All-Ireland titles are won by fine margins and nobody knows this better than the Dublin footballers.
For three years running those margins got the better of them on the big day in Croke Park.
Now, they’re the back-to-back All Ireland champions – following up their triumph over Mayo in 2017 with a first ever championship win over Cork in the 2018 decider.
But it could’ve been a very different outcome last September – a goal-line save with 20 minutes to go stopped a certain goal that would’ve put the Rebels one point ahead, keeping the momentum on Dublin’s side at a crucial juncture.
The woman who made that save was Niamh Collins. Currently one of the most influential defensive operators in football, she also possesses a counter-attacking capability that can slice unsuspecting opposition open.
Between playing county with Dublin, club with Foxrock-Cabinteely, and college with UCD, Collins knows exactly what it takes to compete at the top level.
Ask her about the moment that made her want to get to that level, and the memory is clear-cut.
It was the 2003 All-Ireland final – a low-scoring affair in which defending champions Mayo denied Dublin a first ever title right at the death, thanks to a late goal from Diane O’Hora.
“I was 11 at the time, in fifth class. We went to the match with our club, back when FoxCab was still just Foxrock,” Collins told RTÉ Sport
“That last minute, I remember being absolutely devastated and heartbroken that Mayo got that goal, I really thought Dublin had it.”
“It was my first time in Croke Park, and it just floored me. I really remember players like Gemma Fay and Angie McNally. Isn’t it amazing to think that Sinead Aherne was out there that day, too? She’s someone who’s such an inspiration to me now, playing alongside her!
“I remember watching them all out on the pitch and just thinking, ‘oh my God, I really wanna be out there one day’.”
Even though it wasn’t a woman in blue lifting the Brendan Martin trophy at the end, witnessing the Mayo captain deliver her victory speech up the steps of the Hogan Stand also left a lasting impression on young Collins.
“For me it solidified the decision to go to secondary school in Choláiste Íosagáin – because I was like, ‘well if I’m gonna be out there in Croke Park, I’m gonna have to be able to speak Irish – just in case I’m ever the captain of Dublin’,” added Collins.
It was there in Choláiste Íosagáin that Collins immersed herself in playing both competitive basketball and football, honing the skills that led to the commencement of her inter-county career with the Dublin Under-14s. 13 years in the sky-blue jersey to date, and she’s never strayed beyond the back six.
Today, she is a defensive lynchpin of a Dublin side that entered 2019 as the team to beat.
“That match for me was incredibly influential in my life, in terms of where I wanted to be – because after it, all I wanted to be was a Dublin player.”