fairytale final

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Eliza Downey says her Down side must put in the performance of a lifetime to claim All-Ireland glory on Sunday.

They take on Fermanagh in the intermediate final at Croke Park and Eliza, along with Annaclone team-mates Aileen Pyers, Grainne Kelly and Mairead Grant, is hoping for the right result in what will be her final county game.

“This will be the hardest match we will ever have to play,” she said. “We have to give a performance of a lifetime.

“I haven’t really thought about it being my last game because I don’t want to get sidetracked but, now that we’re reaching the pinnacle of everything we’ve been trying to do for 13 years, it seems the right time to bow out. I just hope I get the happy ending on Sunday.

“The nerves and excitement are all starting to kick in. It’s a real mix of emotions. We just want it to be here now.”

The Down girls have the upper hand against opponents Fermanagh, unbeaten against them so far this season but Eliza says that won’t matter come Sunday’s showpiece final.

She said: “It doesn’t even come into my head. Fermanagh can be a totally different team and they have seemed reinvigorated lately, playing with different tactics. The game is anybody’s to win.”

The local girls have certainly left no stone unturned in preparation for the biggest game of their careers to date, putting in what Eliza says has been the most gruelling training regime she has undertaken.

“Our ethos has been the team that works the hardest and the longest will win,” she said. “That’s something we have to take into the game.

“The training has been the toughest I have ever done. We haven’t taken the foot off the pedal at all. We’ve taken the approach that we’re going to train as hard as we want to play.

“We haven’t been wrapping ourselves in cotton wool. Everyone has been fighting it out for a place in the starting team.

“Maybe I’m trying to look after an older body but I’ve been swimming after all of our sessions and we’ve been seeing the masseuse. The commitment all the girls have shown has been beyond training sessions. It’s all the other stuff as well. “Hopefully we will give a performance that justifies the work we have put in and the sacrifices we have made.

“We just couldn’t have given any more all year. Anything that was asked of us, no matter how much we thought we couldn’t do it, we have done it. It’s a testament to all the girls.”

Sunday’s final will be the first time the Ulster rugby player has ever taken to the Croke Park pitch but, having watched her Down camogie counterparts pick up their own trophy earlier this month, Downey isn’t intending to be overawed.

She said: “We went down to Croke Park to support the camogie girls and that helped to make it more real. We don’t want it to become a monster because once the whistle goes, it’s just another game.”