Valerie Mulcahy: Being part of All-Ireland final day is special

I was one of those players who needed to tick all the boxes in order to feel like I had everything covered. Routine was everything, writes Valerie Mulcahy.

Valerie Mulcahy: Being part of All-Ireland final day is special

And so the wait for the biggest day in the ladies football calendar is nearly over.

On Sunday, Croke Park welcomes six teams and thousands of fans for three All-Ireland finals. A special day with special memories.

One of the things I miss most about this time of year are the rituals which were part and parcel of the pre-match build-up.

I was one of those players who needed to tick all the boxes in order to feel like I had everything covered. Routine was everything. All-Ireland final mornings meant an early breakfast followed with some light stretching and a rest before we would all meet together to go for a walk and a reflection. These walks were very significant and memorable occasions which set the tone for the day ahead.

The backroom team would usually address the players during these strolls. Their emotion and passion were contagious. It strengthened our feeling of sisterhood and reinforced the knowledge that we were all in it together.

Gear bags were thrown onto the bus while players gathered for lunch. It can be hard to eat close to a game when you are consumed by nervousness and excitement but I always managed to be hungry. Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of preparation. It is a long and testing day and you need fuel to burn.

One of the other memorable rituals unfolded on Jones Rd.

When Eamonn Ryan took over our team we always linked in a circle in a vast Croke Park dressing room to receive our jerseys.

The ritual of Eamonn individually shaking our hands and handing over each jersey drew a few tears each year and reminded us of the honour which was being bestowed on us. We were but a small temporary cog in the wheel of Cork — and the game. It was humbling.

On Sunday, each of the teams will create and follow their own rituals which are significant and meaningful to them.

The ecstasy and agony of sports will play out when the final whistle goes. For one team that final whistle will make all their efforts and commitments worthwhile.

A win will dilute the pain of previous losses on All-Ireland final day for either Mayo or Dublin.

A loss, though, will leave them once more questioning their decision to commit so much for so long.

No matter your dedication, your commitment, or your rituals, you may find yourself on the losing side. We had a brush with that feeling in 2014 before producing a comeback that many thought impossible — ten points down with 15 minutes remaining. It looked like we were about to be trashed and were playing out the game for the sake of pride. All of our experiences, rituals, and bonds came to the surface in that final surge as we clawed our way back into the final, score by score.

The joy, excitement, and disbelief at the final whistle remains etched in my memory. But I couldn’t help but feel sorrow for our Dublin opponents who appeared to have done everything right but couldn’t see out the game.

Being part of these All-Ireland final days is special. It is a rare privilege to experience it first hand, it is indescribable. For all those who are fortunate enough to be about to embark on their All-Ireland final day rituals, my advice would be to heed this great saying that was revealed to us the night before an All-Ireland.

“Learn to appreciate what you have before time makes you appreciate what you had.”

All the best to all the teams involved in Croke Park on Sunday.

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