Bloody hell but sport sure can be cruel at times. After a nightmare start in this evening’s LGFA All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin, the Mayo ladies fought back bravely in the second half to tie the game up. With the seconds ticking down to the hooter they had a few chances to snatch the lead but instead were undone by a last-second pointed free at the other end, a score that handed Dublin a one-point win on a scoreline of 2-10 to 1-12.
Throw-in was delayed by half an hour at Breffni Park this evening due to the extra-time played beforehand in the Intermediate semi-final between Kildare and Sligo. When the match eventually got going at 7pm it was Dublin who settled better and they quickly took a firm hold on the contest.
They got the first three points of the game and then added two more following our first score of the evening. This came courtesy of a pointed free by Cora Staunton.
It looked like the Mayo girls were about to get right back in it when Sarah Rowe wriggled through and got a shot away but her goal-bound effort was parried away by the Dublin keeper. They came charging up the field, with a slick counter-attacking move culminating in a goal for them by Sinead Aherne.
That setback jolted Frank Browne’s charges to life. Three points in a row – two from Aileen Gilroy and a cracker from Cora – cancelled out the goal but then a defensive mix-up from a kick-out at our end let them in for a second major, once again netted by Sinead Aherne. That looked to be the fatal blow.
They added a point from a free to extend their lead to eight points but two pointed frees by Cora cut the deficit to six at the break.
Two further points for Dublin by Sinead Aherne on the resumption restored their eight-point lead. At that stage it was difficult to see the Mayo girls mounting an effective comeback but that’s precisely what they proceeded to engineer.
Three points in a row gave the girls some momentum. Cora then had the ball in the net but the goal was disallowed – correctly you’d have to say – for over-carrying.
What wasn’t correct was the persistent fouling of the Carnacon legend by the Dublin girls. Held back off the ball and pulled, pushed and rugby tackled when she was on it – that effectively was Cora’s lot this evening. Like Aidan in the men’s game, it looked like nothing was a foul where it came to Cora and she understandably grew ever more frustrated the longer this went on.
The tide remained in our favour after the disallowed goal. Two long range frees from Cora cut the gap back to a goal and soon after we were sensationally level when Rachel Kearns found the net with a raking, low shot to the corner.
I thought for a while that they mustn’t have cards in the ladies game but then, just after we got the goal, I discovered that this wasn’t the case. Aileen Gilroy was sin-binned for a foul, one no worse than the two dozen or so that had already been committed with impunity by the Dublin girls on Cora.
There was, however, some justice in the fact that Dublin were unable to make their numerical superiority count on the scoreboard. Ironically it wasn’t until just after they had one of their players, Siobhan Woods, sin-binned that they edged back in front. The lead didn’t last long, however, with Carol Hegarty thumping over the leveller for us at the other end.
With our girls back up once again to fifteen, them down to fourteen and time running out, it looks as if we were well placed to seal the win and a place in the final. The last few minutes were tense and tight but we failed to get anything from a few long-range frees we were awarded. Dublin were getting cuter with their fouling now, only doing so well out of scoring range.
They eventually broke upfield with seconds to go and won a scoreable free. With the final seconds ticking down on the clock Sinead Aherne kicked the winner to send Dublin into their third successive final.
It was the cruelest possible way to lose, not least given how well the team had battled back from eight points down early in the second half. With perhaps a little more luck and, for sure, a ref prepared to apply the rules on a more even-handed basis this knife-edge result could easily have gone the other way.
But it didn’t and so, sadly, the Mayo ladies’ football journey is over for this year. What a year it’s been – unbeaten in the League all the way to the final, the Connacht title recaptured and, literally, ending up just a kick of a ball away from getting to the All-Ireland final.
Huge commiserations to them on tonight’s heartbreaking loss but also well done on what’s been, all told, a very positive year for ladies football within the county. You did us all proud, and more.