Sinéad Aherne enjoying her view from the summit

All-Ireland win eased pain of past failures but Dublin razor-keen to be the best they can be

Dublin’s Sinéad Aherne: “During the league we had double headers [with men’s fixtures] so to bring them into championship would bring it to the next level.”   Photograph: Laszlo Geczp/Inpho

Dublin’s Sinéad Aherne: “During the league we had double headers [with men’s fixtures] so to bring them into championship would bring it to the next level.” Photograph: Laszlo Geczp/Inpho

 

Serena Williams spoke at Wimbledon about not bothering to scout “these young ladies” anymore because they bring a “totally different game when they play me”.

Williams looked down, inhaled and added, “That’s what makes me great; I always play everyone at their greatest so I have to be greater.

“I like it that way...now my level is so much higher from years and years of being played like that. I had to raise my level to unknown because they are playing me at a level that is unknown and now I’m used to it.”

Dublin captain Sinéad Aherne, after 15 years in this game, is embracing a similar unknown.

“When we used to play Cork in the past we were always trying to raise our game,” said Aherne. “You are always trying to do that when playing the standard-bearers. There is that extra edge to the games but we can only focus on our preparations. You only learn so much from looking at what teams have done in the past.”

Adaptability is what you train for, she explains.

Dublin, after losing three successive All-Ireland finals to Cork, one in the most agonising fashion imaginable, glanced at the almost great Tipperary hurlers from this past decade as a road map to avoid.

“I remember reading about the Tipperary hurlers feeling this pressure to go back and be better, to do more, but first of all we just enjoyed the winter. We put a lot of work in, we’ve gone through so many defeats with the girls that it was important to celebrate. There is still a desire to get better. That’s where the drive comes from: we want to be the best team we can be.”

KPMG is the reason for this conversion. Aherne, an accountant, works as an associate director within the tax practice of a company that recently announced a one-year partnership with the Dublin ladies football team.

“It shows how far the game has come in the last few years in that we are able to get more sponsors on board. Lidl brought it into the next sphere. KPMG got behind the Maguire twins [in golf] and Katie Taylor a few years before that so it’s not just us, it’s female sport, which is great.”

Aherne has seen the game grow from obscurity to the scenes at Croke Park last season when Dublin finally addressed their problematic losing streak in All-Ireland finals.

“It’s the last five years really that we’ve seen the biggest jump. We’d like to see that 46,000 in Croke Park reflected in earlier matches. That’s where we are not yet translating the increased interest from media and people who know about the game, we are not turning that into increased attendances.”

Wider audience

The hurling last weekend did not help but decision-makers are bound by TG4’s need to show live matches.

“I know, and it is an issue. Our quarter-final was initially fixed for 7pm on Sunday [venue to be confirmed] which is extremely difficult for players and supporters to get to the game but they are trying to secure a TV slot that doesn’t clash with other games now that the revamped hurling and football championship means there are more games than ever.

“TG4 have been great in how they try to bring it to a wider audience and maximise viewers but the challenges remain.

“During the league we had double headers [with men’s fixtures] so to bring them into championship would bring it to the next level.”

This is where women’s football and camogie clashes against the rock of tradition: the minor boys, now reduced to 16-year-olds, are cemented in the calendar. Aherne makes a logical case for male and female Gaelic games to happen at the same stadium on the same day.

“They have tried to bring it in during the league when there wasn’t minor or U-20s fixed on the same bill. I do think it would give supporters from the same county an opportunity to open [the women’s game] up to a wider audience. Our game in Castlebar during the league meant there was a much bigger crowd in earlier. I don’t think they were showing up early for the men’s game, there seemed to be an effort to get to our game from both sides.

“Look, we know we have to stand on our own feet. You have to give people something worth seeing. Promotion around the game is important so people begin to know the players involved, so the skill level must continue to improve to ensure a better viewing spectacle.”

The fly-on-the-wall Blue Sisters documentary about Dublin’s 2017 campaign seemed felt like a significant leap.

“I think you can see across the ladies football spectrum there is a little more interest. At GAA camps in the summer, ladies footballers are coming in specifically to coach girls. That these girls are seeing public faces at their camps all the way up from underage ideally brings greater recognition and ideally feeds into more people going to games.”

So long as they are not fixed for Sunday night at 7pm.

The players are ready but “TBC” is still listed beside the All-Ireland quarter-finals on August 12th. People cannot plan to attend a game with no venue or throw-in time.

Some unknowns should be known by now.

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