By Jackie Cahill
With the benefit of hindsight, Sarah Tierney looks back on it now with a sense of perspective.
In the closing stages of last year’s TG4 All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin, Tierney tangled with Dublin’s Sinéad Aherne on the left touchline and referee Brendan Rice whistled for a free-in.
From a tight angle, Aherne made no mistake with the resultant kick and Dublin won by a point, leaving Mayo desolated.
Tierney took it particularly hard, feeling that she had let everybody down, particularly the older players like Cora Staunton, Yvonne Byrne and Martha Carter.
But maybe, she reasons, that trio might not have committed to another season if Mayo had gone on to the final, win or lose.
Instead, the hurt experienced in that Kingspan Breffni dressing room has helped to bring Mayo to a first decider in 10 years.
On Sunday, they’ll face Dublin at Croke Park, and Tierney hopes to lift the Brendan Martin Cup at full-time.
She says: “Life is what it is – the loss to Dublin last happened for a reason.
“We might not be where we are today if we ended up in Croke Park last year. “Regardless of the result, we might not have Yvonne Byrne, Cora, Martha Carter back in with us.
“We were very disappointed obviously in that dressing room in Breffni Park. “We had a big talk and without saying it, we all knew there was one more year in everyone and that’s been the driving force for us.”
Hollymount defender Tierney, admits that she’s carrying a sense of unfinished business to Dublin.
The 26-year-old explains: “It is a personal motivation for me.
“I suppose everyone knows the craic from last year – I gave away the free. It comes down to small little things.
“I beat myself up over it, I was bitterly disappointed for the likes of the older girls, who I thought might have ended their careers that day.
“It was my fault that we were within 30 seconds of the All-Ireland but looking at it with hindsight, I’m glad it happened me and not one of the younger ones. “I’m well able to deal with it now at this stage, it’s just another game, a game of football and there are worse things happening in the world.
“As I said earlier, it happened for a reason. I don’t think we’d be where we are today if that hadn’t happened last year. We had a hunger to get back.”
Mayo’s semi-final victory over Cork also gave them the chance to exorcise some Kingspan Breffni demons.
A year since that Dublin heartbreak, they righted some wrongs at the Cavan venue and Tierney was struck by the significance of it.
She says: “I was delighted we were playing Cork in Breffni Park – get rid of the cobwebs, get rid of the memories.
“We went into the dressing room in Breffni Park that day and all kind of switched around our usual seats. Little things.
“Thankfully we came out on top. It is what it is – sport can be cruel. Look at the Mayo lads the last day as well – that’s life.”
Tierney was struck by what the Mayo men invested in their ultimately unsuccessful quest for Sam Maguire.
Last Wednesday night, she travelled home to training with the other Dublin-based Mayo players.
They parked up in Lucan before car-pooling and while the ladies were back in the capital shortly after midnight, the men’s cars were still there.
Tierney, a trainee accountant, notes: “They were gone for hours, leaving work early, travelling up and down.
“They put in a huge amount of time and effort and have given us some fantastic days out this year.
“We’re so proud of them at home and hopefully they’ll come back next year for one more year.”
And that’s been the mantra of the Mayo ladies in 2017 – one more year, one more crack.
For Tierney, the wheel has come full circle as she was 15, going on 16, when she was first called up to the Mayo senior panel in 2007.
Frank Browne was manager then and is currently enjoying his second stint at the helm.
Maybe there’s a sense of destiny about it all and Tierney recalls of 2007: “I
trained with the girls a good bit and that was eye-opening, training with the likes of Cora Staunton, who was your idol.
“They asked me to be water girl for the final. That was nice, you got to experience the crowd and be on the pitch.
“There was no pressure on me that day. I remember the girls were bitterly disappointed and my two club-mates, Christina and Marcella (Heffernan) announced their retirements in the dressing room.
“It was really sad because they were kind of my mothers on the team. It was a nice occasion to be here but unfortunate about the result.”
Tierney smiles when it’s put to her that her own journey might have the happiest of endings.
“Hopefully – and then retire!”