Brian Cody made a point of accentuating it when Kilkenny were putting their sequential run of four hurling All-Irelands together writes Daragh Ó Conchúir. So too JJ Doyle, as the Wexford camogie squad compiled three on the trot. The players repeated the mantra at every opportunity; from Eddie Brennan to Mary Leacy, Henry Shefflin to Ursula Jacob.
“We’re not thinking about a three-in-a-row. We just want to win this year’s All-Ireland.”
This makes a difference. It might seem subtle but psychologically, it is huge. Nobody sets out initially to win a succession of consecutive titles. That is never what you dream of. It’s too ridiculous. Growing up, you just want to win an All-Ireland. Milford are 60 minutes away from becoming only the third team since the turn of the century to retain the AIB All-Ireland senior club camogie championship.
When Pearses (Galway) and St Lachtain’s (Kilkenny) achieved the feat, they went on to make it three-in-a-row in 2002 and 2006 respectively.
The North Cork girls probably aren’t even aware of that. Because they have taken it a step forward. They aren’t even focussing on winning an All-Ireland.
“I suppose it would be nice but we’re not concentrating on a back-to-back” insists skipper, Elaine O’Riordan.
“We’re concentrating on the game really. Okay, look, there’s a massive bonus at the end, it’s an All-Ireland alright, but it’s the game we’re looking at. You can’t look beyond the 60 minutes of the game.”
The Milford story is a remarkable one. It has always seemed inevitable that they would make an impact at the highest level. Yet there were many speed bumps along the way before they finally made the breakthrough in 2012 and O’Riordan got her hands on the Bill Carroll Cup 12 months ago.
She has always been captaincy material but there is no shortage of leadership within the group. Anna Geary was Cork captain last year, while Maria Watson – who scored two goals in the 2013 club All-Ireland – O’Riordan and Geary led Rebel sides that harvested All-Ireland minor championships from 2001 to 2003.
It was a stupendous contribution to the county cause by a club established in 1997. A team was entered in the county U12 championship. They won and carried on winning. The core of that panel is bulwarking the current heroics.
They fielded their first senior team in 2003 and won the league. A championship final was reached the following term. But they could not maintain the pace, having progressed too quickly. And when they did mature, the defeats had scarred them. That meant more near-misses, more losses, more psychological damage.
Nobody was talking about All-Irelands then. Mecca was getting just one county title. They lost three finals in all before bursting through the glass ceiling.It was as if they had been relieved of a debilitating weight. Having been burdened by expectation and then failure, they were now doing their best Richard Branson impressions. They soared and haven’t stopped since.
“We lost so much and when we started winning, you want to win as much as you can ‘cos you know it will end and you’ve only a certain amount of time to do it” explains O’Riordan of the continuing desire.
“Our motto is ‘win as much as you can while you can’. While the hunger is still there and the confidence is still there, we’re going to keep going. Long may it last. But it’s those losses that are still driving us.”
There has been a change of management but there is continuity too. Ex-Toomevara goalkeeper and Galway coach, James McGrath had been part of Frankie Flannery’s backroom team and fitted in seamlessly when Flannery accepted the opportunity to join Derek McGrath with Waterford senior hurlers.The pressure has increased once more though, and the expectation is back.
“When you’re winning you’re at the top and everyone’s trying to knock you. It was definitely a different approach this year. We were unknown last year, people have seen us enough this year. But we have to work that bit extra hard.”
The 27-year-old manager of the Ballyhass Lakes Activity Centre accepts that Croke Park experience is beneficial but insists that it won’t be a deciding factor.
“It was all new to us last year whereas now we know what to expect. But that’s the same for Ardrahan. They were up here for an intermediate final (in 2012). Win or lose, playing in Croke Park is experience. We have it but so do they so there’s no big advantage there.”
The fact is that Milford have returned to the big stage without approaching the type of form brought them there initially. In particular, Derry kingpins Eoghan Rua went very close to toppling the hotpots in the semi-final, with the five-point margin flattering the champions. They found a way though, whereas once upon a time, they would have floundered.
“We’ve had a chat about this. I don’t think we’ve played to our potential this year. In the semi-final, Eoghan Rua were very good and I think people have underestimated them. We knew they were going to be a tough team; they had nothing to lose. But we didn’t play to our potential.
“Hopefully we’ll get things together for Sunday because we haven’t hit 100% yet.”
An All-Ireland final is the place to do it. Win the game, and the rest falls into place.
Milford v Ardrahan, Croke Park March 2nd, 3.15pm follow the action on @officialcamogie & @AIB_GAA and #theToughest
*Pictured Milford captain Elaine O'Riordan