Elaine Harte hopes to be the last woman standing as she seeks All-Ireland title number eight
It’s been a strange year for the Cork goalkeeper since returning from Down Under
Cork’s Elaine Harte has a chance to win her eighth All-Ireland winning medal on Sunday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
It’s been a strange old year for Elaine Harte. For just over a decade she had been Cork’s first choice goalkeeper, with seven All-Ireland medals to her name, but after a summer break in Australia she returned to a less familiar spot on the bench.
The hardest day probably came last month, watching from the sidelines as her team-mates headed for a championship exit when they trailed Dublin by nine points in the quarter-finals.
“And there’s nothing you can do, sitting there, it was tough watching it,” she says.
And then Cork scored 1-10 without reply in the last 20 minutes, presumptions about their demise proving more than a little previous. It was a stunning comeback from a team seeking a three-in-a-row on Sunday, and their eighth All-Ireland title in nine years.
“It just showed the heart in the team, what won us that match was the fact we didn’t panic, we went for points instead of goals, we’re full of belief,” says Harte, a teacher in Tipperary who now plays her club football with Moyne-Templetuohy.
But not being involved?
“Ah, it’s been hard, of course, but it’s a strong panel, we’re all fighting for places, all waiting to see who’ll be in for Sunday. I made a decision to go away in the summer, I went to Australia for six weeks in June/July, so when I came back I knew I’d have to fight for my place. It’s a strange feeling, after all these years, but Martina (O’Brien) is an excellent goalkeeper.”
Harte made her debut for the senior team back in 2001, the level of commitment required prompting her to give up a soccer career that had seen her play for Ireland at under-18 level.
That commitment and the demands have increased, significantly, since then, but there are no thoughts of retirement just yet, despite the frustrations of the past couple of months. She cites the example of midfielder Juliet Murphy who announced her retirement earlier this year, after also winning seven All-Irelands, only to return to the team in August.
“She just has a grá for the game, she loves it,” says Harte, who, she says, feels the same. “I think she was just tired and she thought that was it. She needed the break and it’s done wonders for her. Juliet is inspirational, even just seeing her back in training was a massive lift for everyone, and having her back in the team has been a fantastic boost.”
Love of the game
And it was, she says, that “love of the game” that resulted in many of the five-in-a-row (2005-2009) winning team, like herself and Murphy, staying on after their 2010 quarter-final defeat to Tyrone.
“And everyone said, ‘that’s it, you’re gone, you’re done with’, so we fed off that,” she smiles. “But we just really enjoy playing, really enjoy training. The group of girls are great friends too, so you kind of do it for each other. And, yeah, I suppose everyone thinking we were finished then just pushed us on to prove we were not.”
It has, though, been a far from flawless year for the champions, despite winning their seventh National League title in nine years back in May, two Munster Championship defeats to Kerry, who they beat comfortably in last year’s All-Ireland final, ending their quest for a provincial 10-in-a-row.
“Everything comes to an end,” said Cork manager Eamonn Ryan at the time, but when the teams met again in the All-Ireland semi-final, it was Kerry’s hopes that were ended, Valerie Mulcahy scoring 2-3 in a 2-9 to 0-11 victory.
“We didn’t want to lose to them three times in the one year,” Harte smiles, explaining the motivation. “And we just really wanted to back in Croke Park, especially when this is the 40th women’s final. We wanted to be part of that.”
“But we won’t be thinking about our record, the last few All-Irelands won’t help us win on Sunday. We had a really tough battle with Monaghan in the 2011 final, and I expect this to be the same. And I think Monaghan are stronger now, too, they’re the form team for the whole year, they’ve been fantastic.”
Whether or not she’ll be in the thick of it, or watching from the sidelines, “we’ll see.”