three All-Ireland finals. Watching Cork, and the likes of Graham Canty and Nicholas Murphy, she says she understood exactly what their win over Down meant to them.
"Winning an All-Ireland drives me to keep playing," reveals McEvoy. "I know if I won one I'd probably be looking for another. But right now if I could swap my O'Connor Cup medal and my seven Leinster titles, I'd hand them over for one All-Ireland medal."
In the run-up to today's final against Tyrone, it's the bad days that will drive McEvoy most. In 2003, Mayo got the better of them courtesy of a last-minute goal from Diane O'Hora; in 2004, it was Galway's turn to beat the Dubs and last year Cork clinched the title. Yet all these experiences just make McEvoy want it more.
"Losing isn't nice. And every year that we make a final we are completely convinced that we will win. But when it doesn't happen we just have to get over it and believe that our day will come. Seeing Cork win the All-Ireland inspires us even more to keep going. They waited and never gave up and their day came."
Of all years, 2010 has been a testing one for her. When the Dublin team regrouped after losing the All-Ireland final, McEvoy found herself struggling with injury and for the early part of the championship she had to be content with a place on the bench.
"When I wasn't getting a game I stuck with it and never doubted myself. I'm highly motivated and I know inside what my role in the team is and what I have to offer. It is tough trying to stay at the top and trying to outplay the other girls, especially at midfield because it's such a physical position and I have all the younger players coming up through the ranks to contend with.
"But I've always believed in what I can do and I work extremely hard to do it. If some of the girls are doing work in the gym, I'm probably doing twice as much. I think that it's because I have it in my head that I play midfield and I need a lot more than the rest of them. I think you have to always keep pushing and when you get an opportunity you have to make the most of it."
McEvoy got her opportunity in the All-Ireland quarter-final when she came off the bench against Clare with ten minutes to go. And true to her word she made the most of the chance, doing enough in that short space of time to nail down a starting spot against Laois in the All-Ireland semi-final. But the midfielder is not alone in her battle for a starting spot -- the competition for places across the board is tougher than ever.
"In every game there has been a change to the team that has shocked everyone, nobody's place is secure. When we play practice games in training the intensity is through the roof. I still have a black eye from one we played last week," admits McEvoy.
When manager Gerry McGill named his team on Thursday night, he had another surprise in store by bringing Marie Kavanagh -- who had not been a regular on the team -- in at corner-back instead of Coleen Barrett.
Along with other midfielders like All-Star nominees John Galvin, Michael Darragh Macauley and Denise Masterson, McEvoy started off her sporting career playing basketball.
"You can spot footballers who play basketball a mile off," she says. "They have quick footwork, fast hands, and are great in the air. It's spatial awareness, it's such a tight court in basketball, you have to be able to move, it's very tactical. Gaelic football is basketball on a larger scale." Losing three All-Ireland finals isn't a record that McEvoy is proud of and while she is grateful to have experienced the occasion, she feels it's time to set the record straight.
"When we got to the final the first time I think we were just happy to be there but now that is long gone and we are not short of want. In the All-Ireland semi-final against Laois we were down six points; any other year we would have lost but I think this year we have the mental toughness to get through games like that. We can not play well and still come through it. We know the effort we put in last year to get to the final and we lost by a point. It wasn't enough; we know now that we had to do more, to go one step further. Before, we had a lot of experienced players; now, we have an experienced team."
Looking back over the last decade, McEvoy's achievements haven't come without sacrifice. A few years back she handed in her notice at the gym she was working in because her hours were not conducive to training. For most of the last ten years football has taken control of her life.
"I've spent 10 years not going on summer holidays and not going out. A lot of my friends don't call me anymore because they know I am not going to go out. I remember a coach said to me before that you can spend 30
years sitting on a bar stool talking about all the things that you have won and done and I keep thinking of that when times get tough."
Now McEvoy is a PE student in Dublin City University, along with two of Tyrone's panel, Sarah Connolly and Shannon Quinn. The Dubliner won an O'Connor Cup medal last year with DCU and is friendly with the Tyrone pair.
"I get on with the girls and I don't want to hurt them. I know how they play and they know how I play. I'll have to work hard to overcome them -- we have done a lot of homework on Tyrone and I'm sure they have done the same."
But, more than anything, McEvoy wants to win. Playing football for Dublin has defined the last decade of her life and when she lines out in Croke Park today she will take the chance to write her own history.
Tyrone: S Lynch; E Teague, M Kelly, S McLaughlin (capt); M Donnelly, N Woods, L Donnelly; S Donnelly, S Quinn; C Donnelly, G Begley, A O'Kane; C McGahan, S Connolly, J Donnelly.
Dublin: C O'Connor; R Ruddy, A Cluxton, M Kavanagh; S McGrath, S Furlong, G Fay; D Masterson (capt), N McEvoy; M Nevin, A McGuinness, L Peat; L Davey, S Aherne, E Kelly
Dublin v Tyrone TG4, 4.0