Galway return to final in bid to halt Dublin's tilt at third successive title
Last year produced a landmark moment in the journey of ladies' football, with the All-Ireland finals luring an attendance in excess of 50,000 for the first time. Dublin successfully defended the All-Ireland title they won, in a triumph of endurance in 2017, with an added adrenaline rush of eclipsing arch rivals Cork in the process, their tormentors for much of the past decade.
Some of that crowd spike is probably a spin-off from the prosperous times being enjoyed by the Dublin ladies' male counterparts and some is undoubtedly driven by creative ticketing strategies by the game's organisers. But the tide of public opinion and the game's appeal is headed north and looks like continuing that way.
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Last Sunday marked another modest milestone for ladies' sport, with the camogie final setting a new record for a stand-alone fixture in that sport. While that event has also been aided by attractive ticket promotions, and the concerted mobilisation of support, it is enjoying a growing public endorsement even if not as spectacular in attracting followers as its football cousin.
Dublin's win in the 2018 senior ladies' football final was their first over Cork in five attempts, helped by two goals by Carla Rowe, and skippered by the accomplished and experienced Sinéad Aherne, now their longest serving player at 32. They prevailed by five points. Their three goals followed the four they put past Mayo in the final the previous year. Immediately prior to that breakthrough the Dubs had lost three finals in a row to Cork, who rounded off six titles on the trot and 11 in 12 seasons.
Dublin are favourites to retain their title today, clear favourites, having again disposed of Cork in the semi-final by a six-point margin. In a double-header at Croke Park - the semi-finals were held there for the first time this year - over 10,000 turned up to see them advance, with 1-3 from Aherne.
Dublin, who are managed by Mick Bohan, had been beaten twice by Cork this year, including in the Division 1 League semi-finals, and were tied at half-time. The champions scored their first goal in the second half when Cork were down a player, before Aherne's late penalty sealed the win.
The other semi-final produced a thrilling contest between Connacht rivals Galway and Mayo, with the former edging it 2-10 to 2-9, Mairéad Seoighe of Clonbur scoring two first half goals. They came from behind with two late points to win it, the last a free by Róisín Leonard. Galway defeated Mayo at the quarter-final stage last year and overcame them again in this year's Connacht final after a replay.
Galway's presence brings a splash of novelty to the main event of the day. How novel? Every senior final back to 2002 has featured either Cork (12 times) or Dublin (nine). No county outside of those two has won the title since Galway triumphed in 2004. Galway returned for the '05 final and haven't been seen there since.
There was the period of Kerry's iron rule in the 1980s which had them winning nine times in a row, then the emergence of Waterford and Monaghan, and later Mayo and Laois - before Galway's sole success 15 years ago.
This is Dublin's era, having won their first All-Ireland senior title as recently as 2010. With the richly talented Sinéad Goldrick in their defence, and several players with vast experience, they are expected to have too much guile for Tim Rabbitt's side this afternoon. Galway will, however, be inspired by their camogie counterparts' thrilling victory over Kilkenny a week ago, a match in which the more experienced team did not succeed.
The counties met in the last-four last year, when Sinéad Aherne scored 2-4, all in the first half, to shoot down Galway's challenge when they were managed by Stephen Glennon. The Dubliners won 4-8 to 1-10.
In the 2017 quarter-finals Galway were demolished by Cork, 6-19 to 1-10, and they failed to make the quarter-finals in 2016. This season, irrespective of today's outcome, has seen them surpass expectations by reaching the Division 1 National League final and now the All-Ireland decider after a 14-year wait.
In that league final in early May they lost out to Cork, 1-12 to 2-7, with Róisín Leonard having a second half penalty saved. It was Galway's sixth league final defeat since the competition began. In spite of that the league was a useful experience for the team under new management, with Rabbitt having been a selector under Glennon last year. They won six out of seven matches in their group and comfortably disposed of Donegal in the semi-final. Their only defeat before the final was to Dublin. They had 14 survivors from the team beaten in the Division 1 league final replay by Cork four years ago.
The show gets underway before noon, with the junior final between Fermanagh and Louth. Fermanagh, junior champions in 2017, hit 14 points without reply against London to reach the final. Louth easily defeated Antrim in their semi final and are bidding to make up for the loss of last year's junior final to Limerick.
In the intermediate final, Meath face Tipperary and are also hoping to atone for losing the final at this grade a year ago to Tyrone. They put 4-20 past Roscommon in the semi-final, while Tipp reached the final with a ten-point win over Sligo. They are chasing a second intermediate title win in three years.
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