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“That’s a big win for us today” – Aisling Maher

“That’s a big win for us today” – Aisling Maher

Mon, 8th July 2024

By Daragh Ó Conchúir, at Croke Park

Aisling Maher has long been an impressive speaker, even while still a student, which was the case the last time Dublin qualified for the semi-finals of the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior camogie championship, in 2017.

The St Vincent’s luminary finished that season as an All-Star full-forward and has been captain for most of an intervening period that has been about too much upheaval in terms of management and player retention.

Speaking after Saturday’s famous 1-13 to 0-12 victory over heavily fancied Kilkenny at Croke Park, the leadership skills that were undoubtedly pivotal in seeing Maher become co-chair of the GPA a few days beforehand, were in evidence once again.

This was the epitome of measured. The win was important, massively so and it would be counter-productive, given how many tough days have been endured, not to celebrate. But the player of the match wasn’t whooping and hollering. Bridging the 38-year gap to Dublin’s last appearance in an All-Ireland final is an alluring project.

“We were able to kind of hold our nerve coming down the stretch at the end and get the result, which is obviously the most important thing in a quarter-final,” said Maher .

“We knew we were going to have a tough challenge. But we really believed in the team that we have and the calibre of players that we have. And we've had some success in that dressing room through Ashbourne titles and all the rest. And I think we're really starting to grow in our belief in ourselves. So… we felt that we could get a result out of it, and that's what we were chasing.

“That's a big win for us there today. (First) semi since 2017. I think it was nearly 30 years before that that we were in a semi (1990). So they don't come around too often. We'll enjoy today. We'll enjoy tonight, enjoy the fruits of our labour. But ultimately, three weeks (July 27 at UPMC Nowlan Park), plenty of time, main goal is reset and go again.”

A fantastic sixth minute goal by Sinéad Wylde, playing with a broken bone in her hand, gave the Blues the ideal start but with Aoife Prendergast and Aoife Doyle hitting some impressive points, Kilkenny settled and took the lead as the victors endured a 20-minute barren spell.

Aoife Norris made some good saves in this period, including from Maher’s penalty, though the shot was tame. Maher missed a couple of frees you might have expected her to slot too but her character shone from there, picking up mountains of ball in the new position she has adopted this season in the defensive pocket.

What’s more, she landed a monster free from outside the 65 as Dublin managed to go in leading by one at the break. The quarterback/sweeper was unerring from that juncture on, finishing with seven points including the final insurance score on the run from 50m.

That was the last of four on the trot that separated Dublin from Kilkenny, with substitute Aisling O’Neill, returning from a serious hamstring injury, having had a significant impact off the bench with two of those scores.

“Whatever about missing a penalty and winning a match, if you miss a penalty and then lose the match at the end, you're gonna beat yourself up for a while over it.

“I was obviously disappointed to just not execute at all on it. But I knew there was still a lot of the game to play. And ultimately, if I didn't perform for the 30 minutes, 40 minutes or whatever was left, I'd be more frustrated at myself for not performing than after a miss.

“So I guess that's what this level is. You have to be able to, whether you score or miss, you have to be able to park it and move on to the next ball.”

Co-manager, Gerry McQuaid has seen many huge days in this stadium, having been involved through Wexford’s three-in-a-row from 2010-2012. He has a familiar face along side him now in former Wexford goalie, Mags D’Arcy, while Bill McCormack is an integral facet of the brains trust as the other co-manager. Micky McCullough, a renowned camogie and hurling coach and visionary, is another central cog.

Like Maher, McQuaid was balancing a very obvious delight in what had occurred with an emphasis on there being another task to complete.

“A lot of work went into it and this is just rewards,” McQuaid began. “But listen, I emphasise, it's a quarter-final, you know? It's a semi-final now we have to get to in three weeks. We have to go and perform again.”

He hailed the impact of the bench, giving Dublin the fuel injection to pull clear down the stretch.

“We don't call them subs. We call them finishers. If you take a look what they did, they finished so delighted for them all.

“Aisling (O’Neill) had a serious injury. She actually only put her helmet on this week, for contact. We were very, very cautious about her.

“She made a huge difference. Micky McCullough is the brains behind this operation. Micky was saying: ‘Get it into Aisling! Get it into Aisling!’ because she’s a natural forward, natural scorer.

“I can't say enough about them all. Just very, very proud of every single one of them.”

Kilkenny manager, Peter Cleere could only speak in a whisper, his voice yet another Noreside casualty. Like his players in the face of Dublin’s questions, he tried when asked to explain what happened but in truth, it would take a while before he would be able to speak properly, not to mind get a handle on why his charges were second best.

“It's very hard to say at the moment,” Cleere stated. “We're just after coming off the field. We'll have a look at it, but it's not going to change anything. We lost the game today, and Dublin for full value for the victory. We just fell short on the day.”

SCORERS FOR DUBLIN: A Maher 0-7(6fs); S Wylde 1-0; A O’Neill 0-2; S Nolan, A McKearney A Gannon, C Gannon 0-1 each

SCORERS FOR KILKENNY: A Pendergast 0-5(3fs); A Doyle 0-3; C Keher Murtagh 0-2; S Fitzgerald, K Power 0-1 each

Dublin: A Gorman, A Ryan, E O’Byrne, A McKearney, C Gannon, K Finnegan, Z Couch, S Nolan, N Gannon, A Gannon, E Jamieson-Murphy, A Maher, G O’Shea, E Flanagan, S Wylde. Subs: A O’Neill for Flanagan (41), A Rafter for Nolan (43), L Sharkey for Couch (45), A Kenny for Ryan (60+1), A Heffernan for Jamieson-Murphy (60+3)

Kilkenny: A Norris, M Teehan, G Walsh, K Byrne, N Deely, L Murphy, S O’Keeffe, K Doyle, K Power, S Barcoe,. S Fitzgerald, A Doyle, C Keher Murtagh, A Prendergast, J Malone. Subs: T Fitzgerald for O’Keeffe (ht), M Bambrick for K Doyle (44), L Greene for S Fitzgerald (47), K Nolan for Barcoe (52)

Referee : Andy Larkin (Cork)

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