Another picture perfect exit for Maher?

It has become one of the iconic camogie photographs, up there with Angela Downey racing through to score a goal for victors Kilkenny in the 1989 All-Ireland final, despite having her skirt pulled off by Cork’s Liz O’Neill, or Lismore’s Gráinne Kenneally diving full-length football-style, sans hurley, in a bid to block a clearance by Ballyhale defender Jacqui Frisby in the drawn All-Ireland intermediate club final 25 years later.

Another picture perfect exit for Maher?

All-Ireland intermediate club camogie final

When Ger O’Dowd called time on the 2013 All-Ireland final, all eyes were on Therese Maher (or Donohue, as she is known locally, following her marriage to David in 2010).

Until that moment, one of the greatest players had encapsulated the hard-luck narrative surrounding Galway since getting their hands on the O’Duffy Cup for the first time in 1996.

The Athenry prodigy joined the panel the following year, when she won a second consecutive All-Ireland U16 medal, but despite her brilliance in defence and attack, she suffered nothing but heartbreak in Croke Park.

This was her sixth senior final for Galway, after five defeats. Aged 32, and after half a lifetime of trying, she had the elusive prize after they beat Kilkenny.

The picture captures the emotion of it all, as Maher, her helmet removed and on her knees, moved her hands to her head in relief, joy and maybe a hint of disbelief.

She had a few seconds to take it in before being enveloped by her teammates, That was her last game for the county and it was reasonable to assume we would never see her grace Croke Park again.

Yet, here she is, four-and-a-half years later, readying herself for the AIB All-Ireland intermediate club championship final.

Athenry possess a wonderful tradition of camogie, having been All-Ireland senior champions in 1978. They lost seven other deciders, though, with Maher involved in two. They dropped to intermediate level in 2016, but are now an hour away from ultimate glory.

A lot has happened since Maher last lined out at Jones’ Road. She and David have two boys: Three-year-old Bobby and Harry, aged 16 months.

“When you have kids, that’s your priority,” says Maher. “I always enjoyed playing camogie. I didn’t have to think twice about going back, once I thought I had something left to offer and the body felt good.”

She never imagined, though, running out at HQ once more.

“God no. I thought when I left Croke Park in September 2013, that was it and no better way to leave than winning. When I went back playing club last year, I thought my days of winter training were over too! As the year progressed and we continued winning, it’s great.

"It’s unbelievable, really,” says Maher, who is hugely influential as a leader, a calming influence and a contributor at either end of the field.

Johnstownbridge provide the opposition. As winners of the junior title in 2015 and 2016 and by reaching the intermediate decider at the first attempt, the Kildare crew’s credentials are obvious.

“When it’s down to two teams on All-Ireland final day, they have to be good and we certainly won’t be complacent on the day. They didn’t score in the second half of their semi-final and still won, so that shows they’re a team of real grit and determination.”

Bobby and Harry will be there to see mother adorn a stage she has graced magnificently on many occasions.

“Once you’ve kids and you’re involved in sport, they just fit into the mix. During the summer, when the weather is fine, Bobby’s been at training with me.

"There’s three of us on the team now that have kids, so you’re coming to training with a gear bag and a child. That’s the way it is!”

Her primary motivation has always been the collective, but after one perfect departure, you get the sense that Maher likes the idea of another.

“We’ve a good blend of youth and experience. I’m trying to tell them that this bunch of girls will never be together again. This year is unique. The exact same group of players are never there twice.

“If we were to win, it would be very special and look, if I was to retire again, wouldn’t it be an unbelievable way to go again?”

This weekend’s Camogie Leagues fixtures have been cancelled due to the weather.

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