Hurling & Camogie

Aoife Ní Chaiside: Winning an All-Ireland matters more than where you do it

Aoife Ní Chaiside in action for Derry during their All-Ireland intermediate semi-final win over Kilkenny   Picture: Inpho
Aoife Ní Chaiside in action for Derry during their All-Ireland intermediate semi-final win over Kilkenny Picture: Inpho

DERRY joint-captain Aoife Ní Chaiside has won an All-Ireland title with her club and county outside Croke Park, as well as two of Slaughtneil’s three All-Ireland club medals at Headquarters.

As she prepares to lead her team in an All-Ireland intermediate final against Meath at the north Dublin venue on Sunday, she admits that winning is more important than the venue.

“It doesn’t really matter where you win your All-Ireland, the important thing is to win it,” said the youth worker in An Carn.

“When Derry won the All-Ireland Intermediate in 2012, it was in a replay in Ashbourne and we won it with a late goal from Karen Kielt. The drawn game in Croke Park could also have gone against us. So, we were all just relieved to win.

“When Slaughtneil won then, it was in Croke Park the first year. But the second year the final in Croke Park was postponed because of bad weather and we had to play in Clones a couple of weeks later. Did it matter that it was in Clones? No, it just felt every bit as good as it had the year before in Croke Park.”

As she heads into her second All-Ireland Intermediate final with Derry, the semi-final win over Kilkenny a fortnight ago has triggered memories for the Slaughtneil defender of that first title 11 years ago.

“I was still a minor that year, but I cannot remember feeling overawed by playing at that level. Like, I had always played in the age-group above at club and county level. I was playing minor county before I was out of under 16.

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Aoife Ní Chaiside has won All-Ireland titles with her club Slaughtneil and Derry
Aoife Ní Chaiside has won All-Ireland titles with her club Slaughtneil and Derry

“That team was also quite young and I played with a lot of them on school teams in St Patrick’s Maghera - Éilís (her sister), Karen Kielt, Gráinne McNicholl. So I never felt out of place among the seniors, going to training, getting my place in the team.

“John Angelo (Mullan) and Gerard McErlane were the managers and they made us all feel very much an important part of the squad, of the team. So I was comfortable enough in the team and I cannot remember being overawed or even nervous playing in Croke Park.

“I wouldn’t say I played particularly well that day, however. I was marking Orla Curtin and she was a good bit more experienced than I was at that stage; she was a very clever player. It was a learning experience.

“We had good leaders in the team that year. You had Gráinne and Méabh McGoldrick, Katie McAuley-McAnenley, Sinéad Cassidy, Aileen McCusker, super players but also great leaders.”

The replay was the day after her school formal and it was an early night for the Derry full-back.

“The formal would be a big night for any teenager, but the All-Ireland replay was much bigger for me. It was worth it when we won, and I can tell you there was plenty of celebration that night!”

Ní Chaiside now finds herself as one of the players giving leadership as Derry head for a second Intermediate title on Sunday.

“Yeah, I do feel a certain responsibility in the team, but we have other leaders as well. What better example could you get than Aoife Shaw in the semi-final, taking that pressure free to keep us in the game. Or Áine (McAllister), Dervla (O’Kane), Mairéad (McNicholl).

“We are the ones who have been around the longest and those are the players we looked up to when we came into more senior teams as young players.

Aoife Ní Chaiside played for Derry in their All-Ireland Intermediate final win over Galway in 2012. The drawn game was played at Croke Park, but the replay took place in Ashbourne, Co Meath
Aoife Ní Chaiside played for Derry in their All-Ireland Intermediate final win over Galway in 2012. The drawn game was played at Croke Park, but the replay took place in Ashbourne, Co Meath

“I would try to be on hand for all the defenders, take a pass from them when they are getting bottled up and they do the same for me. So, this year has been about building that confidence in each other and playing as a team.

“When it comes down to it, all the players have to take on their own challenges and while management cannot make decisions for you on the field, they are great at doing the homework on the opposition, preparing us for what they think might happen during a game.

“I think the players who have come in this year, who didn’t play last year, have really stepped up to the mark, including those younger girls like Orlaith Hull, Eimear Doherty and the Lennon twins.

“Playing in the group stages helped the less experienced players play with confidence. A lot of subs got game time because we were in control on the score-board. And our stats showed that the subs were having a positive impact on the team performance.

“Then when we lost a player like Eimear (O’Kane), Leah (Lennon) can come straight in to the team and feel at ease. Eimear is still a big loss because she had been playing so well, but Leah had a great All-Ireland semi.”

The Derry joint-captain has played many times against Meath over the years and would agree that they are more a championship side than a league out-fit.

“I was told that they have played in the last four semi-finals. So they are always there or thereabouts, knocking on the door. This year the door opened and they have got to the final.

“Their game with Westmeath was very physical, very tight before Meath finally pulled away. They are a step up certainly, so we just have to get all our homework, training tailored to beating a good team.”