Sinéad Aherne’s brilliant late free, the last kick of the game, ensured a one-point win for the Sky Blues against Mayo in a thrilling semi-final at Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday. And McGonigle thanked Dublin star Rock for putting in some extra work with Aherne on the training ground following the quarter-final victory over Donegal. Aherne finished with 2-6 and while the St Sylvester’s star was off-target with a couple of efforts from play and a free nine minutes from time, she held her nerve when the pressure was at its highest.
Aherne’s value was never more vividly illustrated than on Saturday and her return to the fold for the 2016 season, after a year out, could yet see Dublin lift the Brendan Martin Cup on September 25, when they meet holders Cork or Monaghan in the final.
McGonigle said: “That’s the mark of Sinéad Aherne. She had missed one before it and she’d missed a couple in the quarter-final against Donegal.
“And, in fairness, she went away to work on her scoring We had a serious chat on the Tuesday night after (the Donegal game) and I was not questioning but my belief is that whatever you get in life, you have to earn the right to do it and the team needed her to put in more work.
“She went away a couple of nights and Dean Rock is going out with Niamh (McEvoy) who’s involved with the team. He went up to the field a couple of days with her and (Aherne) started knocking over the frees with one of the best free-takers in Ireland. I owe him a few pints maybe after Sunday!”
A physical encounter left Mayo manager Frank Browne insisting referee Brendan Rice made some “absolutely terrible” decisions. Mayo’s defeat looks sure to have a devastating impact on the squad as seasoned campaigners Cora Staunton, Martha Carter, Claire Egan and Yvonne Byrne could all slip into retirement – while Fiona McHale is taking a year out to travel. Staunton scored eight points, including six frees, and was closely watched by Sinéad Goldrick.
Dublin’s tackling was fair and while sub Siobhán Woods was sin-binned, Mayo had Aileen Gilroy yellow-carded and their supporters argued that the winners should have had more players punished.
Browne said: “I thought every time Cora got on the ball she was fouled. I thought if we could get to extra-time, we had the legs and we’d have pushed on. But, fair play to them, they hung in, got their chance and they took it. But some of the decisions made were terrible. But that’s sport?”
McGonigle countered: “I’ve been in five All-Ireland finals and sometimes decisions haven’t…I’m not coming out with swings and roundabouts but they had 11 personal fouls in the first-half, we had four. The stats don’t lie. I wouldn’t say it was a cynical game as much as there were fouls in it. It was played at that kind of pace girls were nearly happy to take the foul to get a bit of a breather.”
Two first-half goals from Aherne had Dublin 2-6 to 0-6 clear at half-time and while they led by eight points shortly after half-time, a run of 1-5 without reply hauled Mayo level, Rachel Kearns cracking home a goal during a period when Staunton also had an effort ruled out for over-carrying. In a tense final 10 minutes, both sides missed chances but when Aherne was presented with that late, late chance, she nailed it.
S Aherne 2-6 (0-3f), S Goldrick, N Healy, N Owens & C Rowe 0-1 each.
C Staunton 0-8 (6f), R Kearns 1-0, A Gilroy 0-2, G Kelly & C Hegarty 0-1 each.
C Trant; O Carey, D Murphy, L Caffrey; S Goldrick, S Finnegan, N Collins; L Magee, S Furlong; N Healy, M Lamb, C Rowe; N McEvoy, S Aherne, L Davey.
N Owens for Rowe (41), S Woods for McEvoy (47), M Ní Scanaill for Murphy (50), F Hudson for Caffrey (52), L Collins for Finnegan (56).
Y Byrne; L Ryder, S Tierney, R Kearns; M Corbett, M Carter, O Conlon; F McHale, C McManamon; G Kelly, A Gilroy, D Hughes; S Rowe, C Staunton, N Kelly.
C Hegarty for McManamon (43), S Howley for Hughes (51), D Caldwell for Kelly (56).
B Rice (Down)