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The Weekend That Turned Ladies Gaelic Football Completely On Its Head

The Weekend That Turned Ladies Gaelic Football Completely On Its Head
By Roisin Friel

The ever-enjoyable Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book The Tipping Point “Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.”

Meath in winning the 2021 All-Ireland beating both Dublin and Cork proved the world can be tipped in your favour. What they maybe hadn’t intended on was the reverberations of such actions last year would have on this year's championship, putting the whole Ladies Gaelic Football world on its head come 9pm on a Saturday evening in July. 

Donegal 3-7  Dublin 1-7 

9 July 2022; Geraldine McLaughlin of Donegal celebrates with teammate Jodie McFadden after the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final between Donegal and Dublin at Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Donegal have never beaten Dublin in the LGFA Senior Football Championship, back in ’04 with Maxi Curran at the helm they came up just short. In 2016, with current LGFA President Micheal Noughton at the wheel, they fell by 4 points after a late controversial Geraldine McLaughlin goal had them within a point. In 2020 a strange year, wrecked by Covid, the old foes met on Halloween night and sure enough didn’t some witchcraft from Sinead Aherne result in Donegal losing by a freak goal. In 2021, Donegal flew out of the traps but eventually fell by 5 points after Carla Rowe gave a glittering display for the Jackies. 

If you had asked any Donegal supporter would Donegal win yesterday morning and they told you yes…you better go back and get the lotto numbers off them for this week as well. Such was the improbability of Donegal tipping Dublin out of the Championship yesterday, no one outside of their own camp would have believed they could do it. However, believe they did and a look through that team will probably give an indication as to why. Some players like Karen Guthrie, Niamh Hegarty, Yvonne Bonner, Róisín McCafferty and Deirdre Foley might be thinking about hanging up the boots. The talk in Termon all winter was now with an All-Star FINALLY in the back pocket Geraldine McLaughlin had achieved everything she could in the game, bar that elusive senior All-Ireland and could rightly throw-in the towel having given everything to Donegal football, much like the aforementioned. 

Yet yesterday, the ripple effect of Meath’s 2021 giant killing attitude, that swagger and confidence to believe in the system, stick to the game plan and get the results was evident. All of that hurt and near misses was fly-tipped in a ditch outside Carrick-on-Shannon, Maxi Curran’s team clicking in a tactical masterclass that was first trialled in their last All-Ireland semi-final appearance against Cork in 2018. Donegal would not have been beaten yesterday was the refrain from the players after.  By the time Karen Guthrie with some help from Tanya Kennedy in the second instance, had Donegal 9 points ahead with two goals, maybe those fans too started to believe Donegal could push Dublin right out of this championship. Thankfully despite a late Carla Rowe goal, Donegal stood tall and sent the county into dreamland.

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Then along came, the green and red of Mayo, saying hold my beer Donegal and watch this. 

Mayo 2-13 Cork 0-17

9 July 2022; Kathryn Sullivan, left, and Sarah Mulvihill of Mayo celebrate after the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Cork and Mayo at Cusack Park in Ennis, Clare. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

When you looked at form, you would have to say Cork was going to win this game. This is a Mayo team beaten by Meath in the League Semi-Final and Galway in the Connacht Final already this year, then Cavan giving them the fright of their lives in the group stages. Things were not going as envisioned at the start of the year for Mayo. Cork in stark contrast did what they have done for so many years, although now under the new management of Shane Royane, they again won Munster then strolled through their group with wins over Donegal and Waterford, although not the leisurely stroll they are accustomed too, these things are usually refined for the knock-out stages by Cork. No trips or slips would cause Cork to be pushed out of the Championship at this early stage.  

Cork with their pedigree - although changing - team still have a number of All-Ireland and All-Star winners in their panel. Ciara and Doireann O’Sullivan, Orla Finn, Hannah Looney and Libby Coppinger are well experienced at the business end of season, carrying the Rebel fight to Mayo yesterday. All the talk in Mayo was about the superstars missing this year due WAFL commitments, it all meant nothing to the girls on the pitch yesterday. This was day when new heroes were made in Mayo. Sinead Cafferky has always been a wizard on the ball and was the key in the middle of the park for Mayo unlocking the Cork defence with pinpoint passing and sharp runs. Aishling Tarpey, pulling off two outstanding saves to tip the scales in Mayo’s favour. Lisa Cafferky is a like a woman on a mission this year, a sensational second goal yesterday put Mayo just beyond Cork’s reach at a time when they needed it most. This Mayo team showing form means nothing, pushing Cork out of the championship and causing a sensational record to be broken. All the way back in 2002 was the last time neither Dublin or Cork made an appearance in the All-Ireland final, Donegal and Mayo had just tipped two of the most legendary teams in LGFA this side of the millennium out on their ear.

