A win for Mayo over Dublin in this evening’s LGFA NFL Division 1 semi-final was always going to be a big ask. It might, though, have been expected that we’d put it up to them in some kind of serious way. We didn’t do this, however, and instead slumped to an embarrassing seventeen-point hammering.
A few caveats are worth entering at the outset. This Dublin LGFA team are now possibly more dominant in their game than their male counterparts are. The four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions are literally streets ahead of every other county and anyone who comes up against them stands a real danger of taking a tanking.
It’s also the case that we’re a team that’s at a very different stage of development. Dublin have been at the top of their game for ages, they know exactly what they’re trying to do all the time, their plays are slick and well-rehearsed and their ball retention is superb. Under new manager Michael Moyles this team – after the damaging split of the last few years – is only just starting to gel. It’s very much a work in progress.
As I said earlier on today in the preview piece, it was a bonus for Mayo to have made the play-offs at all. This game gave the team the chance to test themselves against the best in the business. Sadly for them, it proved to be a test they weren’t capable of handling.
The alarm bells were jangling early in this evening game at the Gaelic Grounds. A well-worked passing move saw the ball played in to the unmarked Niamh Hetherton on the edge of the square and she side-footed the ball into the net.
We’d got the evening’s opening score – from Niamh Kelly, a lively presence for us for long stretches in this game – and she scored again after they’d netted, collecting a ball played in from a free and clipping it over.
Shortly before the water break, though, Dublin broke through for a second goal. Once again, a cleverly-worked move prised open the Mayo backline, through the centre of which midfielder Jennifer Dolan burst at speed. She took the pop pass, drove on and buried it emphatically.
The match was, in truth, all but over then. Rachel Kearns tried to pull a goal back soon after when she was dragged down close to goal but her booming free was batted away by the Dublin backline.
For about ten minutes after the water break, the play was almost exclusively in the Dublin half. But we shot a succession of bad wides, opting for low percentage shots at the posts when we found the well-drilled Dublin defence too difficult to penetrate. All we had to show for this period was a Sinead Cafferkey point, from a nice move initiated out the field by Niamh Kelly.
But Dublin weren’t going to stay hemmed in forever. Inevitably, once they lifted the siege they did damage at our end. Lindsey Davey’s point was their first shot at the posts for a good while and soon after they had the ball in the net a third time. Niamh Hetherton was probably fouled but the ball squirted away from her and Sinead Aherne did the rest from almost on the goal-line.
Dublin were nine up at half-time. The match was over as a contest by then and it descended into complete one-way traffic after the break. By the second water break Dublin’s lead had stretched to twelve points and they began to empty the bench in earnest.
They kept scoring too. Their fourth goal was a penalty, drilled expertly into the corner by Sinead Aherne, and the Dublin captain almost broke through for another at the finish but ‘keeper Laura Brennan was equal to this effort.
In the end, Dublin won pulling up. A 4-15 to 0-10 scoreline brooks no argument. This was a beating and a bad one at that.
This bad reversal doesn’t, though, negate what has been, on the whole, a positive top tier League campaign for Michael Moyles’ evolving team. They need to learn from all that went wrong today and put those lessons into practice when they take the field in the Championship a few short weeks from now.
Mayo: Laura Brennan; Saoirse Lally, Clodagh McManamon, Orla Conlon; Éilis Ronayne, Tamara O’Connor, Kathryn Sullivan; Fiona Doherty, Sinead Cafferky (0-1); Niamh Kelly (0-2), Fiona McHale, Grace Kelly (0-1); Maria Reilly, Shauna Howley (0-4, three frees), Rachel Kearns (0-2, one free). Subs: Roisin Durcan for Doherty, Ella Brennan for McManamon, Mary McHale for Fiona McHale , Ciara Needham for O’Connor, Saoirse Lally for Reilly, Amy Dowling for Ronayne.