'We've tasted success but we also know how heartbreaking it is to lose in Croke Park'

'We've tasted success but we also know how heartbreaking it is to lose in Croke Park'

Cork’s Sarah Harrington celebrates the league title with her team. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

About 25 years ago, her dad put the first hurley into Cork Intermediate captain, Sarah Harrington’s hand, and she has seldom put it down since.

Heading to Croke Park on Sunday, to face Down in the Liberty Insurance final, the likeable Fr O’Neill’s defender is hoping it will be third time lucky for Cork.

“To have lost out in a replay, last year to Meath, and the year before to Kilkenny, was, and still is, heartbreaking, but we will put that behind us now and focus on the job that is ahead of us.”

Wise words, indeed, from a lady who spent last year teaching in Bun Scoil Mhuire, in her mother’s native parish of Youghal. She enjoys teaching children.

“They are great to work with and I really love teaching. I am a primary teacher, so the children are young and really so very interesting to work with.”

If Youghal is in her family background, so is the GAA. Sara’s mother, Nora, is a first cousin to Cork hurling and camogie legends, Seanie and Mary O’Leary, and whilst not a player herself, Nora played hockey, but has a huge interest in GAA.

“Our whole family is really steeped in the GAA. My dad is a huge GAA man and he had hurleys in all our hands before we could walk. He played with Fr O’Neill’s, so it was just taken for granted we would all carry on the tradition, which, of course, we did.”

The ‘all’ Sarah refers to are her twin sister, Kate, with whom she lines out in the Fr O’Neill’s colours, and brothers Daniel and Shane, who both play with the club. Daniel played senior with CIT last year, but will be lining out with defending county champions, Imokilly, this season.

Kate lined out side by side with Sarah, up to minor level with Cork, until an injury forced her out of the game. She battled back, only to suffer the same injury again, whilst playing in a trial match.

“Kate was really unlucky to have suffered a cruciate injury twice, but she is now back playing camogie with the club and she actually plays football with Clare, as she is based in Ennis, so, really, it is non-stop sports in our family.”

Sarah is conscious of the bond within the intermediate panel, which is almost like a second family. That camaraderie is obvious to those of us who have watched this team not just this year, but through two successful national league campaigns and two All-Ireland final defeats.

“We have an incredible bond in this team. I know a lot of people probably say that about their teams, but, really, having gone through a lot of years together, we have become really close. We know what it is like to win, having won two national league titles back-to-back and we know how hard it is to lose, but, through it all, we have stuck at it and, hopefully, now, the strength we have will help get us over the line,” Harrington says.

The bond comes from having played together for many years and the stalwarts of the sides are Finola Neville, Leah Weste, Sarah Buckley, and last year’s captain, Niamh Ní Chaoimh, along with Sarah. Their experience is vital.

“What they call the five of us are ‘The Golden Oldies’. Make no bones about it, we have been there a long time. After us came the next batch, which included Lauren Callanan, Amy Lee, Caroline Sugrue, and now we have the younger minor players coming along, this year, so, really, we are the mammies to them,” says Harrington, the leader of the pack, with a huge laugh.

The introduction of players from the minor All-Ireland-winning team has been a huge boost, says Sarah.

“To be honest, the minor players who have come onto the panel are great.

“Already, this year, they have won the All Ireland minor title and they have fitted in so well to the intermediate set-up and we must give huge credit to the minor management for the hard work they put in during the year.

“They worked away hand in hand with our management and it is just great to see all these young players coming through to the adult ranks, with such huge ability and confidence.

“They are great and have slotted into the panel so easily and, really, they are a breath of fresh air around the place and they also keep us all on our toes, such is the talent they possess.”

Looking ahead, Down are a big obstacle and Sarah knows only too well it will not be easy.

“We have been there twice before and been so disappointed, but, like sure, Down are going there to win, as well. We played them in the championship already and know what to expect. They are a good side, with a lot of very experienced players and we need to really give it everything we have, if we are to be crowned champions,” Harrington says.

It would be a dream comes through for a player who, the week after the final, is heading away to a new teaching role in Abu Dhabi.

“I’m heading away on September 13 to take up a teaching role for a year. I have never really travelled much, as sport has taken up such a lot of my time, by choice, may I add, but I feel now is the time to do it. Last year, Niamh Ní Chaoimh went after the final, so I will be heading away and, hopefully, Niamh will be returning there, as well, and I will have a guide to show me the ropes.”

She may need a guide in the UAE, but, come Sunday, she will be the one leading the way, as Cork hit Croke Park running, in a bid to lift the coveted title.

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