After an eight-year gap since their last appearance in the All-Ireland final, the Mayo ladies are one game away from familiarising themselves with Croke Park. The last time they were successful on this big stage was in 2003 and, in order to book their place in the final, they must overcome the same opposition whom they beat thirteen years ago.
Frank Browne has described this game as their “toughest challenge yet”, and rightly so. Dublin, like Mayo, go into the game as provincial champions after trouncing Westmeath in Leinster, a team which Mayo subsequently dispatched with just two points to spare. However, like our own quarter- final, they just managed to overcome Donegal by a small margin of one goal.
Dublin have been one of the strongest ladies teams over the last decade, always finding themselves there or thereabouts as the curtain drew on their season. They have been beaten finalists in each of the last two years and would have been certainly hoping to make it third time lucky and go one better at the start of this year’s campaign. Mayo will have other ideas.
We go into this fixture having lost just one, yes, just one game all year. That came in the League final to Cork, a game which no Mayo supporter expected the ladies to find themselves in at the start of the campaign. Nor did many think we would land ourselves a place in the last four of the championship for the first time since 2009.
The magnificent performance against Galway in the Connacht final was somewhat overshadowed by the shaky performance against Westmeath a couple of weeks ago. However, that inconsistency in performance could be down to the six-week gap between the two games or it could have also been down to sheer nerves as a lot is riding on this current crop of Mayo ladies.
We’ve talked about the mixture of youth and experience and now is the time for this mixture of ingredients to come to the boil in the hope of overcoming this tough Dublin side. The Dubs have extremely talented girls in their squad with the likes of Sinead Aherne and Noelle Healy becoming star names not only for their county but for the ladies game as a whole. They are beatable though, and that was shown in their exploits against Donegal.
I know previous battles between the sides mean nothing when the ball is thrown in at 6.30pm in Breffni Park on Saturday but it is still nice to know that we have the upper hand against the girls in blue in games that have gone before involving these two sides. We were successful against them in the League a couple of months back. Also the last time we met them in the championship back, in 2007, we claimed a six point win, a game which was also played in Cavan. (Breffni Park being a place where lightning can strike twice, we hope).
A win of that margin is highly unlikely for either side come Saturday. Our battles of late have been close and exciting with both sides leaving their lives on the pitch at the final whistle.
The 2003 final was not a game for the football fanatic. It was a game which finished on a scoreline of 1-4 to 0-5 in favour of the Green and Red. A game which only a goal was the fine line between defeat and victory and a game in which, believe it or not, Cora Staunton didn’t score!
“History doesn’t record performances, it records results” claimed Frank Browne as he talked to the Western People on Monday. He’s surely right: we would gladly take another low scoring game but only if it went in the favour of the girls from Mayo. Because after all, nobody remembers the 2003 performance, only the result and what a great result it was.