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Hanney sets sights on fairytale ending

GALWAY camogie players have experienced a heap of painful days at Croke Park recently, but all that changed spectacularly last March for county captain Brenda Hanney and her club, Killimor.

And the 24-year-old All Star wing-forward is now desperately hoping that their fairytale journey to victory over Iniscarra in this year's All-Ireland club final will provide the impetus to finally get the county team over the line in the All-Ireland Senior Championship final at Croke Park tomorrow.

The Tribeswomen are back to contest the decider for the second year in a row and the third time in four years.

But they haven't got their hands on the O'Duffy Cup since 1996, having been beaten in four finals since then. And standing in their way again are the game's rising powerhouse, Wexford, who beat them by two points in last year's decider.

Those painful memories were erased for Hanney by her club's dream season.

This time last year, Killimor hadn't ever won even the county senior title, despite featuring brilliant players like Ann-Marie Hayes (Conor's niece), Hanney and rising teenager Ann-Marie Starr, as well as Claire and Martina Conroy and Hanney's sister, Niamh.

So, after they beat Athenry in the county semi-finals and pipped Mullagh in the final -- both former All-Ireland club winners -- there were wild celebrations.

Those were quickly forgotten as Killimor then found themselves facing the county's big nemesis again in the shape of Oulart-The Ballagh, the club that provides the Leacy, Jacob and Kehoe sisters to Wexford's seniors.

"Fortunately, we had a home game -- it was actually played in Ballinasloe because the weather was so bad -- and we just shaded it," Hanney explains.

Then, it was off to meet the Munster champions at Croke Park as camogie's club finals returned to GAA headquarters for the first time in 40 years.

"We had a comprehensive win -- 20 points in the end, I think," Hanney recalls. "It was just a wonderful day. We performed brilliantly, got a big lead early on and were really able to express and enjoy ourselves.

"The whole parish was here. It was one of those days you know you will remember for the rest of your life."

Tomorrow offers the chance to cap her fairytale year and few deserve it as much as Hanney, who clocks up heavy mileage to play for her county.

A chemical engineer, she works for MSD in Clonmel and has a difficult cross-country drive for every Galway training session.

"It's not so bad now," she insists. "I used to travel up from Cork when I was in college so it's a lot better to be starting from Clonmel for the last three years.

"I'll probably look back one day and wonder how I did it, but right now I don't mind."

This year's All-Ireland club medal joined the All-Ireland junior medal she won in 2003 and intermediate in 2004 in the Hanney trophy cabinet.

But, like most of her team-mates, she is still missing the big one -- Veronica Curtin is the only survivor from Galway's last victory way back in 1996.

"Last year was heartbreaking," Hanney admits. "We didn't play particularly well, and still lost by only two points so we know we are not far off it."

Galway lost to Wexford in this year's league final, but then bounced back to beat them heavily (2-14 to 0-9) in the first round of the All-Ireland group sections in Enniscorthy.

That game underlined how Galway's ability to score from play -- a real problem for them in the 2008 and 2010 finals -- has improved, and moving Hanney to full-forward has been a factor.

They racked up nine goals and 107 points in their seven group games and she scored 1-2 from play when they put 2-13 past Kilkenny in a tough semi-final.

"We are scoring more from play now, it was a problem but we looked at 2008 and last year's final at the start of the year, and said if we're going to land back in Croke Park next September, we're going to have to improve that," Hanney says.

"The forwards have done a lot of work since and it shows in our matches, but the big thing now of course is to reproduce that again on the day against Wexford."

Wexford v Galway,

Live, tomorrow, RTE2, 4.0

Irish Independent