Donegal ladies footballers aiming to seize senior final berth
TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final: Donegal v Cork (Today, Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon, 2.45pm, live on TG4)
ULSTER champions Donegal step into the unknown this afternoon in a first ever All-Ireland senior semi-final against seasoned campaigners Cork in Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon.
The Tir Chonaill county finally broke their quarter-final duck at the fifth time of asking, defeating Armagh 0-19 to 1-13 in a hard-fought encounter at Healy Park.
By comparison, this is Cork’s 13th semi-final in 14 years and Donegal supporters will be hoping that it is an unlucky one for the 11 times champions.
Championship meetings between the two counties are a rarity. You have to go back to 2012 for their one and only encounter, that at the quarter-final stage with Donegal shipping an infamous 8-27 to 0-2 defeat, at the same venue as today’s game.
They have, however, become familiar acquaintances in the league in recent years and both this year and last year Donegal have recorded wins over Cork, most recently 4-11 to 2-3, but it was Cork who won the one that mattered, the 2017 league final by the narrowest of margins, a game Donegal could and probably should have won but for the Rebelettes experience.
Many thought Cork, after seeing so many great players retire in the last couple of seasons, were on a downward slope especially after their All-Ireland semi-final exit to Mayo 12 months ago.
Led by the O'Sullivans - captain Ciara, Aine and Doireann, Libby Coppinger, Eimear Scally and Orla Finn they have a host of stars while their bench is full of match winners with Ephie Fitzgerald often springing Saoirse Noonan from it in the second half who can average 1-3 or 1-5 a game. On current form and evidence of results, last year seems to have been just a mild dip in form.
They have impressed on their way to the last four putting teams to the sword but this semi-final against Donegal should prove to be their toughest yet. And where other teams may unwittingly come into a showdown with Cork not just battling their opponents but also a fear factor, this Donegal team are certainly not afraid. Maxi Curran and Damian Devaney's side certainly do not fear the challenge of Cork and while they hold them in the utmost of respect, they know too this is a game they can win.
Donegal's strength is built on the spine of their team, which branches out into equally strong, influential players.
With Laura Gallagher in goals, Nicole McLaughlin in fullback, Ciara Hegarty in centre half back, Katy Herron and Aoife McDonnell at midfield, Niamh Hegarty centre half forward and Geraldine McLaughlin and Yvonne Bonner commanding a two person full-forward line, they are a formidable opponent.
Add in captain Karen Guthrie, who is back from injury having had to come off early on against Kerry in the group qualifying game and miss all but the final few minutes of the Armagh game, Eilish Ward who often comes out from corner forward to play in the middle third, Therese McCafferty and Deirdre Foley in defence with years of experience and Cork have plenty to think about.
There is no doubt Donegal have the talent in their players to reach an All-Ireland final.
The four best teams in the country remain in this year's All-Ireland championship with Dublin and Galway facing each other in the other semi-final in the last game of the day at Dr Hyde Park.
It is going to come down to who wants it more.
There is nothing between the teams. Donegal, having come through a quarter-final against Armagh where questions were asked of them will have learned a lot and it is that sort of composure that will be the difference between winning and losing.
Cork also have that composure and like Donegal they work hard and for each other.
It has been a long shift, says Maxi Curran, but they have reached one of their targets.
"It is new territory and it is another stage on our journey. We have worked very hard to get this far. This was one of our targets this year and thankfully we have got to this stage," said Curran.
"I don’t see there being more pressure on us now that we are in the semi-final or less pressure on us that we finally won an All-Ireland quarter-final. I think for us it’s how, in the last 10 minutes of the quarter-final when Armagh had come right back into the game and our backs were against the wall, we responded and how we stood up and came through and answered the questions that we asked of us. I think that is the difference between one quarter-final and another. That is something Donegal hadn’t done before."
While Curran believes Cork are a much improved team from last year, he believes Donegal have what it takes to reach their first ever All-Ireland senior final.
"It’s all about game by game at this stage and we are under no illusion of the challenge ahead.
"I think Cork are a better team this year than 12 months ago.
"They played Armagh a week before we did and they dismissed them at a canter. I don’t think they have had an easier route, I think think their results to date show how good they have been rather than the quality of opposition.
"We are relishing the chance to play Cork. They are a great team and like to play open football and this has the makings of being a great game.
"The break between the quarter-final and semi-final has been welcome, even the extra week with the shift in the game from last weekend to this weekend.
"We played three games on the bounce there and you didn’t have time to really reflect on the one before as you were preparing immediately for the next, so it has been great to have the time to look at things, work on things and put the best preparation in this semi-final.
"Cork are beatable and this is a winnable game for Donegal.
