Past heartbreaks make Dublin’s deliverance all the sweeter
Dubs savour sweet taste of success after suffering defeat in three finals in a row
Dublin players celebrate following the Ladies All-Ireland senior football final win over Mayo at Croke Park. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile **
They weren’t leaving it to a one-kick game this time.
You lose three All-Ireland finals in a row by an accumulated total of four points, it tends to focus the mind come the day of days.
Dublin left Mayo in this All-Ireland final for longer than either side deserved but ultimately grabbed the Brendan Martin Cup with a cloudburst of 3-1 in the closing eight minutes. It was like climbing Everest and finding a stairlift waiting to take you the last 100 metres to the summit.
In front of a record crowd of 46,286 at Croke Park, Mick Bohan’s team put the hurt of All-Irelands past to one side and ended the day as champions.
They finished the afternoon 4-11 to 0-11 winners over a Mayo team who for all their freshness and youth, still relied too heavily on 35-year-old Cora Staunton for their scores. Despite some early danger, the Dublin defence got to grips with Staunton as the game wore on and Mayo had little else to offer.
That said, it’s hard to know what they could have come up with here that would have withstood the Dublin wave.
The main reason Mayo were able to stay in the game was Dublin’s wayward shooting in front of goal. Had Bohan’s side been more clinical, this game would have been effectively over at half-time. They were the best team here, just as they’ve been the best team all year. Just as they’ve had to be, to rinse the feeling of losing so many finals out of their hair.
“It’s tough,” said Sinéad Goldrick, the Dublin wing-back who lost a club All-Ireland final last year on top of everything else.
“I think even now that we’ve won, when people bring up those defeats, it’s still heartbreaking. I know how those Mayo girls feels now and it’s not a nice place. It probably won’t even hit till tomorrow, the feeling of nearly lifting that cup.
“It was unbelievable that we got over the line because we’ve been in that dressing room before having lost and it’s a really lonely place. You’re there beforehand and everyone’s talking and everyone’s encouraging and then you go in afterwards and people are crying, people are silent, people are angry. That’s not a nice place but that’s sport.
“Something this good doesn’t come that easy. You need those heartbreaks, you need that resilience. The majority of our players have had their hearts broken here three times so this is just something even more special.”
Everything has its context. The steel required to keep coming back to this place after losing three finals by a hair’s breadth is monumental.
Goldrick was injured for most of the season – this was her fourth game for Dublin since last year’s final. Full-back Sinéad Finnegan injured her calf last weekend and fought through the pain for the opening 20 minutes here before having to sit in the stand for the rest of it. At one stage, she couldn’t face watching and wanted to go inside and not have to see it. By the end, it was all she could do to just breathe out.
“Yeah, relief is the overwhelming feeling,” said Finnegan. “We’ve been here so many times and like the last three years in a row. Losing is the most heartbreaking feeling ever. It’s literally like being broken up with three years in a row in September – you’ve been dumped and you’re very sad.
“Just to finally get over the line, it’s absolutely amazing and we couldn’t have done it with a better bunch of girls. These are like 31 of your best friends. It’s just brilliant.”
Mayo survived two first-half yellow cards, for goalkeeper Yvonne Byrne and wing-back Rachel Kearns, even managing the period when they were down to 13 players by only conceding a single point.
But when Orla Cotter walked for their third sin-binning eight minutes from time, the floodgates opened. Sarah McCaffrey came off the bench to bang home two goals, the tireless Carla Rowe nipped in for one of her own. Mayo were broken and Dublin were sob stories no more.
“You never go back in sport,” said Bohan afterwards. “If we lived by that motto, this group wouldn’t have lifted an All-Ireland today because they have shown great resilience as human beings to come back and bounce back from lots of disappointing days. You’d have to be thrilled for them, they didn’t just represent themselves today but it was the groups of the last number of years, even going back to our own group in 2003. But we are very proud of them. ”