How the years have flown. It is a decade now since Siobhán Flannery last played at Croke Park.
In 2010, the teenager was enjoying the winning feeling on venerated ground for the second time in 12 months, with the Joachim Kelly-led Offaly having put back-to-back Premier Junior and Intermediate triumphs together to seal Senior status in the blink of an eye.
The subsequent years have seen the Faithful County rattle a lot of cages, with Flannery to the fore, but results fell off a cliff last year.
There was some cause for optimism last Sunday however, when the Tricolours battled back from a six-point deficit with 15 minutes left to grab a share of the spoils against the upwardly-mobile hosts in Waterford.
Neither side was at full strength because the counties renew rivalries in a different sphere on Sunday, with St. Rynagh’s taking on Gailltír in the AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Club Championship Final at HQ.
Flannery is a key cog of the high-scoring Rynagh’s unit and has relished being a leader in a team with a fine blend of youth and experience – they are similar enough to their opponents in that respect.
As someone who has been on a tour of duty with the Defence Forces in the Golan Heights, the 29-year-old has context on what’s important.
But Camogie has always had a central role in her life and that is why the Air Corps technician likes being based in Baldonnel. It is on the right side for the commute home for training. It is also why she hasn’t embarked on another tour.
“I’ve just done the one. It is depending how the Camogie is going” she explains, matter-of-factly.
This journey with Rynagh’s has been arduous at times but the Banagher contingent are now on the crest of a wave. They only won their first Senior Championship in 2017. That was nirvana, right there, but they repeated the trick the following season and followed up with a Leinster title.
Gailltír ended that campaign in the All-Ireland Semi-Final and now they are in opposite corners once more, only this time, it’s for the whole shooting match, Rynagh’s having progressed again on their previous season’s endeavours.
There was a good few years where Rynagh’s didn’t have a Senior team at all. It was 2009 they restarted an adult team. We won Junior in 2010 and 2011 and then up to Senior since.
There was always the underage set-up. There was just never the adult team. The underage was building for years to try and get the adult team. There was a good few of the girls that would have played with Lusmagh at Senior.
We had a couple of years after we came up to Senior and we were there or thereabouts. Then in 2016 we didn’t even reach the knockout stages. Going from that to winning it the following year, that was massive for the club.
We have got in a panel of 37 or 38 this year. The underage are coming through and pushing us on. Sinéad (Hanamy) is only 16 and she is playing for us. That talent is coming through so it’s savage. Kate Kenny is 18 now. She is still really young. You would nearly think she is one of the Senior players she is there that long. She is such a big figure for us and she’s doing her Leaving Cert this year.
Reaching an All-Ireland Final with Rynagh’s could be overwhelming, if she thought too much about it.
“Sometimes it is a dream that you never think will come true. To go and represent your parish in an All-Ireland Final. When we got knocked out in 2016 we didn’t even think winning a County Championship was going to happen. To build on that over three years it is massive for the club and for the underage, to be able to see that it is not just Offaly now. You can push on and go the whole way if you want to.
“You look back and the likes of Michael Flannery and Anne-Marie Kelly would have done so much for years, Lorna Fitzgerald, Celine Flannery. They would have done it back when there was no-one there to do it. Now you have Pauline Ryan, Patsy Moloney, Ronnie Byrne, they are all massive now. There is so many people who have helped out over the years. It is a testament to the club that there is still people that want to commit to it.”
Having run out onto Croke Park and won has to be a benefit but Flannery will be playing it down to her teammates.
“Now, just thinking about it, it is just another game, another pitch. Worry about having played there after the game. Be thankful you have played there. But going into the game you are just worried about the game and the other team and yourselves. And not about the venue. You can get caught up with the crowd, and the pitch and the stand. You can begin to panic. We will just worry about ourselves and the game and think about that after.”
Gailltír had five points in hand on them 12 months ago before losing the decider by a point and they avenged that loss to Clonduff at the penultimate hurdle this time around.
Airwoman Flannery has tremendous respect for the east Waterford outfit but is optimistic that it will be Rynagh’s turn to fly high.
“There are always areas to improve. Last year we didn’t play our best Camogie against them. We were disappointed at that more than the loss itself. We need to build on that and use that hurt from last year to drive on.
“But they are a savage team. To come back and beat the crowd that beat you in the All-Ireland just shows how good of a team they are and how resilient they are to do that. We definitely have our work cut out for us.
“But when it comes to an All-Ireland Final day you never know what can happen. They take a life of their own. You hope for the best, work hard and hope to come out on the right side of the result.”
Top photo: INPHO