Mairead Scanlan keeps the ball from Aoife McGrath. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Mairead Scanlan has been leading the line for Scariff-Ogonnelloe since the amalgamation’s permanent inception a decade ago.

Four Munster crowns (two senior and two junior) have maintained a perfect provincial record for the proud East Clare history-makers but ultimately their All-Ireland experiences have all ended in heartbreak.

Despite being top-scorer in two All-Ireland Finals, joint-captain Scanlan is one of only a handful of players to have suffered defeat in the national junior deciders of 2013 and ’16 along with their two point reverse to Slaughtneil in the All-Ireland Senior Semi-Final two years ago.

Such agonising set-backs have only steeled Scanlan and Co. to make amends as deep down, she wasn’t even sure if this opportunity would ever come around again. “The first time was really kind of fairytale stuff. That word was even thrown around a lot at the time and It did feel like that to a large extent whereas the minute we won the Munster Final this time, it was about focusing again on a new challenge and we’ve been here before.

“To be honest after the Slaughtneil match in 2019, I remember talking to the girls after and saying ‘bottle this feeling. It’s really hard but you might get a chance again’. I thought myself that my own chance was gone because there’s a lot of hurling to do to win Clare again, not to even mention get back to an All-Ireland Semi-Final,” she told The Clare Echo.

That determination will be required on Sunday against holders Oulart-the-Ballagh (Wexford) as it was essentially nerves that hampered Scariff-Ogonnelloe’s last venture in 2019. A slow start cost the newcomers dearly when they finally realised that the then defending champions Slaughtneil were only human and eminently beatable.

“I still have regrets from that game because I feel that we really didn’t do ourselves justice against Slaughtneil. Maybe we kind of got caught up with the whole ‘we’re playing Slaughtneil who are going for four-in-a-row’ and the whole occasion whereas this time it’s just a pure focus. We haven’t mentioned Oulart, we’re just training away ourselves and we believe that we’ve a right to be here as this is our second time in three years.

“It’s not a fluke, we won it the hard way in Munster going down to Cork and then beat the current Munster champions so we feel like we’ve every right to be there.”

Indeed, capturing a second Munster senior crown in three years, thanks in no small way to a last gasp Scanlan goal, is not only historic for a Clare club but has actually provided the additional confidence and assurance required for Scariff-Ogonnelloe to take that next significant leap to a first All-ireland Final.

“It does validate it because even the Clare championship itself is probably the hardest to win, it’s so competitive. I mean in almost every other county, the same teams are winning every year whereas in Clare, there are even different finalists every year so once you got out of Clare, you really do have a great chance in Munster.

“In 2019 we had momentum but to do it twice and beat the hardest teams does justify it and nobody can say it was a flash in the pan. I don’t think a Munster team has even been in an All-Ireland final since 2015 so we also really want to put Munster back on the map.”

And yet with a sizeable transition of players and management at the start of 2021, few could have foreseen how Scariff-Ogonnelloe’s season would have unfolded.

“There was a couple of girls gone on Erasmus, Marian [Rodgers] had a baby while there were a few injuries too along the way so the minor girls coming through has been a revelation really. The new management coming in helped that process too as they are looking at the squad with fresh eyes and giving the young girls a proper chance.

“So it has really given everyone such a lift and also keeps you on your toes because there’s such competition for places now that I have to up my game every day I go out. There’s no let up because if you’re not performing, there’s someone ready to take your spot.”

Ahead of Sunday’s showdown with the Wexford superpowers in Clonmel Commercials GAA grounds (1.30pm), it’s patently clear from Scanlan’s demeanour and performances that it’s all-or-nothing this year.

“Look, I really want to make the most of Sunday and even though there is a strong conveyor belt of talent coming through, you’ll never get this group of girls together like this again. The older girls are key to that as we’ve tried to emphasise to the younger ones that these days are special and unique and that this is the last All-Ireland Semi-Final for this particular team so you’ve got to savour the opportunity.”

“So this time it’s not fairytale stuff, more the reality.”

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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