Siobhan McGrath says she still feels she has to earn her spot in the Dublin team every time she hits the turf despite over 15 years in and around the panel with ladies football now operating on a whole new level.
The Thomas Davis woman first joined up with the Jackies as a 15 year old, and has witnessed both All Ireland extremes: the county’s heartbreaking final-second-goal defeat to Mayo in 2003, and the debut win in 2010.
When she departed for a new life in Australia after the 2014 final loss, though, McGrath continued playing football in what she called “more of a social scene,” and felt like she had a lot of work to do in coming back to the All Ireland champions at the start of 2018.
“I feel like I’ve been through three eras of Dublin panels,” McGrath explains. “There were a lot of older players like Martina Farrell when I arrived in 2003. Then we had the Denise Masterson era, and now we’re with the younger ones again.
“I feel like I need to earn my spot now. Nothing comes easy. The first night back was daunting. I obviously knew I had so much work to do.
“The conditioning, strength, fitness, speed, everything was at a different level to when I left. The girls were great, they really pushed me to get to where I needed to be. I think it took me a good few months to get there, but I got there by training with these girls.
“I think even the science of everything… ladies football has grown so much that there’s a real focus on improving, getting the standard as high as we can, and every year it just gets better. It’s a much higher standard than 2003.
“When I came on board in 2003, Mick [Bohan] was also the manager then, and it was a massive jump from the year before. Your lifestyle had to change. I’ve always been strict but the level of conditioning has improved so much.”
McGrath has been a growing presence in the championship for the Dubs and starred at half back as Galway were harried and outfoxed on the way to the final, with Dublin winning 4-8 to 1-10 after a first half blitz in Roscommon.
McGrath watched last year’s win from the stands but has no regrets about leaving her return until 2018, or about her departure back in 2014.
“I thought I wasn’t going to come back,” she says of her time in Australia.
“I really enjoyed my time away. I really enjoyed coming home last year, too.
“I was in Croke Park, and I was so happy for the girls,” she recalls of the 2017 All Ireland win.
“It was amazing to see the crowd there, to come back and see that kind of crowd for ladies football. I was so proud of them.”
This time around, she could be part of the on-pitch crew, entertaining a crowd of potentially over 50,000.