A stranger ambling into McDonagh Park, Nenagh, would never have guessed that Michelle Downes had spent the previous hour running herself into the ground in pursuit of an All-Ireland medal.
Once national ladies football chairman Pat Quill ceded control of the microphone to the West Clare Gaels captain, she delivered a seamless, blemish free oration.
Over nearly seven minutes, Michelle omitted few people from her thanks. The entire panel, her sister Carol, Fiona Troy who was injured, Sister Mary O’Connell, the club executive, Michael Boland and Geraldine Troy all got a mention.
Yet it was the team captain’s tribute to joint managers Darragh Kelly and Patrick Foley that underlined the esteem which the panel hold their two-man management team.
“As the saying goes, behind any good man is a great woman. When you have 29 women behind you, you can’t really go too far wrong,” she laughed.
“The minute they (management) became involved in West Clare Gaels they put their heart and soul into the club. On behalf of the club and on behalf of all the players, we’ll be indebted to you for the rest of our lives for what you have done for us,” Michelle added, accompanied by a deafening din of approval.
She also acknowledged the financial and vocal support accorded to West Clare Gaels by their friends and neighbours back West. “Only for the people of the three parishes we would not be standing here today,” Michelle stressed.
A few minutes later Michelle was calmer but still not short of a few words.
“I think we can’t believe we pulled it off. I think after the bad start in London and the bad start against the Leitrim team, we knew from the off that we couldn’t afford that again. That was driven into us for the last two weeks and I knew personally that we were going to go at it from the outset,” she told The Clare Champion.
“You couldn’t be anywhere else but in our dressing room at the moment. We’re on a serious high ever since the county final because it was our first ever senior title,” she added.
All that remained now was to head West and mark their achievement.
“To be honest we’ve been very disciplined. We learned a hard lesson in 2007. We spent a couple of weeks celebrating the Munster and we didn’t realise that until you win the whole thing out, there’s nothing worth celebrating,” Downes concluded, aware that there was plenty of substance to celebrate now.
Carrigaholt flyer shares the credit
Katie Geoghegan’s return of 2-1 from play was pivotal in securing All-Ireland glory for West Clare Gaels.
The 18-year-old from Carrigaholt pummelled her second half penalty to the St Conleth’s net and buried her second six minutes from full time. She could have completed a hat trick had another goal effort not nearly broken the crossbar before flying over the bar.
In tandem with Niamh Lardener, Katie ran rings around the Leinster champions full back who just couldn’t keep up with either of the West Clare Gaels corner forwards.
“It’s unreal. We put in so much work all year and it has definitely paid off. St Conleth’s are a really good team. It mightn’t have shown out there but it was a really tough battle,” Katie said after the game.
She felt that the team’s unity of purpose them to national victory.
“We’ve been trained not to panic and no matter what happened, we would have held it together. We all gelled so well together this year. We get on really well and it worked brilliantly on the field,” she said.
Although herself and Niamh Lardener scored 3-4 of West Clare Gaels tally, Katie Geoghegan was keen to spread the credit.
“Our midfield are brilliant at finding forwards. They’re really good at picking out players and that’s what won the game for us in the end. Even Maria Kelly is well able to score goals. She’s able to carry it in and score. It’s really good that we’re not just relying on one person in the forwards,” the elusive corner forward mused.
She denied that her slightly more experienced attacking colleagues, Majella Griffin, Denise Geaney and Bríd Troy, were reliant upon Katie, Niamh Lardener and Leanne Lynch to do most of the running.
“Ah no, they’re brilliant,” Katie laughed. “They’re really good to us in fairness. Niamh and I are fairly young alright. Bríd has a lot of experience and so does Majella. Those kind of players on a team really boost it.”
On the cusp of being engulfed by marauding supporters, Katie Geoghegan expressed disbelief at what had unfolded. “I can’t believe it. At 18 it’s brilliant. I’m so happy for the team and it’s really good for the parish,” the Carrigaholt flyer concluded.