Joanne O’Riordan: Standards and stakes high in club semi-finals
Mourneabbey set to renew their rivalry with formidable Donaghmoyne
Donaghmoyne’s Amanda Casey lifts the LGFA All-Ireland senior club title at Parnell Park in 2016. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho
Amid all the women in sport drama that has occurred over the week, one may be forgiven for thinking this could be it, that sport and the women involved in it have given us pretty much everything . But, luckily for all the fans, it just keeps on giving.
The senior ladies football club semi-finals are taking place this weekend, and the talent, standards and competition are consistently reaching new levels.
After completing the six in a row in Munster, Mourneabbey showed that they could win at all costs against Waterford’s Ballymacarbry, a side that featured lethal full-forward Michelle Ryan and creator and finisher Aileen Wall.
Mourneabbey used all their experience and expertise to seal the deal, scoring the last eight out of nine points to break Ballymacarbry hearts and secure a home All-Ireland semi-final. But the task facing Mourneabbey this weekend is their toughest to date, Donaghmoyne of Monaghan are a whole different ball game.
Donaghmoyne succeeded for the 12th time in 17 finals, a fourth in five, and completed their two in a row after beating Termon of Donegal in a thrilling Ulster final encounter which saw two teenagers drag them over the line by the scruff of their necks.
With the likes of Éimear Meaney playing at the top of her game, the full-back line of Meaney, Aisling O’ Sullivan and Sandra Conroy gives very little away
Despite having incredible stalwarts like Amanda Casey/Finnegan, who has returned to midfield after having her fourth baby, it was the coolness and composed finishes from Lauren Garland, 17, and Louise Kerley, 18 that ensured victory for the Monaghan girls.
As Mourneabbey know, Donaghmoyne represent a different style of football which they have not yet encountered. Donaghmoyne delivered Mourneabbey’s hardest loss in a semi-final in 2016, completing a two in a row swoop over Mourneabbey in Monaghan.
Mourneabbey know Donaghmoyne boast a physicality and a solid defence and the fact the game is on in Mourneabbey may add even more pressure on the North Cork side, where victory is often taken as a given by the loyal local fans.
Mourneabbey, however, have a new shape, attitude and possibly a swagger about them. Ciara O’ Sullivan has been playing the best football seen in a long time, scoring 2-6 against Ballymacarbry and assisting so much more, while her sister, Doireann, is also providing leadership in the full-forward line.
Despite a blip in Mourneabbey’s defensive radar against Ballymacarbry, they managed to restrict West Cork, a team with 10 Cork seniors, to as little as 1-9 in this year’s county final.
With the likes of Éimear Meaney playing at the top of her game, the full-back line of Meaney, Aisling O’ Sullivan and Sandra Conroy gives very little away. Mourneabbey only conceded three scoreable frees against West Cork, who are usually deemed their biggest test in their All-Ireland campaigns.
As for Donaghmoyne, they are led by Monaghan star and multiple All-Star winner Cora Courtney, who has always been a thorn in the side for opposition teams. Along with the inspirational Amanda Casey/Finnegan, who gave birth eight months ago, returned to training as little as two months post-birth, giving her a six month window to get back to full fitness.
Donaghmoyne know how to beat Mourneabbey and will use their two victories over them as possible blueprints
After the birth of Ted, who is four since April, and before daughter Feren, who turns two this week, Amanda managed to win her fourth and fifth All-Ireland senior club title respectively. She was also the captain for the 2016 glory against Foxrock-Cabinteely. At the age of 35, she still has a few more years left tormenting opposition.
The bones of this Donaghmoyne team has been around for the last 15 years, and after amassing 12 Ulster medals as well as several All-Irelands, the team has been freshened up by a few hungry young ones, primarily twins Amy and Lauren Garland, Rosemary Courtney along with Louise Kerley and Éimear Traynor, who have all added a freshness and eagerness.
Donaghmoyne know how to beat Mourneabbey and will use their two victories over them as possible blueprints, but with a signing like Noelle Healy and a new solid backline along with potentially deadly performances from Meabh O’ Sullivan, Maire O’ Callaghan and Róisín O’ Sullivan, who was sick in the 2016 game, the stakes and standards could not be higher.
As Cork LGFA aim to make history again by having all three clubs in three finals, junior, intermediate and senior, it’ll be down to the standard setters to provide inspiration for other teams.
Mourneabbey are the only club, male or female, to have 10 players still competing while holding every medal in club competitions. As other teams now look to break their own barriers and cap off their history-making years, Donaghmoyne have a real opportunity to nail the target on Mourneabbey’s backs.
The stage is set and Clyda Rovers GAA pitch will be thronged with supporters, some looking to cheer their side over the line, some looking for a gawk at their neighbours, but all hoping for one cracking game.