Thursday 22 February 2018

'We don't want to be bound by what we've gone through in recent finals'

Dublin skipper Aherne still crunching big numbers after many highs and lows in blue

Dublin captain Sinéad Aherne will be hoping to get her hands on the Brendan Martin Cup after tomorrow’s All-Ireland final clash with Mayo. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Dublin captain Sinéad Aherne will be hoping to get her hands on the Brendan Martin Cup after tomorrow’s All-Ireland final clash with Mayo. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

It's a good yarn, the one about the Dublin men's trophy-clincher who is also coaching their women's free-taker to try to end their TG4 All-Ireland duck tomorrow after three final losses in-a-row.

It first emerged last year but a yarn is exactly what it is.

"The Dean Rock myth? Not true!" Sinéad Aherne grins.

"I don't know where it came from but maybe because myself and Niamh (McEvoy, her club and county colleague and Rock's girlfriend) were down in DCU one night practising frees and Dean was up practising at the other end."

Truth is, not even kicking guru Dave Alred could teach the great St Sylvester's veteran much about ball-striking at this stage.

Cora Staunton's scoring statistics have, understandably, been scattered about like confetti this week but Dublin's scoring machine also deserves hers to be aired.

In 2010, when the Jackies won the only one of their seven All-Ireland finals since 2003, she racked up 2-7 (0-3f). In the 2016 championship she bagged 6-33 and the Malahide accountant just keeps crunching the numbers.

It's been 6-24 to date this summer, including 3-4 (1-0 pen, 0-1f) in their early rout of Laois and 2-7 (1-0 pen, 0-4f) in their five-goal semi-final destruction of Kerry.

In their quarter-final Dublin's assassin scored 1-9 (0-6f), two points more than their entire Waterford opposition.

Last year's wizardry included that semi-final stake through Mayo's heart, a mystical 20m free virtually on the side-line, which adds to the rivalry ahead of tomorrow's big re-match.

It was the last kick of the game. The angle looked impossible and both teams watched it through their finger-tips.

How so nerve-less?

"It was probably a lot of adrenalin," Aherne laughs.

"It was edge-of-the-range stuff all right but it was a bit of a shot to nothing really. It was a tied game, it wasn't to level it up.

"It's just a set routine, in terms of how you set yourself up," she demurs.

"It's not visualisation or anything. If you get too far ahead of yourself it's like a golf ball, you'll look up and then wonder where it's gone."

Likening her to Rock is understandable given that she's just as metronomic, two-footed and equally good from play, but Andy Moran is a more apposite comparison.

Aherne is 30, Dublin's oldest player, yet looks more sharp and focused than ever.

Fifteen years of leading the Jackies' attack makes her the quintessential 'Girl in Blue' yet her roots, like so many Dubs, are actually far-flung. Her dad is a Corkman (from near Mallow), her mam is from Leitrim and Donal Wrynn, who captained Leitrim this year, is a cousin.

"I have an uncle who's staunch Cork. He shouts for them except every time I get the ball and then he'll keep quiet for a while," she chuckles.

Tricky loyalties all right considering it was the legendary Rebelettes who vanquished Dublin in their last four All-Ireland finals (2009 and the last three in-a-row), and last three in the case of Aherne.

One key difference between Aherne and many of her younger team-mates is that she hasn't technically lost three consecutive finals because she took 2015 off to go travelling.

It's easy to presume she took flight after their soul-destroying 2014 loss (10 points up with 16 minutes left) but it was a trip, in a natural break in her career with KPMG, that was arranged well in advance.

She got back just in time to do water-girl for the 2015 final and many wondered what might have been had she been playing.

But, like so many great forwards, Aherne is quick to deflect praise and calibrates her career more by significant misses.

"I missed a penalty in the 2009 final - a one-point defeat to Cork. That was a tough one to take. The game was in the mix at the time and I didn't strike it well. I don't know would I have had the necessary amount of practice then or just wasn't prepared for the situation."

Another one-point defeat to Cork last year made her really ponder the future.

"I met a few of the girls for dinner not that long after we'd finished and there was probably a sense that you didn't want to be bound by what we'd gone through over the last couple of years," she admits. "But I was quite torn over Christmas."

New manager Mick Bohan, the Raheny man who coached Dublin to that 2003 final loss to Mayo in her debut season, seems to have been a factor.

Bohan has not been afraid to experiment and Dublin seem to have clicked this summer.

Moving Sinead Finnegan to shore up full-back has been key and up front, the form of her young club-mate Nicole Owens, and moving Noelle Healy closer to goals, has helped share the scoring duties.

As a football gun-slinger Aherne doesn't believe in hard-luck stories or fairytales.

"Too many times we've been in the situation where we have all the tools but we just haven't used them. Poor decision-making and execution have cost us. We haven't performed on big days."

She's actually one of the few remaining who recalls Dublin's bad auld times, like heading to Kerry once for a relegation playoff with 14 players.

"There were grim days and set-backs but sometimes you get years like that in ladies' football where it really goes in cycles.

"Even in 2010, the year we won the All-Ireland, we got relegated.

"We've had as many ups and downs as you can count but sometimes you have to say 'enjoy the journey' because you can forget what you've been through."

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