Aherne solid as a Rock for Dublin but Staunton eyes retirement
Dublin 2-10 Mayo 1-12, TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Senior Football Semi-final
Dublin manager Gregory McGonigle has vowed to buy Dean Rock a few pints after his charges squeezed into a third successive All-Ireland ladies senior football final.
Sinéad Aherne's brilliant late free, the last kick of the game, ensured a one-point victory for the Sky Blues against Mayo in a thrilling semi-final at Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday.
McGonigle thanked Dublin superstar 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 greatest.
Aherne's return to the fold for the 2016 season, after a year out, could be crucial to Dublin's bid to lift the Brendan Martin Cup on September 25, when they meet holders Cork or Monaghan in the final.
"That's the mark of Sinéad Aherne. She had missed one before it and she'd missed a couple in the quarter-final. And, in fairness, she went away to work," said McGonigle.
"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 with Dean Rock, he went up to the field with her and Sinéad started knocking over the frees with one of the best free-takers in Ireland. I owe him a few pints!"
A physical encounter left Mayo manager Frank Browne insisting that referee Brendan Rice had 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 as she's going travelling.
Staunton - who's odds-on to retire now - scored eight points, including six frees, and was closely monitored by Sinéad Goldrick throughout.
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. "I thought every time Cora got on the ball she was fouled," said Browne.
"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. Some of the decisions that were made were absolutely terrible, but that's sport, isn't it?"
McGonigle countered: "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 was fouls in it. It was played at that kind of pace that 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 shortly after the break, a run of 1-5 without reply hauled Mayo level, with Rachel Kearns scoring a fine goal and Staunton having 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.
Scorers - Dublin: S Aherne 2-6 (0-3f), S Goldrick, N Healy, N Owens & C Rowe 0-1 each.
Mayo: C Staunton 0-8 (6f), R Kearns 1-0, A Gilroy 0-2, G Kelly & C Hegarty 0-1 each.
Dublin - 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.
Subs: 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).
Mayo: 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.
Subs: C Hegarty for McManamon (43), S Howley for Hughes (51), D Caldwell for Kelly (56).
Ref - B Rice (Down)