Women firmly centre stage as Mayo bow to Beast from the East

TV View: Dublin star Nicole Owens proves an inspirational figure both on and off the pitch

Nicole Owens: spoke powerfully on The Ray D’Arcy Show   about her own struggle with depression and coming to terms with her sexuality as a girl. Photograph: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Nicole Owens: spoke powerfully on The Ray D’Arcy Show about her own struggle with depression and coming to terms with her sexuality as a girl. Photograph: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

 

The lá, Gráinne McElwain confirmed, was go hálainn, the Beast from the East a distant memory, although that’s probably what Mayo label the Dubs these days after they once again blew them away, this time in the National League final at Parnell Park.

It actually turned in to a go hálainn weekend for women’s football of both the Association and Gaelic kind, on either side of the Irish Sea, Saturday’s FA Cup final between Chelsea ad Arsenal at Wembley attracting a record crowd of 45,423 – although, that was still 863 fewer than turned up to see the Dubs beat Mayo in last year’s All-Ireland final, so we’ve retained our crown on that front.

And back at Parnell Park, after the trophy was collected, Gráinne introduced us to the man from Lidl who announced that the company was extending its sponsorship of women’s Gaelic football for another three years and would be investing a further €3 million. Not too shabby at all.

Mind you, if you saw Nicole Owens on The Ray D’Arcy Show, where she spoke so powerfully about her struggle with depression and coming to terms with her sexuality as a girl, encouraging any young ones going through a similar battle to seek help and not bottle it up, you’d wonder why more companies don’t invest in the game because so many of its players are really remarkable people.

And after what must have been an emotionally draining Saturday night, Owens dusted herself down and was out on that Parnell Park pitch come Sunday, winning a penalty and scoring two points for Dublin. Investable, on and off the pitch.  They’re some team, too. We’ll do well to see a goal this summer that will match the team move that led to Noelle Healy inserting the ball in the back of the net. Go hálainn, indeed.

Back at Wembley, the BBC’s Jonathan Pearce got to utter a line he possibly never had a chance to say about a gaffer before: “She’s 33 weeks pregnant with twins!”

And so Chelsea manager Emma Hayes is.

Good grace

“And Rachel [Brown-Finnis] hasn’t long to go either,” he said of the former England goalie, one of the day’s pundits, for whom motherhood is also imminent. Plenty of Premier League managers looked stressed on the touchline over the weekend, but at least none of them was on the brink of giving birth. So, stop your complaining, Sam Allardyce.

And then there was a half-time chat with Tracey Neville, head coach of the England netball team that won gold at the recent Commonwealth Games, and her lesser known twin Phil, manager of the England women’s football team. Their late da Neville Neville (all these years later we’re still chuckling) would have been proud. Phil?

“The second most successful England coach in the Neville house,” said Gabby Logan. Phil had the good grace to giggle and acknowledge the truth.

Our weekend Hero Award, though, goes to Mark Williams.

“He was last seen in a kebab shop at half past two in the morning,” Hazel Irvine told us, herself half wondering if he’d turn up for the final of the World Snooker Championships, or if John Higgins would get a walkover. Mark had had a late night, after all, his semi-final against Barry Hawkins not ending until 10 to midnight, after which he’d had a feast in a Sheffield take-away.

Happily, he did indeed turn up, entering the Crucible to the strains of Delilah. Higgins, meanwhile, arrived to the tune of Born Slippy (“Lager, lager, lager, lager….”), so that was a score draw.

Higgins, incidentally, once appeared on Celebrity Mastermind, his specialist subject Dallas. The soap opera, not the city. He excelled, scoring 13, he even knew that Cliff Barnes’s favourite takeaway was a Chinese (and not a kebab).

That alone should be enough to have you cheering him on in the battle of the 40-somethings, but it was that moment Williams tucked in to crisps, wine gums and Minstrels during the first session, evidently having the munchies after his kebab, that made you want him to prevail with all your heart.

Although, he has threatened to do his press conference naked if he wins. That won’t, you’d fear, be a go hálainn sight.

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