Sports Review 2018: Agony turns to ecstasy for conquering Dubs

Dublin women are an outstanding team, packed with plenty of exceptional players

 Dublin’s Sinead Aherne takes a shot in the final. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Dublin’s Sinead Aherne takes a shot in the final. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Ladies All-Ireland SFC Final: Dublin v Cork - September 16th, Croke Park

There might be no such thing as a complete team in any sport, there are, after all, always areas that can be fine-tuned and improved, but at times in 2018 the Dublin women’s Gaelic football side looked close enough to one.

They finished the year having won the Division One league title for the first time before going on to retain their All-Ireland crown and then collecting a record seven All Stars. The judging panel, though, must have been tempted to just select the entire Dublin team.

In the course of their lengthy league and championship campaigns they were beaten just the once, by Galway back in March, but no other county could match them, not even their long-time nemesis Cork come September’s All-Ireland final.

Four times they’d played Cork in finals at Croke Park and four times they’d lost, including three in a row between 2014 and 2016. It was agony heaped upon agony, three of the games lost by a single point and the other by just two. Not to mention that 2014 final when Dublin led by 10 points with just over 15 minutes to go.

The Dublin team during the national anthem. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
The Dublin team during the national anthem. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

But in the build-up to this year’s final the Dublin players downplayed how much it would mean to them to finally get the better of Cork in an All Ireland. Once they’d done it, though, they owned up: it meant everything.

“I didn’t realise how important it was until the final whistle,” said Sinead Goldrick, “You try to put all that to the back of your head but when the whistle went it really hit home, that we had beaten Cork - because they hurt us a lot of times.”

There have been more thrilling finals, Dublin largely in control of this one from the early stages and never once trailing in the game. But it wasn’t until Carla Rowe’s second goal of the final, both scores beautifully taken, that they finally shook off Cork’s challenge, winning by five points in the end.

It was the quality of their football that shone through, as it had for much of the year, the physicality, skill level and fitness of the players striking, as was the speed of their counter-attacking with marvellous passing moves the length of the pitch. They’re an outstanding team, packed with exceptional players, and having won back-to-back All-Irelands they’re oozing with so much confidence it’s hard not to see them going on to complete a three-in-a-row. At least.

And, of course, what capped the day was that record attendance of 50,141 that created such a magical atmosphere in the stadium. The crowds at the rest of the year’s games, in the both the league and championship, were, on the whole, small, so there’s a long road to be travelled on that front. But if you wanted proof of potential, there it was. A memorable day.

Low point

A tie between the misery that was the spectacle of the Republic of Ireland’s Nations League games through 2018 - excruciating to watch - and the bitter and seemingly interminable dispute in Mayo between management and the group of players who left the panel. Whatever the rights and wrongs in it all, and most of us are still none the wiser about its cause, it was a desperate way for the intercounty career of Cora Staunton, in particular, to end.

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