Ulster sides bid for All-Ireland glory on ladies' football finals day
All-Ireland Intermediate Ladies' Football Championship final: Tipperary v Tyrone (Sunday, Croke Park, 1.45pm, live on TG4)
ULSTER champions Tyrone face one of their biggest challenges since their last day out at Croke Park seven years ago when they meet Tipperary in tomorrow’s All-Ireland intermediate championship final.
For the victors the prize is not just the Mary Quinn Memorial Cup and the All-Ireland title, but also a place in senior football.
Red Hands manager Gerry Moane believes Tyrone are good enough to make the step back up to senior football – where they lost the 2010 final to Dublin – but only time will tell whether or not that happens this weekend.
Standing between Tyrone and their ultimate aim are Tipperary. They are undefeated this year and are riding on the crest of a wave in 2017 having won the Division Three title and the Munster crown. They also still have players like Gillian O’Brien, Jennifer Grant and Mairead Morrissey, who were part of the All-Ireland intermediate-winning team in 2008 and the 2013 beaten finalists.
“This is a step on the path to getting back to senior football,” said Moane.
“I make no bones about that. Whether it happens this year or not is one thing but there has been progress made this last year and that is very important but the most important thing is sustainable growth and sustainable improvement and I think that has happened.
“The present group are good enough but there is a lot hard work needed to get to the next level; we are a long way from the Dublin, the Corks, the Mayos of this world but we are going in the right direction and that is the main thing.”
The build-up to tomorrow’s final has somewhat been overshadowed by the decision of the men’s county board to schedule senior club championship games for Sunday.
Some clubs are directly impacted with the likes of Errigal Ciaran, who have five inter-county ladies players in the Tyrone team, also scheduled to play a men’s club championship on Sunday.
It means supporters, and indeed families, must choose between going to watch their county ladies’ footballers in Croke Park or stay at home to support their club in the championship.
It certainly is not ideal to have that going on in the background as the players and management prepare for such a huge game that presents an opportunity that might not come around again for some time.
“We started work last year on the 14th of October,” said Moane (left).
“They have worked hard on and off the pitch and they have got their reward and they have learned a lot and they have evolved from the first league game against Sligo as a team and as a squad.”
A lot of their progress has come from defeats during the league and, as they have learned from each defeat, they have got better with their defence as much a key to their success as their attack so far.
“We tweaked things to make things better,” said Moane.
“Defensively we worked hard during the league to put things in place and we learned from that and I think the defensive display in the championship so far has been second to none but there is another big test coming down the line in Croke Park.”
The defences on both sides will certainly be called on tomorrow as they face down marquee forwards with Gemma Begley and Niamh O’Neill leading the Tyrone attack.
At the other end of the pitch, Red Hand captain Neamh Woods, Shannon Cunningham and goalkeeper Shannon Lynch the three survivors from 2010 squad will be trying to halt Morrissey, O’Brien and teenager Aishling Moloney.
“It is the ultimate for girls to go and play in Croke Park from they started playing football, I am sure they have dreamed of playing in Ulster and All-Ireland finals and playing in Croke Park,” said Moane.
“The pinnacle is the last Sunday in September in ladies’ football is playing in All-Ireland finals day and they are there now and they will go and give a good account of themselves, I am sure of that and there is a big prize at the end of it.”
All-Ireland Junior Ladies' Football Championship final: Derry v Fermanagh (tomorrow, Croke Park, 11.45am, live on TG4)
WE know for the West County Hotel Cup will be heading to Ulster after the conclusion of tomorrow’s All-Ireland junior final. But the question is: will it be spending the next 12 months in Derry or Fermanagh?
The all-Ulster junior decider is a great occasion not just for the two teams involved but for the province as a whole and is a major part and result of the development work that is ongoing within both counties.
History will also be made tomorrow for the victorious side in the form of a first ever All-Ireland inter-county title.
Fermanagh come into this final as favourites. They are the Ulster champions, unbeaten in the Championship and have already defeated Derry twice – in the Ulster final and then again a few weeks later in the qualifiers.
Having played twice in an All-Ireland final before in 2009 and 2014, albeit an intermediate level, Emmet Curry’s squad retains a good nucleus of players who can bring a vast amount of experience to the occasion including goalkeeper Roisin Gleeson, defenders Shauna Hamilton and Edel Campbell, midfielders Marita McDonald and Aine McGovern, and forward Sharon Murphy.
Derry have also reached an All-Ireland final before, back in 2008, but only one player remains from the squad that lost to London that day – Emma Doherty.
Nuala Browne, who has been named to start at wing half-back tomorrow, was part of the squad then but ineligible to play as she was too young.
Led by captain Cáit Glass, Paul Hasson’s side bounced back from those defeats to Fermanagh to blow away Antrim in their final must-win qualifier game, while they showed real character and determination to see off Carlow by a single point in the semi-final.
Before that 2008 final, Derry had beaten London twice that year – once in the league and once in the championship. They were favourites to win at Croke Park but London had other ideas.
Derry will have to overcome not just the physical battle presented by Fermanagh, but the mental one too as they aim to finally get one over their Ulster opposition in the one game that really only matters.
Fermanagh have their own mental battles to fight. This is the county’s third All-Ireland final appearance with the previous two ending in defeats – can they finally break their duck?
Fermanagh were provided with a real test against London in the semi-final and needed extra-time to finally see off the Exiles. That will have stood to them, particularly as they know that Derry are more than ever ready to show them just how good they are.
In their previous championship meetings this year, the real difference between the sides were goals.
It is something Hassan and his management team have been working on and they didn’t concede a goal in their last two games.
While it may be nearly impossible to stop Fermanagh from scoring a goal in Croke Park tomorrow, Derry will be determined to keep things tight in defence as much as possible and keep the scoring threat of 16-year-old Fermanagh corner forward Eimear Smyth at bay.
Fermanagh might be favourites but this is an All-Ireland final. They will not be taking anything for granted and both sets of players and management know it is all about the day.
Who can keep their nerves to a minimum? Who can settle the best early on? Who will get the game’s first goal? Who can use the big space of Croke Park to their advantage? Whoever can come out in the right side of these questions should be celebrating tomorrow afternoon.