Acid test for Dublin as they face their serial conquerors
Champions will have no shortage of motivation as they bid to finally lay Cork bogey
Dublin captain Sinéad Aherne with Cork Captain Ciara O’Sullivan ahead of Sunday’s TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Championship Final at Croke Park. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
TG4 All-Ireland SFC final: Cork v Dublin, Croke Park, Sunday, 4.0pm (Live TG4)
Defending All-Ireland champions Dublin come face-to-face with the challenge they have probably waited for all year, the opportunity to beat Cork in an All-Ireland final. Last year’s record attendance of 46,286 may or may not be under threat but a big crowd is expected.
Since 2009 the counties have met in four finals and Cork, in the course of winning 11 titles in 12 years, won all of them, three by a single point and one by two. Worse for Dublin, in the 2014 final they lost a 10-point lead, having a year previously lost a nine-point advantage to Cork in that year’s quarter-final.
Of the past 13 All-Irelands, Dublin have won the other two but on neither occasion did they get to play the outstanding team of the era, instead winning the Brendan Martin Cup by defeating the team that beat Cork. Last year that was Mayo.
So, despite the rampant odds-on price and the opposition’s rebuilding process, the champions will be taking nothing for granted in Croke Park.
Stephen Glennon managed the Galway team that lost to Dublin in the semi-finals and he sees danger in the outsiders’ array of talented minors, who supplement the seven players who started the 2016 final, which was the last time the counties met in championship.
“Cork’s forwards are gifted,” he says, “and they probably have the most dangerous attack in the country – including Dublin’s – but they are going through a brief period of transition. I think four of their backs are relatively new, which is probably an area where Dublin may feel they can get at them.”
They will need to, as Cork have scored 25 goals in six matches and have a couple of formidable scorers in captain Ciara O’Sullivan, with 6-7 to date, and last year’s prodigious minor Saoirse Noonan, who has notched 6-11 coming off the bench.
Dublin do have an experienced defence with multiple All Star winners Sinéad Goldrick, Sinéad Finnegan, Siobhán McGrath and Leah Caffrey, as well as last year’s nominees Niamh Collins and Martha Byrne, so it promises to be an absorbing contest.
The champions have averaged 4-13 per match compared to the challengers’ 4-14 and in captain Sinéad Aherne, they have one of the top forwards in the game.
“The thing is,” says Glennon, “that Cork are pulling off four All-Ireland minor winning teams of the past number of years [2015-17 and 2011] and all of these girls coming in still have a winning mentality, feeding into the older players, who have five, six, seven All-Ireland medals in their back pocket. That will stand to Cork.
“Dublin now have to beat a Cork team who traditionally have had the upper hand over them and I think there’ll still be an element of that. Dublin have pushed on and the structures are there and their physical conditioning is very good but the one area that will test them is how far have they come mentally?
“That’s the biggest threat Cork pose and if they can plant a seed of doubt they are in with a big shout because they have the forwards.”
Dublin are now the settled outfit taking on newer opponents, albeit backboned by multiple All-Ireland medallists.
“If Dublin can win this,” concludes Glennon, “they will go up in many people’s estimation because the one box they have to tick is to beat Cork in the championship.”
CORK: M O’Brien; E Meaney, R Phelan, M Duggan; M O’Callaghan, S Kelly, E Spillane; A Hutchings, H Looney; C O’Sullivan (capt), L Coppinger, E Scally; Á O’Sullivan, D O’Sullivan, O Finn.
DUBLIN: C Trant; M Byrne, S Finnegan, L Caffrey; S Goldrick, S McGrath, N Collins; L Magee, O Carey; C Rowe, N Healy, L Davey; S Aherne (capt), N McEvoy, N Owens.
Referee: Garryowen McMahon (Mayo).