A tale of two All-Ireland finals: From a fan in the stands to the thick of the action in 12 months

“I CAN HONESTLY say it’s a better feeling,” Siobhan McGrath grinned in the bowels of Croke Park shortly after she helped her Dublin side to another All-Ireland crown.

“I was so proud of them last year but it’s definitely a nicer feeling.”

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Last year, she watched on from the Hogan Stand, one of 46,286. 

On Sunday, she gave a masterclass in defence across the 60 minutes as 50,141 observed. Her work rate was immense; she tackled, hounded, blocked and ran her socks off as she covered what seemed like every blade of grass on the pitch.

She’s complimented on her individual performance but is quick to deflect the spotlight away. This was about the team.

“I just thought everybody worked so hard out there, everyone was putting in tackles and playing simple, good football. I just thought everybody played unbelievable.”

“I’m so proud of everyone that walked onto that pitch.”

Well, she should be more than proud of herself for sure. An All-Ireland winner previously in 2010 after making her senior bow at the age of 15 in 2003, she’s definitely put in the years in the Sky Blue jersey.

She’s been there for good days and bad, for better or worse. But in 2014, she decided that she needed a break from everything. She packed her bags and headed for Australia shortly after Dublin’s All-Ireland final loss to Cork.

McGrath missed the further heartbreaking defeats which followed to the same opposition in 2015 and 2016, though she’s had many a battle with the 11-time champions down through the years.

Last January, she returned from her two and-a-half year stay in Oz but didn’t feel she was ready to return to the fold. In fact, when she left she never thought she’d go back to that level.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

But then there’s the unfinished business. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and what not, and back she went.

Satisfying to get her hands back on the Brendan Martin Cup?

“Extremely satisfying,” the Thomas Davis star smiles as she gathers herself.

“I’m kind of trying to let it sink in, it’s not really getting there yet but it will. It’s hard to believe that I came back this year, straight into a team that had just won an All-Ireland, and now we’ve done it again. It’s definitely a nice feeling.”

It was an intriguing battle between two great sides, with the crowd treated to a fine exhibition of all-out football. It started quite cagey and tactical but then grew into a thrilling, end-to-end clash played in full flow.

With Dublin on top, Cork came close time and time again in the second half reducing the deficit to two points as the final 10 minutes approached. 

But Carla Rowe found the back of the net for the second time as the clock struck 50 to ultimately settle the contest.

“They were getting their purple patch, we knew they were,” McGrath concedes.

“They’re an unbelievable team. We were never going to get our own way, they were always going to come at us. To be honest, I had the belief. We all had belief in each other.

“I didn’t fear that we were going to lose it. I felt we’d keep driving on and we’d get our scores, keep patient and drive on.”

The rivalry between the Jackies and the Rebels was touched on plenty in the build-up. There was talk of revenge and how special it would be to beat the old enemy who had inflicted so much hurt upon the Sky Blues.

Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

It was played down by both camps, of course, but how sweet it must have been for Dublin as the final hooter sounded and they finally put the hurt of 2014, 2015 and 2016 to bed.

“It was addressed (the rivalry and history) but it was just more (about) the team that we are and not to buy into that,” she explains.

“I’d say it was outside both camps. Both camps probably tried to stay clear of that as much as they could, we did.

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“It is a nice feeling. Personally, it is a nice feeling to get over it. They’ve been beating me personally for 10 years so it was nice!”

She adds, on the action itself: “I think every time we play Cork it’s a good game.

“It’s a good game for spectators to come out and watch, and I don’t think it was any different out there today.

“Everybody wants a game to be free-flowing: players on the pitch and obviously spectators all want the same thing. The ref was brilliant in what he did there today. He really enhanced or enabled a really good game of football.”

At this stage, she’s being rushed away to continue the celebrations elsewhere. A question about three in-a-row has already come up, and she understandably shook it off.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The record attendance is addressed once again, another huge step for ladies football.

“That’s it! Keep breaking it.”

So next year 60,000 in Croke Park and Dublin for three in-a-row?

She laughs.

“Like I said we’re just going to enjoy this one!”

And that they will.

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