By Paul O’Neill.
Dublin ladies football star Siobhán McGrath says she is happy to be making up for lost time after returning from her shock exile for last year’s Championship.
McGrath is set to line out for the Dubs when they play Meath in the Leinster final on Saturday.
Yet the defender – who was a key player for Dublin when they landed their first and only All-Ireland to date in 2010 – was absent during the last campaign.
Many followers of the game were stunned when she was cut from the squad for the Championship by then manager Peter Clarke. But now, after being recalled by new boss Paul Gilheany, she is back and relishing the chance to win a sixth provincial medal.
McGrath revealed: “It hurt a lot when I found out that I was not going to be involved in last year’s Championship.
“And when I was out of the squad it made me realise just how big a part of my life inter-county football had been for the previous eight years. I missed it a lot and in a way it was hard to get used to not going off to games and training sessions.
“But when the opportunity came along to re-join the squad earlier this season, I was delighted to accept.”
And McGrath has been hugely impressed with the set-up under Gilheany. A former member of the Dublin management team, he was initially asked to take temporary charge this year by the county board before being handed the reins on a permanent basis.
She said: “Everything about the squad this year has been excellent.
"It hurt a lot when I found out that I was not going to be involved in last year’s Championship" - Siobhán McGrath
“The management are well organised and the good thing for Paul was that he had been on board before so he knew how things worked and some of the players he worked with in the past were still in the squad.
“All of the players are pulling together in the same direction and everyone knows what is expected of them.
“That is what you want when you are trying to be successful and hopefully we can have something to show for our efforts at the end of the year in the shape of silverware.”
Since their All-Ireland triumph, Dublin have managed to add only one Championship trophy – the Leinster title which they won 12 months ago – to their collection. But McGrath insists Dublin have not necessarily gone backwards since winning the All-Ireland.
“While we would have liked to build on winning the All-Ireland, it has not quite worked out like that,” admitted McGrath.
“We have missed several members of the All-Ireland winning squad who have retired and while some fine young players have moved up to the senior ranks, they have understandably needed time to find their feet.
“Still, we lost to Cork by just one point in the All-Ireland quarter-finals two years ago and got promoted back to Division One of the National League so it has not all been bad for us.
“I feel we are back on track now but we need to show it when it matters over the coming weeks in the Championship.”
That starts with the Leinster decider at Dr Cullen Park where Dublin are the favourites to overcome Meath.
However McGrath does not agree that Meath will be a pushover for Dublin, who came out on top by two points when the counties clashed in the opening series of the recent League.
She concluded: “That game was five months ago so I do not think you can read too much into it now. It was the start of the League when fitness levels were not as good as they are now, both sides had new management teams and some new players and the conditions were different too.
“Also there will be a bigger prize on the line this time and neither side will want to miss out on getting their hands on it – especially as it also brings automatic qualification for the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
“Meath are a physically strong team and always seem to have a great blend of players in terms of those who are tall and others who are speedy.
“They overcame a very fancied Laois side in the last round and before that beat Westmeath, who are up-and-coming, so no doubt they will be brimming with confidence.”
Saturday: Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Camogie Senior Championship first round, Group 1: Clare v Galway (Ennis, 1pm), Kilkenny v Wexford (Nowlan Park, 1pm).
TG4 Leinster Ladies Football Senior Championship final: Dublin v Meath (Dr Cullen Park, 5pm).
TG4 Munster Ladies Football Senior Championship final: Cork v Kerry (Castletownroche, 3.45pm). Sunday:
TG4 Connacht Ladies Football Senior Championship final: Galway v Mayo (Tuam, 4pm).
TG4 Ulster Ladies Football Senior Championship final: Monaghan v Tyrone (Celtic Park, 3.45pm).