Thursday 17 October 2019

Comment: She only played for 107 seconds but one player sums up the amazing spirit of this Dublin team

16 September 2018; Amy Connolly of Dublin following the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Final match between Cork and Dublin at Croke Park, Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
16 September 2018; Amy Connolly of Dublin following the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Final match between Cork and Dublin at Croke Park, Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

This Dublin Ladies team have brought the game to a new level of skill and endurance, with plenty of tough but fair thrown in as well.

That's two in a row now and every chance of many more to come.

This is a very good Dublin team and the bad news for their rivals is they are only going to get better. Dublin manager Mick Bohan is a thorough pro.

This was the first time Dublin beat Cork in a championship game. It's not too many years since Cork came back from 10 points down to beat Dublin in the best comeback ever.

History, though, is made in the now. Dublin wrote their own story.

Cork, as ever, just never stopped trying. They will head for home beaten, but not defeated.

The Dublin tackling was ferocious without being dirty. Dublin did give away a good many frees and the only card issued came a minute or so from time.

This Dublin team sends out texts analysing the refs to all their players. Garryowen McMahon allows hard but fair tackling. I wonder was he nicknamed Up and Under at school. Overall he did well.

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The game went off at a pace that never slowed up or evened out. There was hardly any lateral or back passing, which was a great relief.

However, this wasn't a classic by any means. What we saw in Croke Park was the new and still evolving game of ladies football. Dublin have changed the way the sport is played forever; only professionally prepared teams stand any chance.

We were all waiting for the wide open gaps to appear, but the sheer endeavour of both sides, the tight marking and the gutsy, lung-bursting back-tracking turned the nation's sporting prairie into a suburban back garden.

Carla Rowe's two goals were so well taken and in the end the goals won it for Dublin. Dublin's captain Sinead Aherne had a mighty game. She slotted her penalty and scored some big points. All three of the Dublin full-forwards hail from Malahide. All three were excellent. There won't be a mackerel filleted or a yacht scrubbed tonight.

Cork had to work for every score. They always came back for more, but Dublin were as stingy as the workhouse beadle in Oliver Twist.

I have some experience of coaching Ladies Football and there are enduring friendships formed.

There is a huge drop-out rate in women's sports. More than half give up all sport by the age of 14. We will go in to the reasons here sometime, but suffice to say those who stick at it have formed a special bond.

Both teams played for each other right until the end. The women really look after each other on and off the field of play. It makes for a value system based on loyalty to each other and the jersey. You can really feel the love.

The attendance was 50,141 and there is bound to be some comparison to other sports.

This was a massive crowd, and far more men than women watched the game on TG4 according to an RTE report. A recent Liberty Insurance study found that 42 per cent of men support women's sport as opposed to 30 per cent of women.

This may be about to change.

Last week the Kerry junior camogie team was beaten by a fine Dublin side in the All-Ireland final.

The Kerry girls were in with me on Monday night. They are the pride of their one club because that's all we have in Kerry. Several buses came up from Kerry and the Kingdom took up almost a full section in the stand.

Mourne Abbey are a rural club, based near enough to Mallow and they too took over a big chunk of the Hogan Stand for yesterday's game.

Gerry and Ina O'Sullivan's house on the Burnfort side of Mourne Abbey is a treasure trove. At last count there were 26 All Ireland senior medals in the hill country.

Doireann and Ciara kept up the O'Sullivan tradition in Croke Park. Both played very well. Doireann scored a wonder goal. Ciara of the fleet feet slid and shimmied through the Dublin defence.

One of the reasons given for the big fallout in girls' sports was the lack of role models. There's no danger of that in Mourne Abbey.

Seven-year-old Anna Browne came home from St Louis last week after a big operation which was a great success. Anna is walking now and is without pain for the first time in her life. Some of you might remember Jonathon Sexton gave his Grand Slam boots to Anna.

Anna was on the bus yesterday to Dublin to support the four Mourne Abbey girls on the team. Nothing would do her but go to Croke Park. See what I mean about the love.

Dublin's Amy Connolly gave up for a few years. Did the J1, lived a bit of life. Somewhere along the way Amy had a little boy and felt at the time the birth of her baby was the end of her football.

She came back to playing, for the love of the game and the blue jerseys of Dublin and her club Foxrock Cabinteely. Amy fought her way on to the Dublin panel. Mick Bohan backed her and Amy was very much in his plans until a torn cruciate ruined her year in July 2017.

Last year when Dublin won Amy got herself on to the pitch even though she was on crutches. There was surely sadness for what might have been but the main emotion was happiness for her friends.

The Dubliner has been exceptional all year, as a player and as a person, who has championed mothers who play football.

Amy did get on as a player yesterday. Her little boy Ciamhan was all dressed in blue, and blue war paint. He came on to the pitch at the final whistle.

It may seem strange to devote so much of a column on a pulsating All-Ireland final to a girl who only played for 1 minute 47 seconds, but sometimes great deeds materialise before us for mere moments.

But such memories of major achievements are far from fleeting. They last forever.

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