'It is something you would dream about since you were a child' - Ward

It has been a busy few weeks for Louise Ward. After helping Galway seal a place in the TG4 All-Ireland Senior Ladies' Football Championship final, the midfielder swapped the football kit for robes as she attended her graduation ceremony at University of Limerick. And when she had received her Bachelors of Science in Physiotherapy, it was back to club duty for Kilkerrin-Clonberne before joining up with the county panel to prepare for Sunday's showdown with Dublin.

But you will not find Ward complaining about the workload.

"I love football," she says. "I have started a part time job at the minute doing physio in nursing homes. I felt I needed the experience under my belt but I would like to end up working in the HSE or working in a hospital. People think about [me becoming a] sport's physio but that's not where my interest is. A lot of my placements have been HSE, primary care centre, or hospitals. Sports physios not what I want to do especially when you have people like me coming in saying 'fix me quick'.

"I don't see [the training and travel] as a sacrifice. It is not a sacrifice if you want to do so it doesn't bother me in that regard because football is what I want to do."

Football is what the Clonberne woman is passionate about, and the topic soon switches from her new career to the clash in Croke Park, urging her teammates not to leave HQ with regrets.

"I still don't feel like it has hit me yet that it is a big achievement to get to an All-Ireland final. I think the thing you have to understand is [finals] are not going to come around every year, so when you're there you have to take the chance. But we can't let the occasion get to us because we are there to do a job. You don't want to leave there with regrets."

Sunday's opportunity of collecting the Brendan Martin Cup was only made possible after Galway finally eclipsed Mayo, thanks to a Róisín Leonard point two minutes from fulltime after an epic battle. But Ward believes the tightness of the match is something that will benefit the Tribeswomen when they face-off against a Dublin team going for three in-a-row.

"We had to grind out the result. It was tit for tat towards the end, 2-6 to 2-6, 2-7 to 2-7, and then they went ahead and obviously Róisín got the final point to win it. Even after that we had to hold onto to the ball for the last few seconds and get it out of the danger zone, but we knew going into that match it was going to be very tight and it was going to go down to the wire because it was the fourth time we had played them this year, so there is very little you're going to learn about them.

"We knew it was going to come down to the finer margins and going to be that close, so even though we ground it out and it was close at the finish, it is something we can take into the next day."

The semi-final was the first time a lot of the panel had played a championship match at Croke Park. Many players who had the privilege to grace the hallowed turf have talked about how the stadium is like no other in the country, and for Ward she reveals the team will adapt their approach to suit their surroundings after their experience last time out.

"It was some place to play," she smiles. "I would have played there in the Cumann na mBunscoile at halftime in front of the big crowd at the men's game. [But] In terms of a full 15-a-side game, it was my first time. It was different. The surface is not like any other county pitch.

"There is a big lead up and you're driving up to Croke Park and you are thinking 'I'm playing there' but once you're on the pitch, you're only focusing on the ball and the next play. You don't realise where you are, well I didn't anyway. I was focusing on what I had to do.

"But it is good for the final, though, to have that whole experience over you because you are not going to be walking in and seeing the stadium and seeing it full of people. It is good the semi-finals were there. It is an advantage because I suppose it is a little bit daunting when you haven't been there before especially if there is a crowd like last year, so knowing your bearings it is good.

"I think the aspect I was interested in was you cannot hear each other on the pitch. You would be calling players and they can't hear you at all, which is not something you would expect because on a normal pitch you would be able to hear them. Probably the next day we may focus on communication through signals because there were 11,000 there the last day and there will be more Sunday.

"We are looking for a big performance and it is good we have the whole Croke Park experience out of our way after the semi-final so we are focused at the task at hand and doing our best."

With an All-Ireland final comes a lot of wishes and extra attention. It is an aspect which Ward says the squad are enjoying, with the major spinoff of inspiring and encouraging the next generation of young women footballers in the county.

"People calling to house saying 'Well done. I was watching your game,'" she reveals. "The support is massive but it has been massive all year and the people of Galway are very good for supporting [us] so I hope they can continue that the next day. We had a meet and greet there last weekend and a lot young children came out with their parents. It was a great turnout. Everyone is wishing you well and wishing you luck. There is a really nice atmosphere around the county.

"[Winning an All-Ireland] For the first time in 15 years would be huge for Galway football. But if you look at the underage talent, we won the U16 final this year, won the minor last year and got to the minor final this year, so there is constantly a conveyor belt of talent coming through. So the county is in a really good place."

Ward was present at in Croke Park the only time that the maroon ribbons of Galway adorned the O'Duffy Cup and she admits that earning an All-Ireland Senior Football winners' medal would be the highlight of her career to date.

"It is something you would dream about since you were a child and since I started playing football, [it] would be the pinnacle of your career. That's what you want to do. Starting out every year, you are not going to say 'I'm looking to play championship and get to this stage'.

"You are looking to get to the final but you have to hit all your little steps to get there and take one game at the time. It would be nice up in the Hogan Stand and lifting the cup at the end of it but we just have to focus on the task at hand."


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