The Mayo women’s team went into this afternoon’s LGFA NFL Division 1A clash with Westmeath at St Loman’s GAA club in Mullingar knowing that, at a minimum, they needed to secure a decisive victory. A win by Galway over Donegal in the day’s other Division 1A fixture would have meant that the two semi-final berths on offer would be decided on points difference so the best way for Michael Moyles’ team to help themselves was to get as many points on the board as they could.
They managed to do this and more in today’s game – which they won by a 24-point margin – but the outcome of the game in Tuam, which Donegal won comfortably, meant that victory by even the minimum margin would have been enough for Mayo, as they finished runners-up in the group. They’ll now meet the Division 1B table-toppers Dublin in next weekend’s NFL Division 1 semi-final.
Right from the throw-in at Mullingar today it was evident that Mayo meant business. Full of quick movement and hard running, they harried and tackled their opponents all over the pitch and broke at pace as soon as they gained possession. It was a level of intensity that the Lake County – managed by Knock native and former Mayo player Seán Finnegan – simply couldn’t match. By the first water break the home side were wobbling badly, by half-time they had buckled completely.
We moved up through the gears in the opening quarter. After the sides had traded early points, a surging run by Niamh Kelly created a scoring chance that Shauna Howley converted. Tamara O’Connor pointed soon after when the ball was recycled after Amy Dowling had the goal at her mercy but the ball got stuck under her legs. Then Grace Kelly – in the starting team today, for the first time this year – gathered well and shot over off her left.
Just before the first water break the visitors broke through for their opening goal. The Westmeath ‘keeper did really well to parry Rachel Kearns’ initial shot but the MacHale Rovers player was able to grab the rebound and slot it to the net.
We then traded points, as they got one from play and another from a free, and we responded in kind. Kathryn Sullivan and Rachel Kearns (a free) scored for us.
Our second goal was a super piece of teamwork. The cross-field pass into Amy Dowling lacked accuracy but the Carnacon player did well to muscle herself back into possession. She found the galloping Grace Kelly who played one in over the top to Tara Needham, which the Louisburgh player jabbed to the net off the outside of her boot.
We were rampant now and continued to come at the home team in waves from then to the break. After they bagged a point following our second goal, five unanswered points were then added to our tally before half-time. Sub Sinead Cafferkey powering through and shooting on the run, Grace Kelly, this time off the right, Kathryn Sullivan, who started and finished a great move, Rachel Kearns, who drilled one over after Westmeath’s restart went awry, and Shauna Howley, from a free after she’d had her jersey tugged, all found the target for us.
By half-time news had come through that Donegal were four goals to the good against Galway in Tuam so a semi-final slot for Michael Moyles’ charges now looked to be in the bag. Thirteen points up, all they needed now was to hold out for a win. A big margin of victory was no longer needed.
But the players out on the pitch clearly didn’t get the memo. They came out in the same determined frame of mind after the break and they never let up ’till the finish. It was tough on a Westmeath team who were totally out of their depth and it didn’t help their cause that, as we emptied the bench, this brought into the fray more and more players who were eager to make their mark.
The result, from Westmeath’s perspective, was grim. Two further goals – a rocket of a shot from Amy Dowling and a second one for the Needham household, with sub Ciara intercepting a kick-out and finishing with aplomb – and a succession of points saw us run out winners by 4-18 to 0-6 at the finish.
The women’s next assignment is a far more daunting one, as they must now face the four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions Dublin in the NFL semi-final next Saturday. That, though, is a test Michael Moyles and his team will surely relish, both as a challenge in its own right and as vital preparation for the Championship that gets underway shortly.
Congrats to the Mayo ladies on their huge win today and the best of luck to them when they take on Dublin next weekend.
Mayo: Aisling Tarpey; Amy Halligan, Clodagh McManamon, Fiona Doherty; Eilis Roynane, Maria Reilly, Kathryn Sullivan (0-2); Tamara O’Connor (0-1), Ciara Whyte; Niamh Kelly, Tara Needham (1-0), Grace Kelly (0-4); Amy Dowling (1-0), Shauna Howley (0-7, two frees), Rachel Kearns (1-2, one free). Subs: Sinead Cafferkey (0-1) for Whyte, Fiona McHale (0-1) for O’Connor, Roisin Durcan for Halligan, Ella Brennan for Reilly, Saoirse Walsh for McManamon, Orla Conlon for Doherty, Ciara Needham (1-0) for Kearns, Saoirse Lally for Tara Needham, Maria Corbett for Niamh Kelly, Mary McHale for Dowling, Laura Brennan for Tarpey.