At the beginning, I was like, ‘Oh God,’ you forget you’ve to follow a player: Kerrie Finnegan

Kerrie Finnegan and fellow Dublin player Emma O’Byrne modelling the Camogie Association’s 120th anniversary commemorative jerseys. (Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady)

By Daragh Ó Conchúir

You would not have seen as many double-takes had Aisling Maher rocked up for Dublin’s opening Very League outing of the year in Oulart wearing a gorilla suit, tutu and high heels.

The former All-Star full-forward, the Blues’ primary attacking option for the best part of a decade, had 14 imprinted on her back but was lining up at centre-back against Wexford.

We know now how well the relocation has worked and should not have been surprised by that, really. A player of Maher’s skill, intelligence, craft and vision is always likely to flourish with a blank canvas in front of her. As a quarter-back who can read the game, she has the opportunity now to impact games in a more holistic manner than heretofore. Think Anne Dalton or Gemma O’Connor.

It isn’t the only switch Bill McCormack and his brains trust made. Indeed there has been a whole lot of alterations and to a large extent, they have worked with the Dubs promoted to Division 1A of the League as Division 1B champions, feeling like they left a Leinster title behind them when leaving it late to take off the shackles against Kilkenny in the final and now putting themselves in a position where they are a win against Group 2 basement dwellers Down away from reaching the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior quarter-final.

Kerrie Finnegan is another poacher-turned-gamekeeper. The third year TUD optometry student is more comfortable with her position at wing-back now, after learning to balance the defensive mindset while still using her attacking instincts to good effect.

“I would never have seen the backs until this year,” says Finnegan. “The management decided to do a few positional changes for a couple of players on the team. At the beginning, I was like, ‘Oh God,’ you know, you forget you’ve to follow a player. Forwards are a bit more selfish but I think I’ve got the hang of it now.

“There’s a few of us have come back. Aoife McKearney is a forward. She’s playing in defence. Aisling Maher especially, back into defence. And then we had a few who were in defence go up to the forwards so they did a lot of changes. I think we were a bit hesitant at the beginning, but yeah, it seems to be working.”

To win the League while undergoing such surgery was no mean feat.

“It’s the first bit of silverware most of us would have. The first round of the League would have been against Wexford. It was the first time we really put the plan into action, and we lost by about four points (2-15 to 0-17). I think it wasn’t until the Limerick game (a third round 1-14 to 0-9 triumph) that everything kind of started to come together. And then we got win after win.

“We met Wexford again in the League final and won. I think after that game, we felt that we kind of almost let it go (winning thanks to an injury time goal from Grace O’Shea). So in the championship, we played them, we put up a big score and that gave us great confidence.”

That was their performance of the year to date against opponents they have invariably been evenly matched with in recent years. To beat them by 12 points in Parnell Park was a real statement, with the half-back line a constant threat on the ball.

“I think the idea was, if you have a forward, they’re naturally going to want to go forward. So everyone in the half back line is going forward and attacking. So we’ve had a lot more scores from our defence.

“In years before, we would have been depending on two forwards at the front, but I think it was the Clare game and we had about 11 or 12 different scores, which is huge. So yeah, we’ve a licence to go forward and it’s something I’m happy to do!”

They go into today’s game, at the St Malachys pitch in Kilclief, off the back of a dreadful display, however. For all that things had looked like clicking in previous outings, only scoring five points, all from placed balls, even against opponents as vaunted as All-Ireland champions Cork at SuperValu Páirc Uí Chaoimh, was awful. Conceding 4-22 along with that suggests they never raised a gallop.

Finnegan acknowledges how bad it was but does offer some mitigation. For all that though, she knows that it wasn’t good enough.

“Yeah, look, it was hugely disappointing. It was probably our worst performance of the year. Our main goal was to get the wins against Wexford and Clare, which would set us up nicely to vie for a quarter final against Down this weekend.

“For the Cork game we were able to rest some players that had niggles. Three or four players coming back from injury who wouldn’t have had much playing time were able to get 60 minutes under a belt. Of course, we didn’t expect a result like it was but I think we could take some kind of benefits from it. Definitely it was the most we’d lost so we have a lot to reflect on.”

It absolutely ensures that despite being hot favourites, Dublin will not take their eye off the ball against Down once the sliotar is thrown in at 4pm this afternoon.

“We’re gonna go into the game with confidence, but not complacency. We’ve seen what can happen to teams. That’s not our game at all. We know this is our biggest game of the year, so we’re definitely going in with all guns blazing to get the win, to get into a quarter final, which would be absolutely huge.”