WHEN Cathy Ann Stack won a junior club All-Ireland at the tender age of 17, little did she imagine that 11 years later, she would be climbing the steps of Parnell Park to collect a senior All-Ireland medal.
Stack has been resident full-back on the Mourneabbey ladies football team since 2005 and made GAA history two weeks ago when her and eight of her teammates collected a historic treble; junior, intermediate and senior club All-Ireland championships.
The Junior and Intermediate All-Ireland’s were captured within two years of each other, but the senior title eluded them for quite a while, despite coming agonisingly close in 2014, 2015 and 2017, losing the final on all three occasions.
And for Stack, the hardest pill to swallow regarding those defeats was the feeling that they didn’t quite do themselves justice.
“We respect every team that beats us but on the day we never felt we had performed. I don’t know what happened to us, were we overly focused on the other teams or what, but the occasion got to us.”
Stack admits she was on the fence about whether or not she would commit for 2018, she didn’t know if she had another 12 months in her, but her teammates felt otherwise and eventually convinced her to give it one last go.
A shift in the attitude of players told Stack that this may very well be their year.
“Everyone was so focused. I’m not saying we weren’t focused other years but everyone was really, really geared up for it this year.
“As the year went on, the feeling definitely changed. We got better with every match, now don’t get me wrong, there were bad games and bad times during the year, but we definitely felt we were improving and I think there was more of a belief that we were well able to do it and there was more trust in each other.”
The squad returned to training in April in preparation for the upcoming county championship. The goal as always was to win the senior All-Ireland, but the camp is well aware that the hardest hurdle to jump on route to All-Ireland glory is the county championship.
“I know we have said we came back solely to win the All-Ireland, but not for one minute did we ever think we were going to get out of the county easily, we always knew it would be tough.”
The opening three games went to plan, St Val’s, Éire Óg and Kinsale were dispatched with relative ease and things were looking right on track for the defending champions. But St Vals proved to be a different animal when the sides met again in the county semi-final.
Mourneabbey had beaten St Vals in the last four county finals, often by the tightest of margins, it took a strong second half performance to see them over the line against the same opponents this year, a game Stack recounts as their toughest test all year.
The meeting of Vals and Mourneabbey at the semi-final stages threw up a new county final pairing. Divisional side West Cork stood in the way of the defending champions collecting five consecutive County titles, and halfway through the second half, it looked like Mourneabbey’s ticket may be up.
“Not for one minute did we take West Cork for granted with the players they have, but it just didn’t go well for us on the day,” says Stack.
“I hate saying we were complacent because at the time I didn’t think anyone was, but looking back on it now we probably were a little bit. Maybe having the comfort of knowing we were going through regardless of the result, but at the same time, absolutely nobody wanted to lose that county title.”
After a titanic battle, the teams were deadlocked at the final whistle. Mourneabbey’s performance in the replay improved drastically and they kicked themselves to a 4-11 to 1-10 victory.
As always, the Cork champions were red-hot favourites to retain their Munster crown and despite a strong Ballymacarbry showing, the Clyda unit secured a fifth consecutive county and interprovincial double.
The All-Ireland dream was well and truly alive, two games stood between Mourneabbey and finally reaching the pinnacle.
Galway champions Kilkerrin-Clonberne provided the All-Ireland semi-final opposition. The sides had also locked horns at the same stage in 2015, a game Mourneabbey won by a point. But this time around the Munster champions dominated their opponents from start to finish, securing an eight-point victory. But could they replicate that performance in the final?
“That was a fear of ours, not that we had peaked too soon, but because we had played so well in the semi-final, it was always going to be in the back of your head; can you go out and do the same the next day?” But the performance in the semi-final indicated a coming of age of the group. Where they had stumbled into All-Ireland finals in the past, they had stormed their way into the 2018 decider.
Training in the weeks following went off without a hitch and Stack recalls a relaxed, yet focused atmosphere in the build-up to the final.
“The bus was a different feeling. People were just relaxed, composed and in the zone from the get-go, it’s hard to explain it. The occasion didn’t get to us, it just felt like we were going out to play any other match.”
But it wasn’t just any other match, it was the biggest game of the Ladies Football club calendar and finally, Mourneabbey truly showed their pedigree. They shot out of the traps and at half time held a commanding 1-12 to 1-3 interval lead.
Despite only registering one point in the second half, Mourneabbey always remained in control of their own destiny and finally reached the Holy Grail.
“When the final whistle blew, everyone was absolutely delighted but the overriding feeling was just relief more than anything.
“When you see your family come in and everyone is bawling, it really hits home that you have finally done it. I have never seen the likes of it. The emotion across everyone, it wasn’t just us wanting to win it was the whole parish.
“I am an extremely proud Mourneabbey woman. People would ask me am I proud of the medals and winning the All-Ireland but I am actually more proud of the girls and proud of Mourneabbey.”