Tomorrow afternoon in north Galway football country, the Mourneabbey ladies chase a fourth All-Ireland club final appearance in five years. Should they perform, they’ll win, believes manager Shane Ronayne — a prediction tied to the soul-searching he and his squad embarked on during what was another particularly long winter.
Once the dust had settled on last December’s All-Ireland final defeat to Carnacon, their third in four years, the Mourneabbey ladies began to dissect, painful and all as it was, why they were continually falling short at the final hurdle. It was neither an easy nor enjoyable process, but was imperative if they are to eventually join the five Cork clubs who have successfully annexed the Dolores Tyrrell Cup.
Players and management alike, admitted Ronayne, weren’t being sufficiently critical of themselves. Yes, they were returning year after year to the concluding stages of the All-Ireland championship, but where performances hadn’t been up to the required level, they weren’t adequately addressing why this was so.
“Maybe, last year, we weren’t looking critically enough at ourselves going into the All-Ireland final,” the Mourneabbey boss begins.
“We weren’t happy with our last three performances of last year; the Munster final, All-Ireland semi-final, and final. We beat Ballymacarbry by seven points in the Munster final but looking back on it, people said we didn’t play great. We didn’t play very well in the semi-final. We got two wins, but, ultimately, we failed in the All-Ireland.
The latter point has been central to a somewhat changed approach in 2018. In key fixtures over the past four years, Mourneabbey have, on occasion, let themselves down in attack. During the first 43 minutes of last year’s All-Ireland final, the five-in-a-row Cork and Munster champions amassed the measly total of 0-5. In 2016, when going down to Donaghmoyne, they finished with 1-6, nowhere near good enough in an attack containing Ciara, Doireann, and Bríd O’Sullivan, as well as Laura Fitzgerald.
“Last year, we were depending on goals. Carnacon knew that; ‘stop Mourneabbey scoring goals, and you beat them’,” Ronayne continues.
“Other teams were thinking like that too. Against Foxrock-Cabinteely in the All-Ireland semi-final, they hit 15 scores (0-15) to our nine (4-5). It just wasn’t good enough. The players were going back into their shell and were a bit apprehensive. They were more afraid to lose than we were trying to win. That is something we have tried to change. We have conceded a little bit more this year, but have certainly been better attacking-wise and in our support play.
“Our point-shooting has also been much better. That is a mental thing, too. We are prepared to push further up the field, have a shot and not be sitting back. On Sunday, we are not going to sit back. We are going to take the game to Kilkerrin/Clonberne, have a real go at it.
“If we lose in a shootout, so be it. I’d prefer to come back down the road having been beaten in a humdinger as opposed to losing a game where we have a lot of questions about ourselves and have been too defensive.
“I think if we perform, we are going to win.”