Dealing with heartbreak and reminiscing on the glory days - The Downeys are two of a kind 1 month ago

Dealing with heartbreak and reminiscing on the glory days - The Downeys are two of a kind

"It won't really hit me I suppose until January. Not that I haven't been thinking about it, I have. I'm trying to put it out of my mind..."

Ann Downey wears the loss. Winces at its mere mention.

It's nearly lost two months since Kilkenny were beaten in the All-Ireland senior camogie final but you still feel as if you're approaching someone who has lost a loved one.

There's a trepidation. But you have to go for it.

Camogie is her life. Camogie has given her a great life.

Yes, the last three years have been tinged with heartbreak but she's been around long enough to know that breaks are both bad and good. Painful losses came thick and fast but Ann Downey is still one of the most successful ever.

A major part played in every one of Kilkenny's 13 senior camogie All-Irelands (12 as a player and one as a manager - 2016.) She has also won seven All-Ireland clubs in her time.

Losing three finals in a row is a special kind of heartbreak though. Especially when you know winning like Downey does.

"It's great to win the league and to win Leinster but I suppose you're always judged on the All-Irelands," she says with a stiff upper lip.

"I was there for four years and we contested the four of them and only to come out with one win... it's a heartbreak, to be honest. Because we were so near in 17 and 18...Should have got more out of it, I suppose..."

'18 was the toughest bar none. Having lost to a sucker punch the year previous, Kilkenny were hell-bent and inspired this time. A couple of debatable refereeing decisions saw them lose by a single point again. The dressing room was like a funeral and she was about to walk away.

"I didn't want to step away from camogie in Kilkenny and leave the job to the county board to get someone. I knew I'd probably have a better chance of getting someone myself..."

Downey knew this would be her last one. Former Kilkenny and O'Loughlin's hurler Brian Dowling was the safe pair of hands she trusted.

"The morning of the All-Ireland, I said whichever way it goes, I think if I step away it will be in good hands..."

But in reality, neither Ann Downey or Kilkenny camogie will ever truly move on.

"I've done a few training sessions since the All-Ireland. I was down in Wexford and there's medals to be presented and stuff like that. You never say never," she says with a smile.

"I stopped playing in I think it was '99, then I got involved with a hurling club, then I got involved in camogie, then I got involved in another hurling club, then I went back to camogie, then I got involved in another hurling club in 2016. I've always been doing something since I retired from playing myself...."

And the good times come rolling back. Alongside her twin sister Angela, the Downeys and Kilkenny camogie became an unstoppable force. They were two of the best and they created a dynasty.

She remembers the wins like yesterday. The losses even clearer.

"They were great memories. Even all the wins that we had with St Paul's were brilliant. It's not easy to win a club All-Ireland. And as good as we were and the star-studded team that we had, we still didn't win every All-Ireland that we contested. They were great days and we met some great teams. 

"Winning in 94 with Lisdowney was special and winning in 88 with St Paul's was equally as special for us because Angela had been suspended the week before the match was due to play. We had to go on the following week and play without her. Winning that All-Ireland kind of just had to be done.

There wasn't really another option.

In Lisdowney and Ballyragget they trained like no tomorrow. The Downeys were doing gym work before gym work was even in.

"We would have been going to the gym in the local hotel in town. That was something that we did ourselves, it wasn't anything that we were pressed to do. I suppose the weight thing then and everyone else looking after... we have to say our food wasn't great. We hadn't got to that level. While we were doing the extra training, we were still probably calling into the chipper on the way home after training and having a bag of chips. 

"The whole thing has evolved from the time we played. I'd love to be back then. I'd love if I was 40 years younger and only starting out my camogie career because there's so much opportunities for camogie players now. It's brilliant..."

They don't make 'em like they used to, they don't make them like Ann Downey anymore.

Ann Downey and a host of GAA stars were at the launch of the AIB Camogie and Club Championship. For exclusive content and behind the scenes action throughout the AIB GAA & Camogie Club Championships follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile