GAA: Annaclone’s All Ireland Champions enjoy a ‘whirlwind’ of a celebration

Annaclone's Down girls Mairead Grant, Eliza Downey, Aileen Pyers and Grainne Kelly pose proudly with the All Ireland IFC trophy along with the Junior Camogie cup also won by the Mourne County.
Annaclone's Down girls Mairead Grant, Eliza Downey, Aileen Pyers and Grainne Kelly pose proudly with the All Ireland IFC trophy along with the Junior Camogie cup also won by the Mourne County.

Annaclone’s All Ireland winners have had a hectic couple of weeks.

Eliza Downey, Aileen Pyers, Grainne Kelly and Mairead Grant are just getting used to calling themselves All Ireland Champions.

All Stars nominees Eliza Downey and Aileen Pyers lift aloft the trophy at Croke Park.

All Stars nominees Eliza Downey and Aileen Pyers lift aloft the trophy at Croke Park.

Just over a fortnight has passed since they raised the trophy aloft at Croke Park after storming to a 6-16 to 1-10 victory over Fermanagh.

And as if all the trips to Stormont, victory home-comings and the celebrations weren’t enough, Eliza Downey and Aileen Pyers will have to keep 8 November free to go to the 2014 TG4 All Star Awards Gala after being nominated for a place in the line-up.

With all that to get packed in, Eliza says their accomplishment is only now sinking in.

“It’s nice now that we’ve actually had time to look back at it all,” she said.

“Even thinking about it all now is great. It’s been such a whirlwind since the final and it’s only now we can have a proper think and look at all the photographs.

“The welcome home was fantastic and the texts, phonecalls and Facebook messages we have all received has been overwhelming.

“The week after we won was definitely one of the best of my life. It was great just to be in each other’s company after all the work we had done and to talk through what we had accomplished.”

Before the match, Eliza had said it would be her final game in the red Down jersey but, with the Senior campaign beckoning next season, is she going to stick to her guns and hang up the county shirt?

“That’s the big question,” she mused. “At the moment, emotions are everywhere after that win and I haven’t said anything to anyone. I’m going to start back into rugby now and get that structure back in my life.

“You never say never but I haven’t given anyone any answers yet. I’m just going to take some time to enjoy things and then I’ll see.”

Annaclone girl Aileen Pyers scored 1-5 in the Croker finale. It’s fair to say the scale of the occasion wasn’t getting on top of the local girls, even with the sizable crowd peering on at their every move.

“The amount of people who came to support us was fantastic,” said Eliza. “It was a real sea of red and black in the stands. It was just a really special day all round. We had waited so long for it.

“When we ran out, we were hit by the sea of red and black. I had a sneaky look when I was running into position and at that moment I knew we were there to win. We knew we had put all the work in and I wanted to make sure, if we got beat, it wouldn’t be through playing badly.”

A year of hard work finally paid off and even with such a handsome lead, Downey says it was only once the final whistle had been peeped that the Down girls allowed themselves to slack off.

“The overwhelming feeling was the release of all the pressure,” he said. “Then there was just the sheer jubilation of seeing that all the hard work we had put in and the sacrifices we had made had paid off.

“Myself and Aileen (Pyers) stood at the bottom of the steps and tried to take everything in because we knew in a matter of hours, it would be over.

“People keep saying it must have been nice in the last ten minutes, knowing we were so far ahead but because of what had happened in the previous games, I really didn’t want to let Fermanagh score. We didn’t take our foot off the pedal at all. Every single person on our team were so keyed in to what we had to do until the final whistle blew and we could have that release.

“We didn’t take it for granted at any stage. The more we scored, the more the momentum carried us and the more we didn’t want to let Fermanagh score.

“I think we actually put in our best performance of the season, which was really pleasing.”

Perhaps the Annaclone quad will all be back to power Down towards another Croker final next season. The other girls will no doubt have to have a persuading word in Eliza’s ear but don’t rule out her taking to the field for Down again in 2015.