Lessons learned shapes Leonard's drive for All Ireland crown

Three seasons ago Galway marksman Tracey Leonard had every reason to feel sorry for herself when a cruciate injury kept her sidelined for 10 months.

However the Corofin player has turned her "black time" into a positive, a mental metamorphosis that has seen her rattle most defences this season.

"Back then I saw it as a very bad time in my life, but now I realise it was a turning point in my sporting career," the 27-years-old says. "Mentally, it has made me a lot tougher. Before I was probably one of those who liked the easy life, but the injury was a big lesson for me.

"It has driven me that bit more, and I push myself further. I definitely didn't see this three years sgo, but if someone had told me, I would have been pretty happy."

Leonard, a member of the Galway panel for eight seasons, says after years of gradual improvements, standards took a leap three seasons ago.

"The continuity in players and continuity in management has been huge for us. Stephen Glennon provided the foundation and building blocks of where at today, and when he stepped down last year, there was a worry in the camp, but Tim Rabbitt has filled the shoes there.

"He's so professional, and those two have driven us and given us that consistency in performance that we have lacked in the last few years.

Barbara Hannon

The second crucial factor is the team, she says.

"A lot of us have been here for a few years and when we look back on it, we haven't a whole lot achieved. We've a few Connacht titles, but there is huge motivation in this group of players - that we are not happy, that we need to push on. Last year we got to the semi-final, this year is another step further. We've nothing won yet, but hopefully Sunday can change that."

Leonard shrugs off the commitment players and management have made in pursuit of Galway winning only a second All Ireland title in the competition's history.

"That word commitment, a lot people throw it around, but I don't see it as that. I really enjoy football, enjoy what I am at, something I don't see as a big commitment. I love to be training in the evening, the harder the training session, the better, and I love improving. I'm involved with a bunch of girls who are like that and want to be improving.

"There are girls on our team who do shift work, a lot in Dublin who travel distances to and from training, while I live at home in Corofin. So I have huge admiration for them. Barbara Hannon is a mother of a one-year-old, and to see her back this year is admirable. She comes to training, goes home, looks after a child, so what I do is tuppence compared to her.

"To see the shape she's in having given birth last year, she would put a lot of girls to shame. It just shows when you put your mind to it, it's amazing what you can do, and she's a real example."

This season the UHG nurse has grabbed headlines with her marksmanship - something she attributes to a former Corofin coach.

"I just love kicking. Growing up and training I had a very good coach who was big into kicking, and coming from Corofin, kicking is a big part of the game, so I enjoy that. But it is only one aspect to the game. The backs and midfielders do the hard work. I have the easy job up front scoring. I find myself at the right place at the right time, and it's an easy job to tip it in or over the bar. But the work the defenders do, I wouldn't be able for it."

Hell of a shot

Resilience is also a worthy trait Galway is learning this season, particularly after facing Mayo twice to secure the Connacht crown, and now a Dublin side seeking three in a row.

"I think challenges in life are good and we've had a lot of them this year with Kerry in the group games - we were behind in that game. And we were lucky our performance secured a second day out against Mayo, so we have learned from those games. We lost to Dublin in the league and to Cork in the League final, and that was hard because it was not one of our best performances. It's something we have looked at, and every day we go out to improve our performance, and Sunday will be no different.

"It goes back to the character of the girls who are there at the minute, and we will be looking for that in abundance against Dublin." And with the Croke Park novelty factor "out of the system" after the semi-final, Galway head to Dublin with "only one objective", she says.

"We will put our best foot forward, we will put in a solid 60 minutes. We know it's a three-in-a-row for them - that's been thrown around - but it's a game of football. Yes, it's the ultimate, it's what every county yearns for, and we are there now. We will keep our focus and we will give it one hell of a shot."

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