Burke's fortitude finally rewarded with an All Ireland final

'I fully believe it is my year, I have to or it won't happen. Every girl believes we can stop Dublin winning their third in a row'

Galway wingback Sinead Burke - plays with heart and soul.

Galway wingback Sinead Burke - plays with heart and soul.

All Star Sinead Burke knows a thing or two about working hard, only to suffer disheartening defeats.

After an inter-county career spanning 12 decades, the doyen of Galway Ladies Football may have eight senior Connacht titles to her name, but always missing was an opportunity to claim the ultimate trophy, an All Ireland medal.

Few are as deserving. Now 29, Sinead Burke has an innate love for the game. Although close to quitting after losing last year's semi-final to champions Dublin, she still couldn't walk away. "It's in my heart, it's in my blood," she says.

Now ready to face favourites Dublin, and knowing Galway could not have prepared any better this season, Burke is understandably determined to make the opportunity count.

"You want to get to where the best footballers are, and you want to get to Croke Park on All Ireland final day," she says. "Unfortunately some years it doesn't happen, but this year we are there and we are going to make it special and hopefully as great as we can."

The burgeoining confidence has been nurtured by a group of women who have been building for several years, making demands of a management team that has been consistent for three years - led this season by Tim Rabbitt who had been a coach under previous manager Stephen Glennon.

"The level of professionalism is now at another level. It is what was needed from a county set-up," she says. "They have brought us to a new level of professionalism, and the knock-on effect is where we are now. We are mentally and physically prepared. We are ready.

"It's been consistent what they want from us, and what we want from them. They've had a vision for the last three years and they have put in place planning from day one - nutrition, strength and conditioning, game plans, tactics, all have been the same for three years, and that is the reason we are here today.

"Stephen set the boundaries there, and Tim took over, and it was a flawless transition. The foundations have been laid, and the girls have worked so hard. It was due to the demands of the women."

Role models

Burke made her senior debut aged 17 when playing with Killannin, having moved to the neighbouring parish from her home club Oughterard.

She had grown up on the sidelines, while dad Pat, an Achill Island native, played for Oughterard - making local history when he and son Patrick both played on the same team.

"I'd be brought along, so I always had a ball in my hand or at my feet from about six or seven. I played with the boys' team in Oughterard until U12 and then I had to go to Killannin."

There were no shortage of role models in Killannin, none more so than Niamh Fahey, one the brightest burgeoning stars at the time, and before long manager Walter Butler and Mary Walsh encouraged her to attend Galway trials.

"I remember Niamh coming back to Killannin with the Brendan Martin Cup in 2004 and thinking 'Wow, I want to do that, bring the cup back to the younger girls'.

"You didn't have to look very hard for role models because there were so many on that 2004 team, and they've had such a impact on my career, and become life-long friends."

Lorna Joyce, married to Niamh Fahey's brother Richie, was another mentor and friend.

"She had such an influence on me as well, a reason why I continued playing. It was so good to surround yourself with these people who were like-minded. They were just so driven, and wanted to play football, and friends from school sometimes didn't understand the commitment and how much you put into it."

Women's advocate

An advocate for the women's game, Burke is still a regular visitor at training in Oughterard where girls' Gaelic is flourishing, and she points to the 50,000 in Croke Park last season as the growing interest in the women's game. An ambassador as well, she is involved in Lidl's #SeriousSupport for Ladies Gaelic Football,visiting secondary schools to encourage teenage girls to stay with sport.

She has first-hand experience of such doubts, but "thankfully didn't listen". Probably the biggest test came after losing last year's semi-final to Dublin. A teacher in Dublin, where she plays with club Ballyboden St Enda's, Burke is also engaged to former Connacht and Ulster rugby player Willie Faloon.

"I had to ask myself, 'was I really going to go again'? We had put in that much effort still to fall before the final hurdle, and it is hard to pick yourself up from defeats.

"A few of the girls finished playing - close buddies - and with me living in Dublin, I had to ask 'is it realistic, can I afford it?' At the start of the year I was not finding it easy, especially with Willie in Armagh, we were passing ships, but he encouraged me, told me it wouldn't last forever, so go and enjoy it. He suffered injuries and would still love to be playing, so it was a big factor. He said you've only so many years, do it while you can.

"Thankfully Tim [Rabbitte] and Mike [Comer] met me and and I knew they were so serious about this year I couldn't help but stay. They ar such a great bunch of girls, I couldn't walk away. It something that's in my heart, it's in my blood, and now I wonder how did I have those thoughts? Imagine if I had left. I was so thankful I went back, it's been a dream season so far."

Helped by long-time players, such as Roisin and Tracey Leonard, Barbara Hannon, Noelle Connolly, Fabian and Charlotte Cooney, and Sarah Conneally, these women, she says, have put in the time and the hours, and they now have a voice.

"We used to see at first hand what the lads were getting, the great set-up they have and we wanted a set-up that rewarded the amount of time we were putting in - and I'm still in awe at the amount of work the girls put in, going beyond what most players are doing. That is what you want, because you nearly want to win matches just for them. We are all in it together, we want the same things, and it's evident that management and players are putting in the same effort.

"It is not just when you go training, it's everything you do - recovery, rest, nutrition. Everything you do compares to the men, you're on par, except they get a few more rewards.

"Yes, they have the money and ladies' football doesn't, but definitely we are now recognised for putting the work in and this is being rewarded."

Whole new level

While the women's game has had limited support in the past, she believes it is improving, and acknowledges the team's sponsors.

"We're grateful for Pat McDonagh and Supermac's. We are now getting everything we need - this year particularly, and credit to the people involved. We are getting fed after training, physio, gear - those little things that makes you feel rewarded. Before we would need to plan our food around training, bring something for after training; training gear was whatever we could find. This year it's completely different, we have a training kit, it is that professional, and I look back and say 'wow, it's a whole new level'."

Those changes are reflected in Galway's success this season as every county strives to emulate Dublin, but on the field, "It's football at the end of the day."

"You don't go to Croke Park to lose. Yes, they have the advantage with their following. We lost by two in the League and lost last year's semi-final, but we are going there to play our game, to focus on ourselves.

"They are champions, deserving of it. We know it will be the tough, but we are ready for it mentally and physically, because if you have any doubts or look back to last year and those doubts start creeping in, you are beaten before you're even on the pitch.

"We are a well bonded group who all want the same thing. Since the semi-final we are closer again because this is the last game of the season, Everyone is in such good spirits, such good form, loving every minute of the run-up, training with a smile. It's a joy to be a part of.

"I fully believe it is my year, I have to or it won't happen. Every girl believes we can stop Dublin winning their third in a row.

"We want a full 60 minute performance because we know when we play great football, anything can happen. The girls have speed, they can run for days, and I know if we put

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