Masterson ready to lead way for Dublin against formidable Cork outfit

This final will be her last time in blue and she is determined to go out on a winning note

Dublin’s Denise Masterson pursues Eimear Scally of Cork in the league division one final. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Dublin’s Denise Masterson pursues Eimear Scally of Cork in the league division one final. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

The first time Denise Masterson held a football, a third of the Dublin team that will line out beside her tomorrow were not yet in secondary school. She was 23 and basketball was her game back then, so much so that she turned up that first night at Ballymun Kickhams wearing basketball shorts.

“I never played in school,” she says. “Never played in college either. But I loved it straight away . . . it was a great group I was with in Ballymun and I was very lucky with how it worked out. I was playing with the Dublin junior team a year after I took it up.”

Over the course of just 18 months Masterson went from never having played the game to being on the bench for the senior Dublin side as John O’Leary’s team were beaten by Galway in an All-Ireland final. Ever since, she’s been a mainstay, with seven Leinster titles and the 2010 All-Ireland to show for it.

Which is quite the haul, obviously. And yet as with a lot of women footballers across the land this past decade, the temptation is forever there to wonder what her CV would look like if her time in the game didn’t clash with that of the greatest team the sport has seen. Masterson’s sole All-Ireland came in the year that Cork tripped up against Tyrone. She’s never managed a championship win against them.

“I’ve been on teams that have beaten them in league games,” she says. “But not in championship. Back in 2009 when we played them in the final, they were away out on their own. But in fairness to the other teams in the country, I think the gap is closing all the time. Definitely, I think there are four or five teams now that can compete with them. Cork have done that, they’ve raised the bar for everyone and we’ve all had to up our standards to meet them.”

Cork are the wind that everyone else in the sport must turn their collars up against. Dublin manager Greg McGonigle spent three years trying to defeat them with Monaghan and came up short. His and Masterson’s are the stories of everyone, peasants labouring away in the reign of the Rebelettes.

“Possibly most counties would like to see them take a year off,” cracks McGonigle. “But I think the only way to look at it is to be the best you have to beat the best. As much as people might think it would be great to see somebody else win it, I think it’s up to everyone else to get their house in order.

“This year in Dublin, the county board have bought into everything we asked of them.

“But there are other counties where I definitely think they use Cork as an excuse rather than an inspiration. But you have to respect them. I wouldn’t for a second see Cork as a negative in ladies’ football. ”

This will be Masterson’s last shot at them. She’s 35 now and . . . now’s the time to move on. Tomorrow will be her last time in blue, her last run-in with red.

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” she says. “It’s Cork but it could have been anyone. When we move the ball at pace, we’re a pretty difficult team to stop. Individually, we have some very skilful players . . . I feel very lucky to be able to still do it but at some stage I’m going to have to move on to the next chapter in my life.”

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