Dublin ladies eye the prize

HIGH on John O’Leary’s wish list for Dublin in tomorrow’s TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football senior final against Galway in Croke Park is to see his team in a comfortable position approaching the closing stages.

Like the players who suffered “devastatingly” at the hands of holders Mayo when they conceded a last- minute goal in last year’s decider, he doesn’t want a similar scenario.

“We can cover all angles in terms of preparation - getting ready, the parade, meeting the President and all that.

“What you really want to make sure is that you’re not in a position five minutes to go, two points ahead and the ball coming into your square. Everybody will be saying, ‘oh my God, here we go again’.

“That’s what we have to guard against. It doesn’t guarantee your luck can’t be that bad twice. It can be.”

One of Dublin’s most respected players of the modern era - and in his first year as Dublin manager - he is speaking from experience. He has some great memories from his 12-year career, but also has “horrendous” ones.

The last Dublin captain to lift the Sam Maguire in 1995, he is very conscious of the honour it would be to coach the Ladies team to their first success in the senior championship.

The “real pleasure,” he says, would be to see the joy on the players’ faces if they triumph.

Galway are competing in their first final since 1975, having been in junior ranks up to 2002, when they won the championship.

Losers to Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final last year, they had their revenge in a replay two weeks ago - having already beaten them twice in Connacht. En route, they also beat Roscommon and Laois (1-8 to 1-6).

Champions in Leinster for the third successive year when they beat Laois convincingly (2-10 to 0-7), Dublin were taken to extra time before they got over Donegal in the All-Ireland quarter-final. And they had a cracking game against Kerry in the semi-final, largely as a result of a goal from Bernie Finlay at the three-quarters stage. At the end of a game in which Kacey O’Driscoll scored three goals for Kerry, three points separated the sides.

In the view of O’Leary, two of the Kerry goals were preventable.

“Kerry had two really good forwards and we managed to sort one out, except the other scored 3-2. If we hadn’t done the job right they might have got 6-4 between them,” he says.

“Galway are a much more balanced side, not having two superstars as Kerry had (in Kacey O’Driscoll and Geraldine O’Shea) and Mayo would in Cora Staunton and Diane O’Hora.

“The threat could come from anywhere. We’ll need every individual player to be on her toes and winning her individual battle.”

The Dublin team also includes 15-year-old Lyndsay Davey, who has scored 3-3 so far in the campaign.

O’Leary jokes that it’s no bigger risk than starting a 36-year-old.

“The risk is, will she be overawed? So far she hasn’t. She has given us something extra that wasn’t there last year, which is a bit of flair. She’s a 15-year-old who doesn’t see any problems - because there are none there for her.

“Most football, in simple terms, is about playing like you did when you were 15. When you get older all these complications come into play - the crowd, how should I play, my fitness and my diet. When you don’t see all those problems, that’s when you are at your best.

“If they can all play like 15-year-olds on Sunday, we could have a fantastic match ...”

At the media briefing in Croke Park earlier in the week, O’Leary appealed to the real Dublin supporters to come out and support the team tomorrow.

“I’m looking for payback. Don’t leave these girls down,” he says.

“Anecdotally, some people say the men play like women, but these girls play like the men. And if the men’s team played with the passion the girls have, they would have been in an All-Ireland final last Sunday!”

* Dublin will start favourites on the basis of the experience of playing in last year’s final and, like the men, must benefit from playing at home.

However, based on form in the semi-final games, I feel Galway have the better chance of winning.

DUBLIN: C O’Connor; S Farrelly, N Comyn, M Kavanagh; N McEvoy, L Keegan, G Fay; M Farrell (capt), F Corcoran; E Kelly, B Finlay, L Davey; A McCormack, A McNally, M Nevin.

GALWAY: U Carroll; M O’Connell, R Stephens, AM McDonagh; A Daly, A Gilmore, E Flaherty; A Clarke (capt), P Gleeson; L Cohill, N Fahey, N Duggan; G Conneally, L Joyce, E Concannon.

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