It is 41 county titles and counting in the history books but for Ballymacarbry only one figure matters – 2000.
By DARAGH SMALL
That was the last time the Waterford side won a Munster Senior title but this could be the year when they finally bridge that gap.
Later today (SAT), they face a gruelling trip to Kerry and defeat at Waterville Frank Casey’s would mean even more heartbreak. Their history-making victory over Mourneabbey would all stand for nothing.
Although she is still only 28, Aileen Wall has soldiered through the years and has already racked up 14 county senior championship wins.
Her illustrious career is similar to her Déise stronghold however, glittering but missing something.
Munster is what they all crave in Ballymacarbry and they certainly won’t go down without a fight in the final four against Southern Gaels this afternoon.
“To be honest, the only county title that ever matters is the one that is ahead of us,” said Wall.
“There were girls on our team this year who won their first senior county title.
“It was an amazing achievement for them. Then you have people like Michelle Ryan and Michelle McGrath, our captain, who are getting extraordinary numbers of medals.
“For the whole team, it’s the one in front of us. We don’t mention that number, it’s everybody else that mentions that number, not us. We only look at the year ahead and thankfully we came through again this year.
“We want to push on this year in Munster. Getting over Mourneabbey was a massive thing to do but there is still a tough task ahead now with Southern Gaels.”
Wall comes from a household steeped in Ladies football, her two sisters Linda and Mairéad have also experienced the highs and lows of life playing with a juggernaut of a club that has won so much at home in Waterford, without achieving Munster and All-Ireland honours in so long.
Aileen and Mairéad’s bond extends further to their day job, where they both work as primary school teachers in Powerstown National School in Clonmel.
They might be in a different county every day but ‘Ballymac’ is only 20 minutes away and they return to consume themselves with all things football when the bell rings.
In recent days, they had to experience a treacherous autumn week as Ireland’s dreary season closes in towards winter. But even thunder, lightning, and heavy rain couldn’t diminish the burning ambition lighting up from within.
“It is difficult playing at this time of the year, I suppose, the first time we have had cold weather really was last Sunday morning and it was difficult to go out when it is bitterly cold,” said Wall.
“But look, when you at a Munster semi-final stage, I don’t think anybody cares about going out in the weather when that is what you are preparing for.
“When you are all there together, it’s not a slog and you have that carrot dangling in front of you, it’s all for the greater good to try and do something that we haven’t done in a very long time.”
Cork teams have ruled the roost in Munster and Mourneabbey were looking to challenge for their eighth provincial crown in a row this year. But in an awesome turnaround, Ballymacarbry derailed the 2018 and 2019 All-Ireland Senior club champions.
Last December, the Waterford club came out on the end of another thrashing at the hands of Mourneabbey. But they overturned a 16-point defeat to win 3-7 to 0-7 in a seismic shock this time around.
Mourneabbey, the 2021 currentaccount.ie All-Ireland finalists, were out, while Wall and her teammates moved within one game of another Munster decider. The dream is still alive.
“It was amazing, we have come up against them for five years. There was a stage where we were 20 points behind and we closed the gap. We got as close as two points one year but last year we were 16 points behind again,” said Wall.
“You think that you are just never going to bridge that gap but we really turned it around this year. It was like we won the Munster final after the final whistle blew. We had to come down to earth then and we had actually nothing won.
“It is important to celebrate those wins. We haven’t had the chance to ever say we have beaten Mourneabbey, they have always been the ones that we have slipped on.
“We definitely took that and enjoyed it. We can see the chance that is ahead of us to win a Munster final.
“For most of the players on the team that has never happened (beating a Cork team). I would have been seven or eight when that happened. People haven’t got the opportunity to experience that. They did two weeks ago. It’s a great driving factor going forward.
“But it’s important we keep our eye on the ball now and take each match as they come. We have nothing won at this stage. We have to keep going and keep the pressure on ourselves to make us train better and play better.”
Southern Gaels clinched the Kerry SFC title with a free-kick shoot-out victory over Finuge/St Senans recently and they come into this game with many aces in the pack. Síofra O’Shea, Rachel Dwyer and Megan O’Connell will likely garner most attention from their Waterford opponents.
“The only thing we have our eye on at the moment is Saturday,” said Wall.
“It’s the only thing we can think about, there is no point looking any further ahead. You don’t want to get caught out.
“The preparation that we have done has been exceptional. I really believe we will get over Saturday but everything would be a bit in vain if we didn’t. Hopefully, we can do the job.”
Meanwhile, Waterford will soon begin their preparations for 2023 after a very promising season for a young team. And Wall will likely be a vital cog again going forward.
“We are building and there are players coming through,” said Wall.
“It’s difficult when you want to progress in the All-Ireland. A quarter-final is where we have been at in the last few years but we definitely want more than that. I think the team deserves more than that.
“We have a lot of young players, the Murray triplets are there and Kate McGrath and Megan Dunford, they are still young but have been around for years, they have experience as well. I really hope that they can get over the line.
“They deserve a semi-final and once you get to a semi-final I do believe that anything can happen at that point. Hopefully, they can do that in the coming year.”
However, for now, only one semi-final matters for Wall and the rest of her experienced ‘Ballymac’ campaigners.