Ten years on from when she hit a consolation goal for Mayo in the All Ireland final against Cork, Fiona McHale is relishing getting a chance to finally pick up a winner's medal in the big one on Sunday. The Carnacon ace has tasted All Ireland glory with her club a few times in the intervening years and has had third level success at a national level both as a player and a coach, but this is the one she wants.
"Yes it is, I was just saying earlier to one of the lads the last time I was in an All Ireland final was in 2007 and if you told me I wouldn't be in one again until 2017 I wouldn't have believed you, because we were in a great place at the time and when I came into the panel in 2004 Mayo were after winning their fourth All Ireland title." Having been one of the mainstays of the Mayo side for well over a decade and having just missed out on their earlier glory years, there could have been times over the past decade that many would have thought enough is enough, but not McHale who said: "I always say if you're enjoying your football then keep playing, if I wasn't I wouldn't. I get a great buzz out of it and we've all stuck together through the years over good times and bad times, and there was plenty of bad times believe me, this makes it all worthwhile when you get to an All Ireland final after the hard work has paid off, and there's just one more step to go, but it won't be good enough for this group unless we get over that final step."
The success at club and third level did help her go through the tough times Mayo have had in the last decade, "We have been successful with Carnacon it does keep you going, because you might lose narrowly with Mayo in the championship, but you know that you have the club to fall back on and we have been very successful over the years with them in the winter - and I'm so privileged to be playing with them. With the third level it gave a great focus outside of Mayo too and getting to play with some of the best in the country is always good."
There and back again
McHale headed off travelling for five months at the tail end of last year, but always was going to come back to the game and it did not take her long to get the boots back on and that resolve was forged in the dressing room after last years semi-final defeat she said. "I still remember being in the dressing room after that game, we had a bad start and it was very hard to get back from that and we almost did. That last free on the buzzer was tough. It took a bit of soul searching from some players but most have come back and we've got some new ones in as well. I think in that painful moment most resolved to come back.
"I went away myself and travelled for a few months and missed out of the league. I remember when I got home, put my stuff in the room, put on my gear and back out the door to Athlone for training, I wanted to get back into it straight away. I was away for five months and people would always ask you did you miss it and say, you should go traveling when you can and don't waste your time playing football. But after I went away and missed it so much, I have no regrets whatsoever of putting in all those years at it. Getting to the All Ireland final is so worth it now."
Moving on and getting better
The heavy defeat they shipped in the Connacht final against the head from Galway was a turning point for this team the Carnacon player believes. "I was back in a good few weeks at that stage, overall as a team we didn't perform at all and fell flat on the day. Going into it we were confident in what we had done and things were going good in the camp, and there are days that things just don't work out for you and we had to look at ourselves really hard after that and we picked ourselves up and we focused on getting back to where we needed to be."
Their qualifier game against Kildare after the Connacht final was a moment where everything started to come together and it has gone on from there the UL student believes. "I think the qualifer game against Kildare got us going, they had a very good first half and we took advantage of a sin-binning and injury they got and really drove for home in the second half and that set us up nicely for the Donegal game. They were hot favourites but we knew if we worked hard, put in our game plan, we could get over the line, and in fairness to our defence they were excellent against Donegal and Cork who are some of the best players in the game and our attack has really stepped up this year too."