The Mayo ladies took the field in their LGFA Senior All-Ireland semi-final against Cork at Breffni Park this afternoon as rank outsiders. They produced a stunning performance at the Cavan venue, however, to dethrone the long-standing champions and set up an All-Ireland final meeting with Dublin in three weeks time.
The ladies won in the finish by two points in what was from start to finish and tough and tight affair. Tight was how Mayo needed to keep it early on as it would have been fatal to let a team of Cork’s vast experience to get a run at them from the off.
Instead, it was tit-for-tat in a cagey opening spell, the teams trading points and the lead changing hands a few times. We led by two early on, they pegged us back, we went one ahead again, back they came to lead by one, level again, then Cork up again by one.
Then came the game’s first decisive breakthrough, a goal for us scored by the peerless Cora Staunton. A real belter it was too and she followed it up with a point to push her team three clear. By half-time, the gap was back to two but already it looked like Mayo were more than a match for the champions.
Cork upped their game after the break. More point-trading followed but when Cork’s Orla Finn knocked over her tenth point of the game it put her side back in front and her eleventh one soon after stretched Cork’s lead to two.
There was a danger then that the game could slip from their grasp but any such doubts were quickly dispelled when a flowing move ended with Mayo’s second goal. Fiona Doherty created the chance with some strong running at the heart of the Cork defence before offloading to Aileen Gilroy who drove forward and smashed the ball to the net.
— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) September 2, 2017
We suffered a major blow soon after when Fiona Doherty picked up what looked to be an extremely harsh yellow card, which meant she was consigned to the sin bin for a crucial ten-minute spell of the second half. By now, the large Mayo following was getting increasingly incensed at the many reffing calls going against us.
But the team responded superbly by launching another attack, which ended in a third goal. Sarah Rowe was fouled as she got her shot away but the high dropping ball was met in the square by sub Amy Dowling who fisted it to the net to push Mayo four clear.
From there to the end it was increasingly tense as Cork, sensing that their incredibly long reign as champions was on the line, attacked again and again. Two points for Cork, with a shot cannoning off the crossbar between those scores, left this game on a knife-edge as it entered the final ten minutes.
A point from play by Cora – her eighth of the day – helped to calm the nerves but this was quickly cancelled out at the other end. It was clear this contest was going to go right down to the wire.
With five minutes left to play, Fiona Doherty was back on but Cora missed a relatively straightforward free and so the gap remained at two points.
Soon after Cork were awarded a penalty in controversial circumstances. Orla Finn appeared to back into Mayo ‘keeper Yvonne Byrne before losing her footing in the square but the ref adjudged it to be a penalty.
A goal for Cork then would surely have been fatal. Yvonne Byrne got down, however, superbly to paw away the spot kick and preserve the Westerners’ narrow advantage.
Orla Finn kicked her thirteenth point of the game soon after to cut Mayo’s lead to the minimum margin with just two minutes left on the clock. It was, though, left to Cora Staunton – a full 18 years after her first All-Ireland final appearance – to notch the game’s final score, bringing her personal tally to 1-8 as Mayo won out by 3-11 to 0-18.
— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) September 2, 2017
It was a super win, hewn out of a hard-working and utterly determined way of playing. Much like the lads this year, the ladies went about their business today with a single-minded focus and a clear will to win. It was a victory – their first over Cork in the championship in thirteen years – they thoroughly deserved.
So it’s onto the final they now go. Back to Croke Park for their first final appearance since 2007, aiming to capture the Brendan Martin Cup for the first time since the glory days around the start of the new Millennium.
Incredibly, Cora Staunton was the leading light of the team when they won four All-Ireland titles between 1999 and 2003 and she’s still the spiritual leader of the team all these years later. What a crowning achievement it would be for Cora to play a leading role in winning the county’s fifth LGFA title should they overcome Dublin in the final three weeks from now.
Two Mayo/Dublin All-Ireland finals in two weeks. September sure is going to be fun. Up Mayo.