Sport Ladies Football

Sunday 22 September 2019

Denise Masterson: 'This is Galway's moment to try to silence the doubters but Dubs look too strong'

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Big loss: Nicole Owens. Photo: Sportsfile
Big loss: Nicole Owens. Photo: Sportsfile

Denise Masterson

A lot of people probably secretly thought that the Dublin/Cork semi-final was this year's All-Ireland final already but, as the men's final showed the last day, nothing is ever quite that straightforward in sport.

Yes, they're the two who've been the standard-bearers for so long and well ahead of the pack, so Dublin beating Cork in the semi-final makes Galway heavy underdogs.

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For Dublin to be going for three in-a-row is huge and not just because we only won our first All-Ireland in 2010.

Only Kerry and Cork have ever done it before and that's partly because the nature of women's football has been much more transient.

Players traditionally come and go more in the summers, but that's definitely changing now that the profile and the prestige of the game has increased.

People's attitude towards women's football has shifted, and the sacrifices are easier for players now because of the recognition they're getting.

For tomorrow, you could argue that Galway are coming in on a bit of a high after last week's camogie win and they're also chasing a county 'treble' with their minor hurlers.

Up until the semi-finals, Dublin had a slow-burning season and didn't look anything as dominant as last season. They tried out 30 players in the league and, for the first time, have had a lot of injuries, with Nicole Owens a big loss now.

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But I felt it all finally came together against Cork last time out. That was their first really dynamic and cohesive team performance this year.

Even though it was level at half-time, I felt they always looked more dangerous and had more variety in their attack, with that ability to go long or short, and play off the shoulder.

Some big decisions were made too - Noelle Healy not starting while Owens did, despite the extent of her knee injury - yet it was still the most impressive the Dublin forwards looked all year.

Defensively, Niamh Collins was outstanding and Siobhan McGrath has been doing incredibly well as a defensive midfielder this year, working really well too with Olwen Carey.

This will be a huge test of Galway, who have had a reputation of not doing it on the really big day.

I don't know if I always overestimate them or they always under-perform. They have really good players but have fallen short on the big stage against the bigger teams in recent years.

They made this year's league final but lost to Cork and lost badly to Dublin in last year's All-Ireland semi in Roscommon, when they leaked those early goals and never recovered.

So this is their moment to try to silence the doubters. I was one of them and actually tipped Mayo to nudge them out in their semi-final.

I still think they weren't psychologically tested by that because their recent record against Mayo is so good, but there was still a really dramatic finish to that game and Roisin Leonard was absolutely Dean Rock-like in the way she nailed that winning free.

Like Caroline O'Hanlon (Armagh), I just love watching her cousin Tracey Leonard, she's a sublime footballer. Nicola Ward, at full-back the last day, really impressed me too.

Aine McDonagh had a very good game in midfield beside Louise Ward, so they'll pose a serious challenge there and it will be interesting to see who picks up Olivia Divilly on those long runs - it could well be Lauren Magee.

Nicola Ward was not only good at full-back the last day, but instrumental in a lot of Galway attacks, and you'd wonder if they'll use that again.

Marshalled

Dublin's full-forward line is used to being tightly marshalled. They're not usually worried about a full-back getting forward, so you'd wonder if that's a curve-ball Galway might throw.

And there is one thing about Galway - they're never afraid of Dublin.

I don't know what it is, but it was the same when I played. They just don't fear the Sky Blue jersey and, even in league games, there's only ever a few points between them either way.

It's probably good for ladies football in general to have a new senior pairing. Galway have always been a top-four team and are definitely better this year. It's remarkable that they haven't been in a final since 2005. When they beat Dublin in the 2004 final that was my first year with Dublin. What's amazing is that Siobhan McGrath, Sinead Aherne and Lyndsey Davey all played that day and, 15 years later, are still there and playing so well.

Yellow cards could have an influence on the game because the tackle rule in women's football is so strict.

Yellows can change a game but it's only a 10-minute sin-bin and you do get back in afterwards. The sin-bin also defuses situations, so reds are much less likely.

Dublin's defence, particularly players like Sinead Goldrick and Eabha Rutledge, who really impressed me against Cork, is always very tigerish.

They play right on the edge and you need that.

But, no more than Johnny Cooper on David Clifford, they have to be careful about fouls and ticks. However, the way Dublin play as a defensive unit, they cover for each other a lot, which helps.

But if this turns out to be a straight game of football I fancy Dublin to make more history with the three in-a-row.

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