So as not to reveal her age, Sarah Dervan tells little about her first All-Ireland final experience but as she talks about early days and teenage dreams, it’s not the age that stops you.
That the teak tough Mullagh defender was there in 2008, when Galway lost to Cork, and that she’s still here now, in 2021, tells a story of its own. It’s a story about one of the most fanatical camogie players in the country and how she, in her 13 years on the Galway panel, has become one of her county’s greatest ever players.
“I suppose I just absolutely love the sport,” the Galway captain says with a hint of emotion in her voice.
“I love the game. I get a huge enjoyment out of it and it gives me a purpose.
“It doesn’t feel like a commitment for me, because I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s what I want to do and I’ll play for as long as I can.”
Dervan was a starry-eyed member of the extended panel back in 2008 and now, as she has been for the last four years, she is Galway’s leader and she is their captain. There have been six more All-Ireland finals since, in a career glistening with six All-Stars, but Dervan could take or leave the individual accolades. That she has only won two of those All-Ireland finals, on the other hand, is something that keeps her up at night.
“I think you get more nervous as years go by. When you’re young, I suppose you don’t put any pressure on yourself, you just go out and you hurl. But then the years go on and you get older …you kind of become more hard on yourself. You start looking for areas to improve. It is hard, because I suppose, out of all those finals we only won two.
“Look, it’s brilliant to get back to an All-Ireland final, especially after last year. I’m very lucky that this is my eighth All-Ireland final… but we won two and lost five…”
She leaves it at that. Of the five losses, and the impression is that recency bias has nothing to do with it, 2020’s to Kilkenny seems to have been the most painful. Galway, coming into the game as League and All-Ireland champions, were widely tipped to assert their dominance by making it two O’Duffy cups in-a-row. Instead, Kilkenny did the business to send the Tribeswomen into a winter of discontent.
“The hardest thing was watching the match back afterwards. When matches like that are close and they come down to the wire, the 2020 All-Ireland, it was the 53rd or 54th minute it came down to, and it was a penalty. You question yourself on every mistake and every ball you hit afterwards. It’s hard then … but you just pick yourself up, you go again.
“At least you have the girls around you and we’re all in the same boat and you just try and drive on for another year.”
Losing to Kilkenny in the League final was another bitter pill to swallow but as the wheat gets separated from the chaff, Galway are still standing, and Dervan is ready for another big day out in Croke Park.
“I suppose 2020 was just really eerie. It was a really eerie feeling going out to Croke Park and nobody there and the pitch dark and a cold night. Strange. But, yeah, definitely to have family and friends there this year is great…”
Their opponents this time around are Cork, back after two years away and a team who will know that, if they are to score goals, if they are to shake Galway down, then they’ll have to pass their indestructible force of a full back first.
“I started off as a forward, a full-forward. I’d play anywhere I get a jersey, I’d go in goals if needs be. I play centre back for my club so I’m usually backs anyway.
“I probably just try and hurl myself,” she says of her tact as a number three.
“You can only control what you can do, you can’t really control what your marker’s going to do, so just to try and read the ball, to try and get any flicks and hooks. Talk to the backs around you. Just play your own game as well, because if you get too caught up in your marker or what they’re doing, you’re not hurling off instinct and you don’t want to be overthinking like that.”
It’s Sunday, it’s 4.15, it’s where she’s always wanted to be.