To captain a Munster title-winning side must be some feeling but that is a distant memory now for Mairéad Scanlan as the Scariff-Ogonnelloe sharpshooter has her sights firmly focused on taking down the most prolific club team in the country.
Slaughtneil of Derry have swept all before them in the last three years and the East Clare side standing in their way have serious intentions of spoiling the party.
“They’re going for four-in-a-row, they are a serious, serious team. There has to be unreal hunger there to keep coming back and doing what is required. We have prepared really well, and they are there to be beaten and I think we have a huge chance.
“If you are going to be knocked out, you are hoping it is the best team that do it. They are an immense team, but we haven’t even thought of the possibility of losing. We are all approaching this in such a positive frame of mind and we just don’t care who we are playing, we will focus on ourselves. If we bring our work rate and our own game, we will be there or thereabouts,” Scanlan believes.
It is over two months since Scariff-Ogonnelloe claimed their first ever senior Munster championship and while training for two months for one game would seem an onerous task for some, Scanlan says the Scariff-Ogonnelloe management have done a brilliant job in keeping things fresh, while introducing a few recognisable faces into the fold.
“We have trained so much but the lads have kept it really fresh and brought in a few faces to keep things different and that has been really good. Jim [Minogue], our manager, works with Cathal and Pádraic Mannion and they came down and did a session with us before Christmas and they were excellent. Pádraic has just been named Galway captain and the way he spoke to us was like he was speaking to his own teammates. He was demanding more of us and that in turn made us demand more of ourselves.
“We also had a few of the Scariff hurlers in helping us, some of the lads that are really into coaching and that has really helped us and kept it all fresh and interesting after a long year.
“It can drag out a bit and you would love the whole club scene to be over within the year but at the same time we had never even been in a senior county final until this year so it’s not as if we are here every year. We have had a few long years in recent years thanks to getting to Junior All-Irelands and it is tiring but you would never complain about reaching them either. The amount of people that would bite our hands off to be in our position,” Scanlan surmised.
Fast starts have been a hallmark for Scariff-Ogonnelloe this year and Scanlan knows her side will have to hit the Ashbourne GAA ground running on Sunday if they are to upset the champions. She is also aware that her free-taking will need to be as unwavering as it has all year if Scariff-Ogonnelloe are to stay in the hunt for All-Ireland glory.
“We have led in a lot of games and we tend to start our games very quickly for whatever reason. It’s inevitable at this level that teams will come back at you. We know though that when teams do come back at us that we can battle through it and take back control. Still though; we are hoping for two good halves instead of one on Sunday,” Mairéad joked.
“I take the free-taking duties in my stride as I have always taken them, so it is nothing new or different to me. This year I’ve worked really hard on my routine as the more pressurised a game is, the more you need your routine to fall back on. I have mine now and that’s it. At this stage I’m almost of the disposition of it they go over, they do and if they don’t, they don’t. There is a lot more to me than my frees though, I always try and chip in with scores from play and that is the biggest aspect of it all and I just hope the frees go right,” Scanlan said.
While the team is riddled with belief that they can go all the way to All-Ireland glory, Mairéad says the sense of occasion often sneaks up on her and takes her by surprise. This is in no small part due to the unwavering and brilliant support her side has received while on a meteoric rise this year.
“We have had unbelievable support all year. Everyone from old men and women, to kids are coming out to watch us play. In East Clare, there aren’t too many teams even playing senior in hurling or camogie so it’s nice to have a team competing at the top level. It gives people something to chat about and something to follow at a time of year when things can be a bit quiet.
“I can remember reading one of the sports apps about a year ago and saying to a friend: ‘Jesus, that Slaughtneil team must be incredible.’ And here we are a year later getting ready to face them. To be at this stage is just mental. I was out for a walk earlier and I was thinking how crazy it is that I’m getting ready to play an All-Ireland semi-final this weekend. You’d nearly have to slap me across the face to get me to believe it,” Scanlan exclaimed.