For many, the 2011 Gaelic football season reached a dramatic climax on Sunday last when Dublin reigned supreme and pipped the Kingdom to reclaim Sam Maguire for the first time in sixteen years.
However, the ladies have yet to have their say and six teams will take to the hallowed ground of Croke Park this Sunday, hoping to follow in the footsteps of the boys in blue and make footballing history.
As the biggest day in the Ladies Football Calendar draws closer, the captains from the six competing counties met in Croke Park on Tuesday last ahead of the TG4 All Ireland Ladies Football Finals 2011.
Cork captain Amy O’ Shea; Monaghan captain Sharon Courtney; Westmeath captain Elaine Finn; Cavan captain Aisling Doonan; Wicklow captain Caitriona McKeon and New York captain Rosie O’ Reily were all on hand yesterday, accompanied by their managers and a selection of players, as the build up to the final showdowns mounts.
Three grades of ladies football will take to the field this Sunday and the triple header will welcome some newcomers to the business end of the All Ireland Championship, while others are more than familiar with this stage of the season.
The TG4 Senior Final sees two of the best teams of the last seven months come face to face as Ulster Champions Monaghan take on Munster Champions Cork. The senior clash will be the most hotly anticipated feature of final day and the game kicks off at 4pm
Cork are frequent visitors to Jones’ Road having claimed an incredible five back to back All-Ireland titles before losing out to Tyrone in a shock defeat at the quarter final stage of the 2010 championship.
While Cork are familiar with the road to Croke Park, Sunday signifies a first All-Ireland appearance for Monaghan since 2008 as they bid for their first title since 1998.
“Its great to back in Croke Park, that’s where you want to be at the end of the year, said Ciara Mc Anespie”, star forward for the Farney County. “I think it’s our dream to play in an All-Ireland Final and a lot of us don’t have the experience of playing in Croke Park before.
I think we’re more focused this year and hopefully if we perform well on the day, it will go right for us.”
The Rebellettes boast a far larger wealth of experience than their Monaghan counterparts when it comes to All Ireland Final day. However, the Farney women are the only team to have beaten them in the league this season and according to Corks Ciara O’ Sullivan, her team are not underestimating the daunting challenge facing them this Sunday.
“I don’t know if we’re favourites, they’re the only team that’s beaten us this year in the league so we are expecting a tough game, there’s never much between Cork and Monaghan”, said O’ Sullivan. “A kick of a ball could be the difference so it could come to down to whoever wants it more because they have very skilful players.”
Westmeath and Cavan will battle it out for intermediate honours at 2.00pm with both counties looking to build on League successes achieved over the last two years.
Westmeath have been one of the stories of the ladies football season with a first ever National League title followed by a first ever Leinster title.
According to Westmeath captain Elaine Finn, management duo Peter Leahy and Alan Mangan deserve huge credit for the job they have done since taking over the reigns last year.
Since taking the post, the pair immediately began working on a fitness and conditioning regime, which has helped the girls no end and according to Dublin native Finn, enjoying her first season as Westmeath Captain, they have instilled a belief and confidence in the squad that will now see them challenging for a third title this Sunday.
Despite recording a victory against them earlier in the year, Westmeath know that they will meet an almighty challenge against a Cavan side that have been building steadily all year and disposed of a highly fancied Leitrim side in the semi-final when extra-time was required to separate the teams.
“We’re looking forward to Sunday”, said Cavan captain Aisling Doonan. “We’ve already played Westmeath and unfortunately they beat us by two or three points, but hopefully it’s going to be a good sporting game if both teams work hard on the day.
The two sides are novices to All-Ireland Final day in Croke Park and Doonan is hoping that nerves will not get the better of her side as they bid to take the Mary Quinn Memorial Cup back to Cavan.
“We have been putting a lot of effort into training for the last month so hopefully it will be a good game”, said Doonan. “It’s our first time playing in Croke Park and there’s a lot of hype about that but we’re just trying to focus on the game itself so please god once the whistle blows on Sunday, we’ll just get focused and straight into our football.”
Sunday’s curtain raiser will see novel pairing Wicklow and New York come face to face in the TG4 all Ireland Junior Final at 12.00pm. The Garden County last won an All Ireland in 1990, but have been knocking on the door for the last number of years.
For New York, this is their first involvement in the TG4 Championship since 2002 and they have not disappointed with a dramatic return, which saw them reach a first final since 1999.
President of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association spoke of the effort and talent which epitomises Ladies GAA at the moment and he has encouraged members of the public to come and support their respective teams this Sunday.
“It is every girl’s dream to play in Croke Park and preferably in an All Ireland final. All players will be making a special effort to make it a winning appearance. Such is the talent on display by all six participating counties; we are expecting three exciting games with free flowing football, which has become the trade mark of ladies football.”
Tickets for Croke Park on Sunday are still on sale from ladies football clubs and County Board Officers and tickets are priced at €25 for adults, €10 for students and €8 for u-14.