Joanne O’Riordan: Head to the Hyde for some real miracles this weekend
Expectations are high for Saturday’s All-Ireland senior women’s semi-finals
Can Donegal’s Geraldine McLaughlin outscore Cristiano Ronaldo in a whole season or will the Cork defence keep her locked down this weekend? Photograph: Tom Beary/Inpho
And so, here we are. The final four have emerged after months of a blockbuster summer football championship.
Cork will look to overcome a hungry and fresh Donegal, while Galway aim to complete what Tom Cruise has been doing for years – churn out another Mission Impossible, or in this case, just beat the Dubs for a second time this year.
Unfortunately, while four will go for glory this weekend, others have not fared so well – Tipperary were relegated to intermediate status.
While I am all for the notion of tiered championships and avoiding mismatches, I have to say that this relegation will not only see Tipperary drop, but also reduce the standard in the Munster championship.
Another killer is the fact that the emerging rivalry between Cavan and Tipperary will be set back next year as Tipperary were promoted to Division One of the National League while Cavan remain in Division Two.
But those are the pros and cons of tiered championships. While Tipperary will drown their sorrows wondering where it all went wrong, the hope is that they will return with a new hunger and passion to push on and become real challengers.
Unfortunately, that will add an extra year on to Shane Ronayne’s plans, but the football championship is cut throat. Bluffers, chancers and poor performances will be sniffed out, and you will be punished.
Cavan survived due to a Lauren McVeety wonder goal, where she gloriously chipped the Tipperary goalkeeper to inspire the Ulster women to retain their senior championship status.
Which leads me nicely on to the tasty games we are faced with this weekend. Yes, the pope is coming too and some miracles are to be expected, but the real miracles will be in Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon, on Saturday.
The work being done by Donegal manager Maxi Curran has been tremendous as he plots his side’s first appearance in an All-Ireland semi-final. Excuse the Jim McGuinness tone for a second, but for a proud footballing county like Donegal, it’s insane to me that this is the first time we have seen a women’s football team contend.
Of course, that’s a credit to the work these players are doing, from Bonner to Ward to McLaughlin and Hegarty all the way to grassroots. Attention to detail is obviously vital and Donegal footballer Ciara Grant even joked about their WhatsApp group being alive with information at four in the morning.
This young, hungry and fearless Donegal team will be coming up against the old reliables. Cork are wounded and they are hungrier than ever. Captain Ciara O’Sullivan has become a two-goal-a-game player along with sister Doireann.
Dual stars Hannah Looney and Libby Coppinger have put in laoch na himreatha performances and have grown into their roles with this Cork team. And then you have speedsters and tricksters like Eimear Scally, Saoirse Noonan and Melissa Duggan.
In my eyes, Duggan is a pivotal player to watch out for. If tasked with the defensive duties required to keep McLaughlin and Bonner at bay, you risk the possibility of losing her darting runs that can split any defence and create the space needed for Noonan and Scally to penetrate and finish the well-worked Cork moves.
On the flipside, the spine of the Donegal team needs to remain intact. Cork play very well up through the middle but stretch an opponent where possible. If the Donegal defence does not break, Cork could find themselves in a real predicament and face an incredibly tough task.
But these are the match-ups that make everything enjoyable. Can Geraldine McLaughlin outscore Cristiano Ronaldo in a whole season or will the Cork defence keep her locked down?
If she’s locked down, which Donegal player will step up and become the new hero? For Cork, will the hurt and trauma from last season push them on and make them unplayable? Will Donegal’s defence be able to cope with the super subs from Cork?
The ladies football championship has shown and will continue to showcase the exceptional talent of top sportswomen.
If these semi-finals live up to expectations, then it will be another weekend where women come out on top.