Sinead Aherne ready for championship campaign like no other

by Stephen Findlater

Sinead Aherne at the launch of the TG4 2020 All-Ireland Ladies Football Championship.Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Sinead Aherne is fully aware this year “could be a very short championship” with a loss to Donegal next Saturday evening at Kingspan Breffni Park potentially destroying any Dublin hopes for four in-a-row.

In this strangest of seasons, the rejigged ladies football senior championship leaves very little room for error. There’s no Leinster campaign to gently ease the Jackies into action; it’s straight into the cut and thrust of a three-team group with only one side to advance – lose on day one and the game could be up very quickly.

It has also been a preparation like no other; no group bonding sessions, no team meals after training, more like a six-week cramming session, trying to get in as much preseason fitness and tactical work as possible.

“The goalposts have moved so often,” Aherne said at the launch of the 2020 campaign, one which sees the LGFA mark 20 years of TG4’s sponsorship of the All-Ireland Championships.

This one is likely to be very much the strangest one since making her debut in 2003.

“Every time I have had the chance to go out to training, it has been a bonus. There has been times when you didn’t know if the training session would be your last one or not.

“It’s very much short-termism which isn’t the way we are used to operating. It’s not perfect nor how you would like to prepare and there probably will be cases where people have to step out of playing.

“We just have to roll with it. Any time we get the chance to train or play, it is a privilege and so we have to do ourselves justice and perform.”

The introduction of those extra curve balls, the unknown close-contacts that could see a key player or two ruled out at short notice, has added the potential banana-skins.

For Aherne, she is comfortable with the measures in place in the Dublin camp which she hopes are replicated across the board but admits there is no 100% risk-free scenario in the current climate.

“It’s a worrying time and people are naturally concerned. There is conflict with the GAA continuing while the rest of society and sport have been asked to wind down which is difficult for players who are amateurs.

“Going into level 5, you could look at it that there is now less opportunities for players to be circulating and the level of community-transmission could come down. There’s still a lot of players in our team in jobs where they are still leaving the house to work in those environments.

“It’s not something you can be 100% comfortable with but I am reasonably happy to see where we can go. If things improve on a national level, hopefully we can continue as long as possible.

“At the same time, we are still looking forward to playing and competing. It’s out of our control how the competitions are being run but, for the moment, players are relishing the chance to play and compete.”

They do so despite still not receiving cover for expenses like their male counterparts. Indeed, figures this week suggest just 7% of ladies Gaelic footballers have their travel covered in some form, an issue highlighted this week with the finale of the 20×20 initiative.

“We are being asked to travel to training in a solo capacity, which is difficult,” Aherne said of how it affects her team.

“In Dublin, that might be shorter distances, but we still have girls travelling over the toll bridge twice a day to go training. That adds up fairly quickly.

“You can look at it in one way and say, we are still not at the level men’s sport is at in terms of bringing in gate revenue, but I think it is time to try and take a step forward and maybe look at it from a different approach and get maybe additional government support to help girls out.

“We are fortunate to still be playing, but equally, we need to put our hands up and ask the question, is there more that can be done?”

Back to the matter at hand this week; Donegal were Dublin’s last opponents in a competitive setting back on March 8 when the sky blues edged them out 4-5 to 0-13 in the league with the St Sylvester’s forward among the goals.

Aherne, though, is wary that the O’Connell county could reap an unforeseen benefit from the Covid situation.

“Maybe of all years, this will suit them. Donegal have challenges every year with player availability and travel. With more players being home-based, they will have more available consistently over a good period of time.

“They will absolutely fancy a crack at taking down the All-Ireland champions in the first game. That’s something we have to be ready for despite the short run-in. We’ll find out on the day whether we have prepared as best we can.”

Chief among those threats is Yvonne Bonner who went great guns in the Donegal club championship following her return from Australia in the Women’s AFL.

“You don’t know where teams are at in terms of teams, squads and injuries and form. There’s not a lot to go on so it will be interesting to see where everyone lands when it all gets started.

“Things are much more simplistic. There isn’t really time to get into depth on some aspects of opposition or tactics. It means we can put what’s going on around us on the backburner for a few hours and really embrace it. We respect the situation we are in and can push it to the max where we can.”

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