Cork and Dublin in Croke Park, the key game of the ladies football season

Cork and Dublin in Croke Park, the key game of the ladies football season
Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

SUNDAY

All-Ireland ladies football semi-final, Cork v Dublin, Croke Park, 3.45pm.

IF this game is anything like their last meeting then hold on to your hats, because it will be a cracker.

Meetings between Dublin and Cork in the last few years have been close affairs and in recent times it was the side in blue who had the upper hand. They beat Cork in last year’s final and also in the league last year.

But this year the shoe has been on the other foot and it’s the Rebels who have enjoyed success when they met.

The first meeting didn’t really matter as both sides rested a number of players, knowing they were going to meet again in the league semi-final a few weeks later.

That game certainly counted and what a game it was. Few, if any, who were present at Nowlan Park on the day would disagree that it was one of the best football games in some time,

It certainly was the best game of this season so far and hopefully it will be another classic on Sunday.

It took extra-time to separate the sides with the Rebels eventually winning by 1-18 to 2-14. Over that 80 minutes there were some great scores, disputed refereeing decisions, sin-binnings and a sending off.

But above all it will be remembered for the intensity of the game, two teams going at it and giving it their all. No one shirked away from the physicality of the tackles and all just got on with it.

Cork went on to win the league title and since have added the Munster title since and are now two games away from the clean sweep.

But they won’t be thinking about the final right now, their full attention will be on the Dubs, who are the current title holders and are going for three in-a-row.

Key for them will be the likes of Sinead Aherne, Noelle Healy, Niamh McEvoy and Lauren Magee, to name a few.

This is an experienced side and one that won’t give up their title easily. Playing at Croke Park effectively makes it a home game for them as well and you can expect their fans will turn out in numbers to support them.

But with every game this year Cork have been improving and some of the younger players have gained valuable experience in that league campaign in particular. Hannah Looney has been a revelation at full-back and her display against Mayo in the league, particularly when Cork were down to 13, showed just what a quality player she is.

Also in defence Melissa Duggan must be one of, if not the best, defenders in the country at the moment. She never lets Cork down and rarely gets the plaudits she deserves.

In attack Cork have plenty of options and with Doireann O’Sullivan back from injury even more than they had for the league semi-final. Plenty of selection headaches for manager, Ephie Fitzgerald, but of the type that anyone in his position would like.

“It’s fantastic to be in the semi-final on Sunday and I suppose if you look at the year so far it has been a great one for us,” said Ephie, “we have won the league and the Munster championship, but it’s another step-up now as we are playing at the All-Ireland champions.

“But we are where any team would want to be and we are two hours away from an All-Ireland title, the same as the other three, but we have to face what has been the best side in the country for the last few years so we know the challenge we face.

“The girls have developed as players and as a squad since the start of the year, but I think a lot of that is handed down. If you look at the likes of Briege Corkery, Bríd Stack and Rena Buckley and others have been followed by the likes of Ciara O’Sullivan now.

“Ciara has that manic will to win and more importantly the will to prepare to train hard to win and that rubs off on other players and they respond to the likes of her and the other experienced players.

“When the younger ones join the squad they see the standard that is expected of them and they either rise to it or else they don’t last as they will be told quite quick if they are not putting in the effort.

“So we are blessed in that way to have that in the squad and it drives them all on. We also have natural footballers and we are seeing the fruits of the hard work being put in underage, continued this year with the U14s and minors winning All-Ireland titles.

“That success has seen the likes of the Kiely sisters (Daire and Eimear), Laura O’Mahony and others all coming through and has made our panel stronger this year, which has then increased the intensity in training as the competition for starting places has gone up.

“We will need to bring all that into the game on Sunday but we are looking forward to the challenge and hopefully we will come out the right side of the result,” concluded Ephie.

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