Thursday 19 September 2019

Cliona Foley: Wards take twin-track approach in final push for Tribes

Ladies SFC final focus

Galway’s Louise Ward bids for glory against Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway’s Louise Ward bids for glory against Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

Cliona Foley

Three years ago they hit the headlines when they found themselves on opposite sides in a third-level O'Connor Cup final - a tricky thing when you're not only sisters but twins.

"We don't look anything like each other so people are always surprised! I'm actually eight minutes older," Louise Ward clarifies with a broad grin.

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Galway’s Louise Ward and her twin sister Nicola hit the headlines when they played against each other in the 2016 O’Connor Cup final. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway’s Louise Ward and her twin sister Nicola hit the headlines when they played against each other in the 2016 O’Connor Cup final. Photo: Sportsfile

When they were younger they did the whole 'twin' gig, dressing in identical clothes and finishing each other's sentences.

But she confesses it was nice also to be separated when they left school, striking off for different universities in Limerick (herself) and Dublin (Nicola), with room to separately expand their adult identities.

Tomorrow they'll be huge twin threats for Galway in the county's first TG4 All-Ireland ladies' senior final in 14 years; one at full-back, the other at midfield.

"As footballers, we'd be different. Nicola would be a lot more physical than I would be. She'd nearly go through you whereas I'd go around you," says centre-fielder Louise. "Her defensive capabilities are a lot better than mine, she's very hard to get around."

Only she also knows just how hard her 'younger' sister has battled to get to this final after damaging her knee in a challenge match last September.

She not only missed their All-Ireland club semi-final with Kilkerrin Clonberne but most of this season in which Galway also reached the Division 1 final.

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She eventually got back in time for the drawn Connacht final in July but it was a slow and gruelling recovery.

Louise, a recently graduated physiotherapist, knows the exact details: "Nicola stretched her cruciate and got an osteochondral fracture, which is where you chip the bone and the cartilage comes with it. They drilled three holes in the knee to bring more blood to help with the healing.

"But it was a much longer road than we expected. Post-surgery they told her six weeks so she got a bit of a land when it ended up being the 10 months.

"Nicola's had a really, really tough year and it's a real credit to her that she's back. She was so diligent with her rehab."

Galway have only ever won the Brendan Martin once (2004) when they beat Dublin with a great team who lost the next final to Cork and this is their first return since.

But the Wards are part of a golden Tribe of young footballers that followed and have a particularly close rivalry with some of tomorrow's opponents.

They won two minor titles in a row in 2013-'14 and their promise was apparent because of the quality of their final opposition. Their 2013 minor final with the baby Jackies is still talked about.

Dublin got two late goals in Nenagh the first day to take it to a midweek replay in Mullingar and the second game was just as thrilling.

Olivia Divilly scored 0-10 (6f) only to be outdone by Carla Rowe's 0-11 (7f) but Galway substitute Leann Walsh found the net in the eighth minute of stoppage time to nick it and end Dublin's back-to-back minor dream.

Megan Glynn, Galway's brilliant speedster up front, also starred in that two-game thriller, as did current Dublin defenders Olwen Carey and Éabha Rutledge.

The Wards, Divilly (she went to the same primary school as the twins in Clonberne) and Glynn were back again with current wing-back Orla Murphy a year later when they beat Cork. Since then Galway have contested three more minor finals (2015, 2017 and 2018) and won the latter.

They've been coming for a while but where was the original source of this rich seam of young talent?

"We worked really hard," Louise Ward stresses. "And Daniel Moynihan and Nicholas McDonagh were over us the two years in minor and had been there for two previous when we won U-14 and U-16 but we weren't expected to win at all in 2013.

"We were up by seven points the first day but needed a point to level it and then it went into five minutes injury-time. We were seven points down in the replay and won by two in the end. It was just mad!"

These are the sort of young footballers not intimated by Dublin's bid for a treble.

In recent years there's never been much between them except in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, when Galway leaked early goals and never recovered their composure.

Ward still groans at the memory: "We were bringing the ball into the tackle a lot, doing a lot of uncharacteristic things for us but it's all a learning curve."

She actually debuted on Croke Park 15 years ago, a little seven year-old pitch invader.

"Yeah, I was there in 2004. Annette Clarke, the captain, was from our club so a bus of us went from Clonberne. All I remember was breaking out onto the pitch afterwards with a group of friends and getting lost on it!"

This time expect her to be centre stage.

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