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Cliodhna's in league of own

THE golden gloves still fit as comfortably as the first day she tried them on in Elverys. Cliodhna O'Connor is Dublin's number one. She has seen many changes of the guard, both in terms of management and personnel.

Disappointments on the long road, which included losing three times on the biggest stage of all.

And then, eventually, the reward in 2010 when one happy hour finally turned into the day of the Jackies.

In all that time, Cliodhna rose to the top of her craft. A solid, dependable, quality goalkeeper is a blessing.

But she has always been much more than that. She has set the standard in the ladies' game. There haven't been many 'keepers who can command the square as well as her.

A high, dropping ball in front of the Dublin goal never caused a worry to the Blues' bench. Cliodhna sees the size five as hers for the taking, and that's that. The basic tools of the good goalkeeper don't include the spectacular. Fair enough, if the phone rings, you respond by diving full length through the air and make your way into Peter Hickey's picture parade!

But, generally, it's about being consistent. The bread and butter from Tesco. Positional sense, concentration, competent handling skills and neat distribution.

And as the Sure people say on the ad, Cliodhna will never let you down.

"Yes, I'm enjoying it as much as ever," she beams as Peter Clarke gets the squad ready for the Bord Gáis Energy NFL Division 1 semi-final on Sunday week, April 29. "It's great to be through. We face Monaghan. I'd say that will be a tight one," she predicts.

Earlier on this term, Monaghan, with home advantage, pipped the Dubs in the group stage. "Monaghan are now one of the best sides in the country. There's no doubt about that."

It was only Dublin's second defeat in the campaign on their return to Division 1. They also lost a belter of a match to Cork at Ballyboden's Páirc Uí Mhurchú.

"I think it was a positive campaign overall. We used the seven rounds well in terms of introducing new girls and that. We have seen a lot of new players coming in. Footballers like Siobhan Woods and Olivia Leonard have made an impact."

On the way to the last four, the Dubs met some old friends. Laois were chief among them. "We seem to play Laois every year, be it league or championship. They are a very good side, very strong. You never get anything easy from them."

Dublin had three points to spare against them the last day in Portmarnock. It wasn't a picnic.

And now a little slice of history beckons. Dublin have never been in a Division 1 league final.

"It would be brilliant if we could overcome Monaghan and get to the final, especially as it's something that hasn't been achieved before."

It's new challenges like that that keep Cliodhna's reflexes as sharp as ever.


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