Cliodhna O'Connor: I hated the morning of an All-Ireland Final

Ex-Dublin star looks back at her experiences and ahead to the Ladies Football decider between Dublin and Cork

Cliodhna O'Connor, Dublin, ladies football

Cliodhna O'Connor ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Getting on the bus in St Brigids GAA Club in Blanchardstown could never come quick enough.

I hated the morning of an All-Ireland Final. Inevitably the gear bag would be ready from the night before, even giving my boots a wipe didn’t kill an awful lot of time. It was always hard to find ways to kill the minutes on those days.

The worst was knowing that everyone else in the house was tip-toeing around you, trying not to ask stupid questions but trying to be quick as lightning if you needed anything. They really weren’t pleasant mornings for anyone in the house!

Everything felt better in Brigids. You got on the bus and the doors closed, that was it. You were with the team. No more being polite to people who wished you well and having to smile and thank them for their good luck messages. The support was appreciated but at that stage being within the confines of the bus was welcome.

The garda escort makes it a quick journey. Just about enough time for four or five songs on the iPod, looking out the window watching people making their way to the match.

Bernie Breen of Kerry with Dublin goalkeeper Cliodhna O'Connor ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

The dressing room was always fairly relaxed, everyone doing their own thing. Some people listening to music, some heading out to watch a bit of the Intermediate game, others would be chatting, keeping the mood light and killing minutes until the warm up started.

I always enjoyed the warm up on the pitch in Croke Park. Catching high balls, picking out players around the half-way line. At this point everything is positive. You are in no doubt of the challenge ahead but you are in control of everything. Some people hate the formalities of a final. I tried to embrace them and use them as time to settle myself down. Playing in goals, composure and control is key, walking around behind the band before the anthem was when I reminded myself of that.

Last few words in the huddle and all of a sudden the game is on!

Once it starts there is no break. Your mind and body is fired up for 60 mins. In the heat of the match, while I was always aware of the bigger crowd – 30,000 people are hard to ignore – I never found it a hindrance. I enjoyed being in the cauldron, focus on your job, your role, all the things you have practised.

Every game ebbs and flows, you are on top, you are under pressure, and the balance is tipping back and forth every few minutes. You don’t change what you do just because you are in Croke Park, you just keep focusing on the ball, the players around you and the most productive thing you can do at that moment in time.

Cork's Ciara O'Sullivan and Noelle Healy of Dublin ©INPHO/Gary Carr

Over the last number of years there have been some epic Championship battles between Dublin and Cork. To date the Cork women have come out on top every time. The Dubs have come close, but that doesn’t matter - they have never gotten over the line against Cork.

The 2016 final will be no different in the sense that Cork have their pride and standards that they have so valiantly upheld for the last decade. Dublin, on the other hand, have a point to prove.

Both sides have gone through a number of changes in the last 12 months since they met in Croke Park in 2015. Cork have a new manager, and new faces on the starting 15. These new faces have already made an impact in the championship and proven their worth. If Cork do find themselves under pressure approaching the final whistle however nobody would be surprised if it was the old reliables of O’Sullivan, O’Reilly, Corkery and Buckley that come up with the goods.

Dublin will also have some fresh faces shaking hands on the red carpet. These players are not lining out with the baggage of previous defeats to Cork. This may make a difference. If Dublin are going to back themselves and finally come out on the right side of a Championship match with Cork, it will require a significant team performance. Sinead Ahearne has given Player of the Match performances in the quarters and semis. Dublin will need her on form but other forwards will have to find their fair share of scores.

Everybody plans to have the game of their life in an All-Ireland Final. This Sunday, it will happen for some and not for others. There will be those who are lauded for their fine displays and there will be those who are criticised for their under-performance. It is hard to call which way it will go. There is no doubt that the game will be close. I think at some point Dublin will find themselves in a position to win the game. When this moment arrives it will be a case of whether they make the choice to push forward and hold on to the opportunity or watch it pass them by.