While the chief target for 2021 will be that small matter of an All-Ireland five-in-a-row, for now Carla Rowe is focussing on the start of Dublin's Lidl National League campaign against Waterford in Parnell Park on Sunday. And the bulk of her thoughts are centred on how this all-conquering team has yet to even reach its peak, as if their opponents hadn't enough to be fretting about.
It was last December that Mick Bohan’s charges made it a four-in-a-row when they saw off the challenge of Cork, well and truly banishing memories of those three successive defeats to the same opponents between 2014 and 2016.
“Mick would always say that for those three years we were chasing Cork, but we’ve been the ones being hunted the last few years,” says Rowe.
And to keep ahead of the chasing pack, she says, Dublin need to find a little bit extra every year. “If you’re not improving, if you’re not developing more than everyone else, then you’re in trouble. And we still believe as a group that we haven’t hit the best performance that we know we’re capable of. There have been highlights here and there, maybe 20 minutes in different matches, but we haven’t had that one complete performance, so we’ll be striving to reach that goal this year.”
Typically, Dublin have used the League to fine-tune their Championship preparations, only winning it once, in 2018, compared to the 12 titles Cork have amassed since 2005. But this year’s competition is, by necessity, a briefer affair, with a maximum of five games - Cork played nine when they won the last completed League, in 2019.
Rowe, then, believes Dublin have to “hit the ground running”, the Championship starting just a fortnight after the League final. “Because we’ve only ever won it once in our history, it’s not something to we go in to lightly, we go out with the goal of winning it. Yes, you use it to your advantage, you try different things, different panel members, different positions, but this time, having just had the three or four weeks together, we’ll be trying to learn as much as we can and as fast as we can and, yeah, hitting the ground running.”
At least two familiar faces will be missing from the Dublin line-up that starts the campaign, Noelle Healy, the 2017 player of the year, having retired, and Sinead Goldrick still in Australia where her season with Melbourne was cut short by a torn hamstring.
Her two Melbourne team-mates, Lauren Magee and Niamh McEvoy, are back with the Dublin panel, though, and it is hoped that Goldrick will be home and fit enough to take part in the Championship campaign. Her player of the match performance in last year's All Ireland final helped earn her a player of the year nomination, alongside Rowe and Aimee Mackin of Armagh, the eventual winner.
One player who is definitely back is Sinead Aherne who will captain Dublin for a fifth successive year in what will be, remarkably, her 18th season playing senior football for her county.
“I can just sum her up in one word: phenomenal,” says Rowe. “And that’s as a person and as a player. She’s a quiet type, and she brings that in to her leadership role in ways - but when she speaks everyone knows to listen, and knows this is serious business. She’s led us fantastically, not only in the last four years as captain but through all her years with Dublin, she’s always been a leader and someone we’ve always looked up to.”
After playing Waterford on Sunday, Dublin will then face Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the first time they will ever have played there, and then Tipperary in Semple Stadium. The top two in the group progress to the semi-finals, the other division one group made up of Galway, Donegal, Westmeath and Mayo.
“And we want to be playing in those big stadiums, we want as many games as we can get in them, that’s where we want to be. It’s brilliant, it’s the levelling of the playing field, the fact that we haven’t played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh before, you’d scratch your head and wonder why.
“But it’s a fantastic stadium and I’m looking forward to playing there - and any day Dublin play Cork is an interesting day, I think,” she smiles. “But, for now, we’re only thinking about Waterford.” And hitting the ground running.