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Dublin and Mayo face off after a week of rising tensions

Managers trade blows ahead of an All-Ireland football final that is rich in narrative

Dublin’s Sorcha Furlong tackles Cora Staunton of Mayo in last year’s All-Ireland ladies’ senior football semi-final. Photograph: ©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

The last bit of business in Croke Park for the year has the potential to rival much if not most of what’s gone on there before. Dublin and Mayo face off tomorrow for a women’s All-Ireland final that has a nice bit of niggle nibbling at its toes before a ball is even kicked. It might have been presumed that once Cork left the stage, the women’s showpiece might find itself a little light on storylines. Not so.

Even if you hadn’t Dublin in their fourth final in a row, having lost the first three; even if you hadn’t Mayo back in a final for the first time since 2007, their county board having all but disbanded them in the meantime; even if you hadn’t the LGFA reasonably confident of beating last year’s record attendance figure given a good day – even if you hadn’t all that to stick in your satchel, the flurry of temper this week between the respective management teams would be plenty to keep you going.

To recap. Dublin manager Mick Bohan – who was, by coincidence, in charge of the Jackies when Mayo last won an All-Ireland back in 2003 – ginned up a snappy little dog-whistle for the ears of Sunday’s referee Seamus Mulvihill by slipping into a long and gushing tribute to Cora Staunton a small mention of her ability “to intimidate referees”. This was duly snatched up by Mayo coach Peter Leahy, who summoned up his highest dudgeon to call it “a ridiculous statement, a very insulting statement”.

Add in a further bit of Mayo soreness at what they perceived as Bohan suggesting they use head injuries to slow down the game, not to mention the, ahem, close marking Staunton received in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final between the two teams and you have quite the delicious afternoon in prospect.

Close encounters

The last four women’s football finals have been decided, respectively, by a point, two points, a point and a point – this is a game that hasn’t disappointed in recent times.

Cork’s long and implacable reign as equal-opportunities destroyers means that neither of these sides has a monopoly on grief coming into this. Staunton and her Mayo teammates walked out of Croke Park in 2003 with their fourth All-Ireland in five years – if you’d said to them that day they’d still be waiting on the next one 14 years later, you’d have been on the sharp end of a dirty look or two. As for Dublin, they’ve lost the last three finals by an accumulated total of four points. They are long past the point of enough-is-enough.

Bohan’s side have been easily the most impressive team in the competition this year. They have been largely playing against their own vision of themselves, swishing aside Laois (by 28 points), Westmeath (by 19), Waterford (14) and Kerry (14). Kerry are the only one of those teams who would have been expected to give them anything approaching a game, but still, you have to admire how they’ve made short work of everyone to have crossed their path.

Bumpy road

Mayo’s road to the final has been a little bumpier, it’s true. But there would appear to be more meat in what they’ve had to get past to make it to this point. The defeat to Galway in the Connacht championship was heavy enough – 3-12 to 1-8 – and difficult to dismiss as just one of those things. Getting past Donegal and Cork in the All-Ireland series required access to a gear Dublin haven’t had to go looking for yet. Mayo know they have it – Dublin can only reasonably hope they do.

It would be wrong to reduce Mayo to Staunton and Staunton alone. Ireland soccer international Sarah Rowe is the brains of the team and they are strong-running throughout the pitch. But there’s no getting away from it either – Staunton has lasted at this level for 23 years because most Mayo games come down to whether the opposition can hold the best female forward ever to lace up a pair of boots.

Dublin needed all manner of means – fair, foul and all the rest – to keep tabs on her last year. The suspicion here is that they won’t be dainty about it this time around and, furthermore, that that will be enough.

Verdict: Dublin to win.

All-Ireland women’s SFC final

Dublin v Mayo Tomorrow, Croke Park, 4pm Live, TG4

Dublin: Ciara Trant; Martha Byrne, Sinéad Finnegan, Rachel Ruddy; Sinéad Goldrick, Niamh Collins, Leah Caffrey; Lauren Magee, Olwen Carey; Carla Rowe, Lyndsey Davey, Nicole Owens; Sinéad Ahearne, Niamh McEvoy, Noelle Healy.

Mayo: Yvonne Byrne; Orla Conlon, Sarah Tierney, Martha Carter; Rachel Kearns, Marie Corbett, Fiona Doherty; Aileen Gilroy, Fiona McHale; Doireann Hughes, Niamh Kelly, Ciara Whyte; Sarah Rowe, Cora Staunton, Grace Kelly (Moy Davitts).

Referee: Seamus Mulvihill (Kerry).