Joanne O’Riordan: Stage set for intriguing semi-finals
Dublin put their title on the line against great rivals Cork while Mayo face Galway again
Dublin’s Aoife Kane in action against Cork’s Eimear Kiely during the league semi-final at Nowlan Park. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
And then there were four.
It took eight games across two weekends to give us our history-making semi-finalists who, for the first time ever, will play in a doubleheader in GAA HQ. Cork will play Dublin in a repeat of the league semi-final, while Galway take on Mayo, their third meeting in the championship this year alone.
Galway have always spoken about their development and how they were still trying to make that step up in order to progress, but, for some reason, it never felt like it.
Of course, Galway’s return of back-to-back Connacht titles suggests something else, but they, for some reason, always seem to exit the championship with a whimper.
Losing against Dublin last year by 5-11 to 0-12 points just felt like Galway had gone as far as possible and with manager Stephen Glennon leaving, questions were asked of the county before a ball was kicked.
With a squad oozing talent but very little bite, selector turned manager Tim Rabbitt stepped in and ensured very little change in the backroom staff, which was vital in ensuring Galway had a consistent voice overseeing their development.
With Louise Ward and her darting runs opening defences and the Leonard family waiting in the forward line, Galway became a formidable outfit. They finished top of the league table and, although they were overrun by Cork in the final, Rabbitt’s side ended a fulfilling league campaign scoring 14 goals and 92 points in just nine games. In the championship they have managed nine goals and 58 points in five games.
Consistency is key for Galway, and they know that unless they are playing football regularly and not falling victim to three or four-week layovers, they could kick on and cause an upset. However, they face a Mayo 2.0 and a side looking to cement their status among the greats. New hunger, youth and desire is evident for Mayo at the moment and they are a team that went from an All-Ireland final, losing a good number of players, to restoring pride in their county and greatness among their squad. It’s only peak Mayo.
With Peter Leahy able to tinker with his forward line during the league campaign Mayo looked, well, a work-in-progress and not the finished article. They weren’t able to get a run of form going and, despite winning two games, they were fortunate not to find themselves in a relegation dog fight. Luckily for Mayo, they had already relegated Tipperary to intermediate, newly relegated Westmeath along with a Monaghan side that didn’t look interested in this year’s campaign.
Mayo’s only issue is their backline, which is porous, to say the least. While Leahy and co will be happy to see Mayo score at an outrageous rate, conceding over 130 points (admittedly, this stat includes a fair few goals) during the league and 87 points (11 goals and 54 points) throughout the championship is a concern. If Mayo can stop Ward’s direct running while zoning in on Tracy Leonard and cousin Roisín, then anything could happen in Croke Park.
As for the Cork and Dublin game, not to turn into those hurling folk who hurlsplain things for us mere football mortals, this is as pure as a game of football can possibly be.
Not to discredit the other semi-final, but there is always one game that overshadows the rest. In the league semi-final Dublin were missing usual stalwart Sinead Goldrick through injury in Nowlan Park.
I was surprised to see how hard Cork had to work in order to break down the Dubs defence. Cork always funnel their play through the middle, but since the coming of age year, Saoirse Noonan is having a real influence and with the direct running of Éimear Scally this game might be different.
If Cork decide to excite fans by going route one, they have top class fielders in Niamh Cotter and Áine Terry O’ Sullivan.
As for the Dubs, they have quality all across their team. Niamh McEvoy is working as hard as ever, Noelle Healy, Sinead Aherne and Nicole Owens are lighting up the pitch along with Carla Rowe. If there is any advice I can give to patrons, go to this game and watch Dublin’s movement when in possession, it is as close to basketball as you would find in ladies football.
Sure, statistics can be sexy and can lay down a game and give you the basics of what you need to know. But with statistics you need context. The context is simple – four rivals go head-to-head on a historic day for women in sport and in women’s football. Four teams who no doubt will provide those tuning in to an unforgettable day.