What else could TG4’s enduring coverage of LGFA games serve up after the early shocks of the day? Thankfully, they had scheduled the match that would supposedly offer the most excitement of the weekend first. 

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Kerry 4-12 Armagh 2-14

9 July 2022; Lauren McConville of Armagh in action against Cáit Lynch of Kerry during the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Armagh and Kerry at O'Connor Park in Tullamore, Offaly. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Kerry hold the joint top record for All-Ireland wins, but haven’t made an All-Ireland final appearance since 2012. 10 years since anyone who doesn’t follow LGFA would really think much of them being All-Ireland contenders. Yet, anyone who has played against them or followed their battles with the rebels will know, the Kingdom has some utterly fantastic footballers and on their day could apply the right amount of pressure on any team. Armagh are a team on the up, Aimee and Blathín Mackin, Caroline O’Hanlon, Kelly Mallon and Clodagh McCambridge are a match for anyone. Dismantling Donegal to retain their Ulster title, before going toe to toe with the current All-Ireland Champions Meath in the group stages matching them score for score to the final whistle. Indicating they could be the dark horse of the championship.  

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However, Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh had a different idea yesterday.

Putting on a stunning display of forward movement and shooting, finishing with 2-6 to her name she was outstanding, but to say she was the only forward deifying physics with her shooting would be an injustice to Aimee Mackin at the other end. She finished with 0-11 to her name, leading the Armagh attack at every opportunity. This game was in the melting pot the whole way through as Caroline O’H and Louise Scanlon, looked like two gladiators in the Colosseum at mid-field neither willing to give an inch. In the end a massive prize was at steak a chance to face Mayo in an All-Ireland Semi-Final, which either of these two teams would give themselves a chance of winning, if they could just get over the line. In the end it was Kerry, much like Meath last year who cared not for past records, putting themselves within touching distance of an All-Ireland final for the first time in 10 years. 

The last game of the quarter finals could hardly serve up much more drama than what we have seen all day. Again, here we were with all the predictions, Meath should come out on top against Galway, you would have been a lot less confident in making that statement at 7.15pm yesterday than 7.15am given the day that’s gone before. 

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Meath 1-12 Galway 1-11

9 July 2022; Meath players Emma Duggan, 11, and Orlagh Lally celebrate after their side's victory in the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Galway and Meath at O’Connor Park in Tullamore, Offaly Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Meath have had a few wobbles this year after hitting unbelievable heights last year. Donegal took them to the pin of the collar in the league final, Dublin beating them in the Leinster final and Armagh drawing with them in the group stages. With Vikki Wall, Emma Duggan, Stacey Grimes and Monica McGuirk among others in your panel you can afford to have a few missteps on the way to glory. Galway, on the other hand, struggled through the league, with a number of Club All-Ireland winners rightly taking an early season break and issues with management. It was hard to know where they would go this year but once settled down and a Connaught title in the back pocket, you knew they could pull of something special on their day. 

Yesterday, this game pretty much summed up the whole day. An end to end battle. Nicola Ward giving us her best Gandalf ‘’you shall not pass’’ impression after Meath’s opening goal, she swallowed the next 4 balls kicked inside and drove back at the mass Meath defence. Tracy Lenoard reminding everyone she too is one of the most formidable forwards in the country, assisted immensely in the second half be Róisín Lenoard’s super sub display. Meath emptied the bench brining in the experienced heads from last year to sure up that well marshalled defence. Right down to the wire it went, as Orla Lally and Louise Ward rampaged up and down the field like two greyhounds. Vikki Wall and Oliva Divilly exchanging points from mid-field. It was mental! And deserved a mental finish, Galway turned over Meath and broke with the game level and the clock running down, it really was next score wins, Róisín Lenoard took her chance but sadly it drifted wide. Without time to think Meath had the ball down the other end, this chance a half chance that if any other player took a swing at it other than Emma Duggan you would roll your eyes in annoyance. Bouncing off the cross bar and the white flag was raised. The hooter sounded to let us know one of the maddest days in LGFA history wasn’t going to finish with another shock. 

So what has Meath’s win in 2021 caused? It's opened up the LGFA championship in such a manner that the teams who had been gently knocking on the door before for fear of disturbing the two giants in Cork and Dublin are now kicking in the door and sitting at your kitchen table taking the tea waiting on their chance to change the world as we know it. Or used to know it.

The question is will anyone apply enough pressure to Meath to push them off their high perch this year? The way things are going in the LGFA championship at the moment, I would wait until you win the lotto to make that prediction.

SEE ALSO: 'I Just Knew From The Work We'd Done, We Weren’t Losing The Game'

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