IT’S a provincial final that looks set to produce another belter this weekend yet one of its protagonists would still prefer if the TG4 All-Ireland Championships was an open draw.
Dublin ladies’ boss Mick Bohan admits they’re relishing another crack at the enigma that All-Ireland champions Meath are posing for them on Saturday in what is the first Leinster ladies’ SFC final in three years.
Eamonn Barry’s giant-killers ended his side’s drive-for-five in last year’s All-Ireland final, added the Lidl Division One title since and beat them again in Parnell Park recently when they met in the Leinster round-robin.
The latest installment of their burgeoning rivalry promises to produce more sparks in Croke Park yet Bohan still believes the women’s game should ditch the provincial championships.
“I’d still say, for the betterment of the Association, it should be an open draw. It’s a Leinster final, great, but ask Westmeath is it great?” he said of a competition that, with three teams, was reinstated this season but saw the Lake County ship 9-38 in two games.
“There’s another great game on Saturday but that doesn’t mean it’s a great competition,” Bohan said.
“It’s great for ourselves and Meath, for getting games that most other counties would be delighted to get, but that doesn’t make the Leinster SFC great It’s not all OK. At the moment it’s good for us but is it right for everyone else? I don’t think so.”
He believes the imbalance in the ladies’ provincial system – where Connacht is a straight final between Galway and Mayo – strengthens his argument.
And while the Leinster and Munster ladies’ final (Kerry v Cork in Killarney, 12:15) are both double-headers with their male counterparts this Saturday, Bohan also feels the throw-in times won’t necessarily help to showcase the ladies’ game.
Speaking at the launch of the 2022 TG4 All-Ireland ladies’ Championships, he went so far as to suggest that, when it comes to double-headers, he’d prefer to see drawn women’s games decided by penalty shootouts.
“Our game is on at 2:30 and the second game is at 5pm. Unless you are the diehard, you won't be here. I know there's the talk about extra-time and all that but I'd prefer to see the five (penalty) kicks immediately and have the gap tightened.
“As regards the double-header itself, all those things are important in closing the gap,” he accepted. “People are always delighted to get an opportunity to play in Croke Park, but you still want to play with a crowd. I just think that could have been done a bit better."
He admitted that losing to Meath last year gave his Dublin side new motivation and also influenced some of their veterans to stay on.
“We had to find reasons to get better before, and that's not being dismissive, it's the way it was. Meath have definitely pushed us because we know what we were doing wasn't good enough. We were tweaking our own game for ourselves up to this, now we're going after our game because we have specifics to do.” Cork manager Shane Ronayne feels there is still a place for provincial championships, especially with a young side in which so many of his players are chasing a first Munster senior medal this weekend.
But where they, and several other managers agree, is that this year’s All-Ireland senior championship – starting with the first round of the round robin series on June 11 - looks set to be one of the most open in years.
Donegal reached the Division One NFL final and Kerry beat Armagh in the Division Two final yet the Orchard County beat the Tir Chonails in last weekend’s Ulster SFC decider.
Dublin are one of the few top-line teams not losing key players to Australia’s revamped AFLW.
The Australian league’s radical expansion in its seventh season includes four new teams and hugely improved pay levels but its move to a much earlier season is central to depriving gaelic football of some very big names this summer.
Mayo have been hit hardest, losing Sarah Rowe, Aileen Gilroy and the Kelly sisters Niamh and Grace, which means Rachel Kearns is the only one of their recent five AFLW players to return to the Green and Red.
Up until now Gaelic stars could juggle both codes as Australia’s pre-season didn’t start until October or November. But the AFLW’s new competition schedule – starting on August 25 with the Grand Final in December – has dramatically moved the goalposts and forced players to choose between codes.
Dublin look set to retain the services of recently returned Sinead Goldrick and Lauren Magee but Cork have just lost brilliant teenage defender Erika O’Shea, set to make her AFLW debut with North Melbourne. The Rebels are also without their only other 2021 All-Star because Hannah Looney is currently working in America.
Meath superstar Vikki Wall is still lining out for her county but is also expected to join North Melbourne at some stage this summer. Galway’s Aine McDonagh (who, like O’Shea, is also a National League basketball player, with NUIG Mystics) is also headed Down Under to join Hawthorn.
Tipperary dual star Orla O’Dwyer made history this year as the first Irishwoman to pick up an All-Australian (their equivalent of an All-Star) and is currently rehabbing after shoulder surgery. Her Tipp teammate Aisling McCarthy remained in Australia after this year’s AFLW, as did Cavan’s Aishling Sheridan.
Tipperary’s championship group includes the Leinster champions, Mayo and Cavan.
The beaten Leinster finalists are grouped with Armagh and Monaghan. The Munster champions’ group will include Donegal and Waterford while the beaten Munster finalists are grouped with Galway and Westmeath.
TG4 have just announced a five-year extension of their sponsorship of the ladies’ championships which has been so influential in popularising the game since it first started broadcasting matches in 2001.
It will show 13 live games up to and including the All-Ireland finals on July 31 which will also encompass the junior and intermediate deciders.