Ashling Thompson was out of her bed and on the road before 6am on the morning of Cork’s GlenDimplex All-Ireland semi-final against Waterford.
The game didn’t throw-in at Croke Park until 3.15pm that afternoon but if she was to have any chance of featuring then she would have to be at the Croke Park Hotel for a 10.30am hearing.
The four-time All-Ireland winner was still suspended following a straight red card in Cork’s final group game against Tipperary, a full three weeks earlier, but was prepared to exhaust the appeals process in a bid to play.
The hearing went her way and, just hours later, Thompson took her place on the bench at Croke Park, too “unsettled” and “ashen” to actually start, according to manager Matthew Twomey, but available later to come on and turn the game back in Cork’s favour with a lionhearted personal display following a poor start by the team.
“We had spoken about whether or not to start me for the game and I think we had kind of agreed that it would be better off to see how things went and if they needed me to bring me on,” said Thompson.
“That was the plan because I wasn’t sure how much I would have in the tank. Look, if I was to come on I was going to give it hell for leather anyway, no matter what, but I think the worry was in terms of how much was left in the tank at that stage because it was a long three weeks.”
It was the longest of days too, that Saturday, and the wonder is why the disciplinary process couldn’t have been wrapped up much sooner, for better or for worse.
“Yeah, I mean we had three weeks to get it looked after,” said Thompson. “To have two hearings was kind of disappointing in the timeframe that was there. But I don’t know the ins and outs of it and whose job it is to get these hearings in place. It could be our fault, it could be anyone’s fault.”
Thompson acknowledges there was fault on her part too. Initially booked in that game against Tipperary, she was reportedly shown red in a separate incident at the end of the game for abusive language.
“It’s funny because I’ve actually never been in that position myself before as a player,” she said. “It was something that I don’t ever want to see from myself in the future as a player.”
Restored to midfield for today’s final, the two-time All-Star came on as a firefighter against Waterford, putting out flames all around a besieged Cork defence. At her best she is a ball of energy and creativity throughout the middle third and Cork will need that and more to take care of Kilkenny.
The Leinster champions are slight favourites, even if they’ve lost four of their last finals to Cork since 2009, including the 2018 decider when Cork last came out on top.
Mention that to Thompson, that it’s been four years since Cork’s last win, and she grimaces again.
Only in Cork could they call that a crisis but going so long without success is a rarity for the county. There was a five-year gap between the wins of 2009 and 2014 but before that you have to go back to the late 1980s for a longer barren streak.
“It’s something we’re not used to,” said Thompson. “When you go that long, what has it been now, 2018 since we’ve won a final? That’s a drought in Cork camogie. It mightn’t be for other counties but it’s a drought for us.
“Do you know what though, you learn a lot from losing. I know you want to be always winning but at the end of the day, you only really learn from your losses I think.
“So that’s been a big help for us in some ways, it’s been a big motivator. The main thing was to get back to the final this year but unless we’re pushing over the line, there’s just no point in being there.
“We’ve worked hard enough, I think we have enough in the squad, the management have done everything in their power to get us to this point and look, it’s down to the team now.”
The personnel will be a little different on final day given the injuries, retirements, withdrawals and additions – former Down star Sorcha McCartan, daughter of ex-footballer Greg, was a notable inclusion to the Cork ranks earlier this year – that both camps have had to deal with. But it’ll still be Cork taking on Kilkenny, a matchup that typically produces a barn burner.
“I’ve been around long enough to know what to expect from Kilkenny,” said Thompson. “No matter what the obstacle in front of them, you’ll always get the same, you’ll always get the same level of effort, the same level of fight.”
Both sides came from behind at half-time in their respective semi-finals.
“That’s it, we’re kind of the same,” nodded the 32-year-old personal trainer. “We don’t really do panic either, which is great. I think the few younger girls that got on our panel a few years ago, they’ve been there long enough now to know what to do when the game gets hairy.
“That’s the thing, whether Kilkenny go down or we go down, there’s no one really going to throw the towel in too early. I think it’ll go to the 64th, 65th minutes, whatever it takes, and that’s what you want to see.”
Truth to be told, it’s a victory of sorts for both camps just to be still standing at this stage. Between the players they’re missing, Cork’s suspension saga and a couple of tragedies that hit the Kilkenny camp earlier in the year, it’s been desperately tough at times throughout the season. Still, when has reaching a final ever been good enough for either?
“We came back from a five-point deficit against Waterford to win by five so that says a lot in terms of our character, in terms of our depth,” said Thompson. “But absolutely we have more in the tank and we’re going to need to bring it in order to get over the line.”