Dublin prepare to meet old enemy with a new turn of the screw

Memory of the 2009 defeat at the hands of Cork will keep these Dubs focused

Dublin manager Gerry McGill. Photograph: R yan Byrne/Inpho

Dublin manager Gerry McGill. Photograph: R yan Byrne/Inpho


The Dublin team bus was late on the day of the 2010 All-Ireland final day. Manager Gerry McGill wanted his team in Croke Park at least an hour ahead of the throw-in, but plans to depart from their base in the St Brigid’s GAA club were scuppered by traffic.

Worry may have gnawed at the Donegal man, but not the players. The hurt from three All-Ireland final defeats had steeled them for this opportunity, and the little inconvenience of a late bus had no chance of throwing them off their focus.

While they waited, the players decamped to a nearby pub and got their pre-match routine under way. McGill read the personal and team goals that each player had written down. He still has them today.

They eventually arrived in Croke Park with just 45 minutes to spare, but the rush turned out to be the “perfect” build-up, according to McGill.

By half-time Dublin were nine points clear of Tyrone but, hey, they’d been there before, with a one-point advantage over Cork at the same stage of the 2009 decider.

They certainly had had their chances to steal victory that day. Cork were hit with a sin bin in the first half and two Sinead Aherne goal-bound shots never reached the net. But, by the final whistle, Dublin were on the wrong side of a 0-11 to 1-09 scoreline.

2010, however, was going to be different – and McGill knew it when Dublin stalwart Mary Nevin rose to speak in the dressing room at half-time.

Been here before

“Mary Nevin set the tone for the second half, and she did it with one sentence,” he recalls. “It was very simple. she stood up and she said: ‘Just before Gerry speaks girls, I just want to say we’ve been here before, we’re here now again, but this time let’s turn the screw.’

“You could see there was no nervousness. She had been there against Mayo in 2003 and Galway in 2004 when Dublin were up at half-time.This time there was going to be no repeat of it.”

Second Captains

“It didn’t matter what I said after that. You can’t buy that type of stuff. It was great.”

Dublin went on to destroy Tyrone with a 16-point win that marked a complete departure from their second half implosions in 2003, 2004 and 2009. Dublin were All-Ireland Ladies football champions at last.

Elation and relief were the emotions of the moment, but they took a bit longer to work their way down to McGill. On his way over to the media room, the reality of the achievement finally registered. When he turned to captain Denise Masterson, he spoke about the “difference of 12 months”. But he wasn’t just talking about the team’s change of fortune.

After the 2009 defeat, it was uncertain if McGill would manage the Dublin Ladies team again for the upcoming season.

“The 2009 All-Ireland final took an awful lot out of me,” he says. “We were going in the right direction and I was fully convinced that we would beat Cork. I remember actually looking online at the odds for the final and we were 14/1 against Cork. We were ranked outsiders – and maybe rightly so, because Cork had been so dominant.”

His return in 2010 had the support of management, but McGill wanted input from his players. He met some of the more senior members of the squad to get a measure of how they were feeling before reconvening with the wider group.

Before any plans could be made for 2010, the pain of 2009 had to be confronted.

Back to the place

“When we decided to go back training, we met and we had to get closure as well. I think Denise Masterson and Mary Nevin summed it up at the meeting. They spoke about how difficult it was going to be to get back to that place again. They talked about the stumbling blocks, but that we would remember what we agreed in this meeting.

“The sad thing about that meeting was that there were players in that room and it was said that by the time it came to the end of the year, the same amount of people wouldn’t be sitting together.”

This wasn’t the first time McGill had managed a Dublin team nursing wounds of All-Ireland heartbreak. When he took the job ahead of the 2007 season, Dublin were already scarred by two failed All-Ireland attempts, and McGill misread the magnitude of the task in front of him.

“The only nervousness I ever had as Dublin manager was after my first year in charge. I got an awful amount of things wrong. 2007 wasn’t a good year and it was a steep learning curve for me. I thought I was coming into a ready-made, confident team who had been to two All-Irelands a couple of years before that. I was very wrong. Dublin were very hurt and very bruised.”

Three years later, the players were willing to return to the well once more. They were relegated from Division 1, and yet a review of the National League left them with a positive feeling about what the team could achieve. From that, a sense of conviction grew, which ultimately delivered the county’s first senior All-Ireland title.

This weekend, a new Dublin team will venture to the well again. Some of the class of 2010 are still playing for Dublin, still striving for that elusive second All-Ireland gong.

First and last

If they are to break the cycle of disappointment against Cork, McGill advises that the first and last 10 minutes of the game are where they need to play with particular alertness.

“Cork can cause a lot of damage in those particular times. In that final 10 minutes, I certainly witnessed it in 2009. They know how to close out big games. They’ve done it so many times. The key thing is going to be that Dublin take their opportunities. The big players are going to have to perform. I certainly think they will have the hunger, but also they have a better balance to their team this year.”

No further briefings about Cork will be needed on Sunday. Dublin just have to rediscover a way to turn the screw.

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