Fionnuala Carr was certain that she had played her last ever match at Croke Park when Down were defeated by Cork in the All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Final last September.
Yet here she was just six months later in the bowels of Croke Park, contemplating winning an AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Club Camogie Championship with her club Clonduff.
The Hilltown crew had 10 representatives on that Mourne panel, including Carr’s sister Sara-Louise, who weighed in with three points and helped stop a fiercely-struck penalty by Áine Lyng in the last act of the opening half, and victorious skipper and player of the match, Paula Gribben.
"I was so nervous yesterday," reflected Carr despite 20 years’ experience at Senior level for her club and the last 17 for her county.
"Sarah-Louse, Paula and I were sitting in the car, and we were able to talk it out about how we were feeling. ‘It’s okay, it’s normal.’ I slept really well, I woke up this morning, my nerves were gone and I was so excited and I think that helped with our start.
"After September we probably didn’t think we’d be back in Croke Park. Whenever we started with the club this year, we’d so many involved in Down, it took us a while to get going. Every game we’ve just improved.
"In the last couple of weeks I can safely say we’ve lived as professional athletes. So much preparation has gone into this win.
"It was overwhelming relief at the end. It was down to pure heart. It was dirty ball on a day today, fight for the dirty ball.
"I feel for Gailltír. I’m not even going to tell you how long I’m playing Senior Camogie. I know what it’s like. I’ve had so many heartbreaks in Croke Park. I think I’ve played five Finals (here) and this is my second win.
"It’s the best place in the world to win and the worst place in the world to lose. I feel for them but I know with every defeat and setback, it gives you a bit more resilience and strength and if they keep going, they’ll get here in the end."
But the day was about Clonduff. What would it mean?
"Everything. The support we have had. People that have moved away from home, people living in Australia and America. Our sponsors for our coats are America-based.
"We have our whole community behind us. I don’t know if there’s anyone left in Hilltown. I heard the chants of ‘Clonduff, Clonduff’, there was 59 minutes on the clock and that gives you so much heart and hope and thank God we were able to pay them back and I hope they have a brilliant night and week."
Clonduff opened well with the first five points, including four from placed balls by Gribben. The brilliant Annie Fitzgerald steadied the ship for Gailltír before the Carrs made it a five-point game once more, Fionnuala lofting a monstrous score from the middle of the field.
But it was 0-7 to 0-5 at the interval, with Fitzgerald a constant thorn. The pacy teenager hit two more points and was fouled for the penalty, having initially been brilliantly hooked by Clare Gilligan with the goal at her mercy, but Lyng’s shot was stopped by Karen Haughey and Sarah-Louise Carr.
Again Clonduff stretched clear by four in the second half but Gailltír powered back to within one and Jackman, Clodagh Carroll and Fitzgerald all were just wide with shots for goal. Clonduff defended resolutely in the dying minutes and the day was theirs.
Written by Daragh Ó Conchúir