Galway dream of another magical Ladies Day at Croke Park

Galway dream of another magical Ladies Day at Croke Park
Galway’s Sinead Burke evades the clutches of Mayo captain Sinead Cafferkey during the All-Ireland semi-final. Burke has been living in Lucan and teaching primary school in neighbouring Newcastle for nearly half a decadeand plays club championship with Ballyboden St Enda’s. Picture: Inpho/Morgan Treacy.

They look poles apart as the Jackies are chasing three-in-a-row while their opponents are playing in their first All-Ireland final in 14 years.

Yet tomorrow's TG4 All-Ireland ladies SFC finalists know each other better than most.

Take corner-back Sinéad Burke (29), your classic Galway football girl, born in Oughterard and kicking ball for Killanin, home also to legends like Kevin Walsh and the famous Fahey siblings.

Burke has been living in Lucan and teaching primary school in neighbouring Newcastle for nearly half a decade and this summer, as usual, played club championship with Ballyboden St Enda's.

“I originally went to Dublin to do a post-grad in teaching and one of my friends said 'sure come along to Ballyboden'. I was still training at home so I just went for mid-week sessions initially to save going home so much but the girls were just so lovely. They quickly took me under their wing.”

One of her 'Boden' clubmates is Dublin defender Rachel Ruddy and their close friendship goes back even further than football.

“Believe it or not Rachel's dad and my dad are both from Achill and would have known each other before so there's an even longer connection there,” Burke explains.

She has been living behind enemy football lines so long that it's no longer an issue.

But you sense she is relieved that her personal circumstances have changed recently and she's living back at home again briefly ahead of this almighty clash.

“Luckily I've just taken a career break because I'm moving up to live in Armagh with my fiancé who's from Keady.

"He's already built the house and I'm planning to move up, whenever football allows really.

“I initially planned to go in September but thankfully I'm still playing football this month,” she grins.

Burke's intended is well placed to understand the level of her sporting commitment - he is former Connacht and Ulster flanker Willie Faloon, now retired and working as a rugby coach.

How her move to Armagh affects her future teaching career and club loyalty hasn't yet been figured out because right now Burke's loyalty and focus is completely with the maroon and white.

She's not the only Galway player with close ties to a Dublin club.

Midfielder Áine McDonagh, one of the team's great engines, is Moycullen through and through and a super-versatile athlete who has played underage basketball for Ireland and is also a camogie talent.

Her versatility is not surprising as her mum Joan played for Dublin in All-Ireland camogie finals and her uncles - the Holdens - were Cuala and county legends, particularly her late Uncle Mick, himself also a dual star.

“He always said he was a hurler and that hurlers could always play football so I guess that's where I get a lot of it,” McDonagh has said.

The Schutte brothers, who helped Cuala and Dublin's hurlers to so much success in recent years, are also her first cousins.

So she and her brothers spent many a summer holiday up kicking and pucking balls with them in the Dalkey club whom they still support.

DROP CAP

This is also a particularly young Galway team who traded some big punches with Dublin at underage level, most memorably in a famous 2013 All-Ireland minor football which went to a replay.

It was the first of two minor titles in-a-row for the teenage Tribe who memorably stopped the baby Jackies from retaining their title.

In the replay, played in Mullingar on a 'school' night, Olivia Divilly scored 0-10 (6f) only to be outdone by Carla Rowe's 0-11 (7f), yet Galway substitute Leann Walsh found the net to nick it and end Dublin's back-to-back dream.

The Ward twins (Nicola and Louise) and Megan Glynn of Galway's current seniors also lined out in that two-game thriller, as did current Dublin defenders Olwen Carey and Éabha Rutledge.

Games between them since have always been close and Galway definitely don't fear Dublin.

But the defending champions have usually won the big ones, like last year's Lidl Division One league semi-final and the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final, when their early goals seemed to knock the stuffing mentally out of the Connacht champions.

The women from the West are still looking back to 2004 for their last All-Ireland victory and that victory, coincidentally, was also against Dublin who lost a second final in-a-row.

Veterans like Burke and centre-back Barbara Hannon who returned this year after having a baby, can still vividly remember that occasion.

“I have especially fond memories of 2004 and 2005 because Niamh Fahey, who was a clubmate, was playing and I looked up to her as a little girl,” Burke says.

“Watching her bring the cup back to Killanin was great and she was a huge reason why I kept playing,” she said of her local hero who was lost to soccer but still stars for Ireland and for Liverpool now where she is vice-captain.

“I wasn't actually at the 2004 final but our club sent up a bus in 2005 and I can still remember the excitement,” Burke adds.

“The girls of 2004 were such role models for us: not just Niamh but Lorna Joyce and Annette Clarke and Emer Flaherty. Sure Emer isn't that long retired.

"She's still going to all the games and is commentating on them now and saying she'd far prefer to be playing!”

DROP CAP

Galway's latest tribe of female footballers are undoubtedly talented and never seem to fear Dublin but have a reputation for not quite producing it outside Connacht.

This year's historic decision to play the All-Ireland semi-finals in Croke Park proved useful because none of them had played there before.

They defeated Mayo for the third time this summer but in a real cliffhanger, decided in the end only by a brilliant Róisín Leonard free.

They reached the Division One final this year but were beaten by Cork and when they met Dublin in last year's semi-finals they let them waltz through their defence and simply never recovered their composure.

That mental frailty, common in young teams, is something manager Tim Rabbitt has addressed, using a sports psychologist, both individually and collectively, to make them more resilient when things go awry.

“Our heads weren't right on the day last year (versus Dublin) but I definitely feel it's different this season, we're way more focussed and driven and better prepared in every sense, mentally as well as physically,” Burke notes.

Being humbled by Dublin back then could yet help greatly now.

“It still stings to look back on that game because early goals cost us and we let them dictate the game from the very start and found it very hard to claw our way back,” Burke concedes.

“But you use that as motivation to make sure it doesn't happen again.

“This year we have Barbara (Hannon) and Megan (Glynn) back, it's a whole new team, and I think the whole belief in ourselves is much better.

“We believe we can do it now. We have so much more confidence that if we work hard enough we can win. It's about getting the balance right on the day.

"I know a lot of this Dublin team and they're fantastic players. When you see them with their clubs they can be very different so it's important to view them as a team. It's going to be a massive challenge but we're going to do everything we can."


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