Aherne enjoying Dublin journey
By Michael Devlin
Sinéad Aherne has a chuckle about the moniker her Dublin team-mates have for her.
“It started out as ‘Si-nerd’, and it’s just gradually shortened down to ‘nerd’. I’m working as an accountant, so when I was doing professional exams I would have had the books on the bus a couple of times for away matches. I used to arrive with a big rucksack that was bigger than me onto the bus.”
The Dublin ladies captain started her career at KPMG just a week after winning the 2010 All-Ireland Ladies Football title, and is now an associate director of tax in the company. According to Aherne, the responsibilities and pressures of the job are vital to keeping her focus in check for when it comes time to pull on the blue jersey.
Speaking at the launch of the 2019 Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps in Croke Park last week, Aherne said: “When I go into work it’s very much your focus there, and you don’t really have time to think so much about it. The challenge of that is that when you go out onto the pitch, it’s equally as an immediate switch in mind-sets.
“But even in weeks of big games, I wouldn’t be inclined to take a whole lot of time off, because you’re kind of just left to your thoughts when you’re not used to it. It’s probably part of my preparation that I just make sure in my work environment to keep things as steady as possible.
“It doesn’t build up sport to be too much pressure, it’s more just something you do as a release and for enjoyment.”
That focus and drive are very much hallmarks of her role as one of Dublin’s most experienced players, and one of the most acclaimed footballers in Ireland. Aherne’s roll of honour is as decorated as they come. A three-time All-Ireland winner, having captained the Sky Blues to back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, she has also accrued 12 Leinster senior crowns and seven All-Stars.
Last year she scooped the award for TG4 Senior Players’ Player of the Year after a stellar season that yielded a personal haul of 5-31. A third successive year to have been nominated for the prize, Aherne feels privileged to be held in such high regard by her peers.
"I was very humbled to win it. Lyndsey Davey and Ciara O'Sullivan who were in the running as well had great seasons, and Noelle Healy the year before. It's a really nice honour but I think I'm really fortunate to be playing with a team who have been successful and I'm very reliant on what everyone around me is doing in the full-forward line.
“I suppose the nice thing about the Players’ Player of the Year award is that it is from players, and probably the players are very close to the game and experienced across the board. So it was a really nice honour.”
Aherne is now into her 16th season with Dublin, having taken a year out to travel in 2015. Before the exhilaration of the success of the last two seasons, she and her team-mates had to contend with the heartbreak of three successive final defeats in 2014, 2015 and 2016, all at the hands of the then all-conquering Cork.
A triple sorrow like that would have tested the will of any athlete, especially one with almost a decade and a half of service under their belt, and only one All-Ireland to show for it. Aherne got back for 2017 to eventually break the Rebel County’s hex and secure that much sought-after second Celtic Cross medal.
But if that year had brought further pain, could she have summoned the desire to come back to the well once more?
"I don't know,” the St Sylvester’s star concedes. “It's worse in probably October or November, but once you get over Christmas, you probably just realise that winning is great but you enjoy what you do as well.
“While the defeat is very negative for a few weeks, you turn back to why you enjoy the game and trying to get back on board. If we had lost, I can't answer that question. Thankfully, we didn't."
That familiar nemesis Cork are once again in Dublin’s cross hairs this weekend in the Lidl Ladies National Football League semi-final. Mick Bohan's Dubs are the reigning Division One champions, and having replaced the Rebelettes as the standard-bearers in lades football, another gripping chapter in the rivalry is set to ensue on Sunday afternoon in Nowlan Park, Kilkenny.
The sides met in Mallow a few weeks ago and it was Cork who came out on top by 2-13 to 2-08. The tie is finely balanced, and the immediacy of the rematch gives Aherne and her team-mates a swift shot at redemption.
“It’s just the way it fell, the semi-final pairings were looking likely that we'd be playing each other again. We were second best that weekend so we’d a bit of work to do in the few weeks to try and turn that around.
“Anytime you go out to play a National League game you’re looking to put points on the board, as we were. We just came up short on the day.
“I think there's a lot of teams that have been knocking on the door over the last few years. The Ladies Football final tends to be the day that everyone has a picture of the season about, which doesn't reflect how close things are at the next level of teams that are really close to making the breakthrough.
“I think Galway and Donegal have certainly been in that bracket. Last year, they really fancied their chances - both semi-finalists, both falling just short and have put hand up coming into the League this year and obviously one of them will be in a league final. Looking at that, it's a great opportunity to springboard into Championship.”