"It’s a brilliant opportunity for Donegal to make an All-Ireland senior final for the fist time and we will do everything get there."
TG4 All-Ireland Junior Championship semi-final: Derry v Louth (Tomorrow, Aghaloo, Aughnacloy, 1pm)
DERRY will put everything on the line to reach back-to-back All-Ireland finals in tomorrow's last four clash against Louth in Aughnacloy.
Any one of the four remaining teams in this year's junior competition - London and Limerick, who play one another in the other semi-final at 1pm today in Mallow, and Louth and Derry - could be crowned All-Ireland champions on September 16 in what is one of the toughest junior championships to call in a long time.
Louth or London, who finished top and second in Group A respectively, are possibly just slight favourites over Derry and Limerick for the honours but particularly in junior championship football, there are no guarantees and it is very much all on the day.
Three of the remaining four teams play their league football in Division Four while London do not partipicate in the league. The teams, therefore, are no strangers to one another with Louth and Derry.
Derry’s league form saw them record no competitive victories although they did pick up three points when Kilkenny conceded their final round game but also conceding their own game against Antrim, manager Paul Crozier used the league to try and give everyone game time and try out the new faces.
That seemed to have worked, as top of adding a number of minor players, Derry regrouped for the Ulster championship and turned in the most impressive of displays to claim their first provincial title since 2008, with a 3-15 to 1-14 victory over Antrim. A six-week break was not ideal when they faced Carlow in their All-Ireland Junior Championship group round one qualifier and they will have been disappointed to lose by the narrowest of margins, 2-9 to 1-11.
Facing a must-win clash against Limerick in their final group game to keep their All-Ireland hopes alive, if there ever was a time to to record a first win over the Treaty County in any competition over the past eight or nine years, it was then. They had to work hard for the one point 0-8 to 0-7 victory. They trailed early on but went in at the break 0-6 to 0-2 ahead and although they only managed two second half points, they withstood the Limerick comeback to hang on.
Limerick saw off Carlow in the group's final game to book their place in the semi-finals, with Derry finishing group runners-up to set up tomorrow's semi-final clash.
Although no strangers to one another in league football, their meetings in championship have been few with none this decade. Louth have always had the upper hand over Derry in league meetings, winning the last four including this year's encounter 3-13 to 1-9.
Louth have played intermediate championship football for the last two seasons, regrading back to junior this year after finding the step up to intermediate one too far, unfortunately like many junior teams do. They failed to win a single championship game at intermeidate level in 2016 and 2017, but have been impressive on their return to the junior ranks. It has been all the more impressive as they had to come to terms with the sudden passing of their senior team manager Michael McKeown, who had guided them to a first Division Four final earlier this year and was preparing them for their Leinster final when he unexpectedly passed away. They are so far unbeaten in this year's championship, now under the mentorship of Darren Bishop, winning the Leinster title with victories over Kilkenny and Carlow and topping their All-Ireland qualifying group with wins over Antrim, Kilkenny and London hitting 10-58 along the way.
They have a number of big team players none more so than their captain Kate Flood, who was influential in their final round victory over London while Lauren Boyle's accuracy in front of the posts makes her one to watch for the Derry defence as is teenager Niamh Rice.
Derry have plenty for Louth to think about and in particular how to manage midfielder and last year's Player of the Year Emma Doherty, who is one of the main linkpins between defence and attack for the Ulster champions, while her accuracy from the dead ball will guarantee Derry at least a handful of points each game. Another crucial cog is Ciara Moore, who along with Doherty, has over a decade of experience at inter-county level. Captain Cait Glass, Katy Holly and Danielle Kivlehan are deployed in the heart of the Derry defence while midfielder Ciara McGurk is another outlet to launch Derry attacks. Up in forwards, Erin Doherty, Megan Devine and Claragh Connor can be a formidable full forward line for the Louth defence but they need to take the game to the Wee County from the off.
Manager Paul Crozier says the unfinished business from the All-Ireland final last year is driving them on and they are determined to get back to Croke Park next month.
"It's a huge opportunity to get back to Croke Park. It's where we want to be and we must take it. The girls are looking forward to it and we are quietly confident. We know Louth will pose a serious challenge having come back down from intermediate and they also have that extra motivation following the death of their manager Michael.
"But Derry ladies have their own motivation too. They are still hurting from last year's loss and they want to get back to the final to rectify it. We left it behind that first day against Fermanagh and you don't know when chances come around again to get back to a final and we have one now.
"We didn't perfrom agianst Carlow. We were going in confident and with high expectations but we didn't turn up. The girls knew that after the game too and the dressing room was not a great place after. They knew they were far from their best and that the game against Limerick had now become a must-win. Credit to them, they lifted themselves and knuckled down and we performed well against Limerick and we got the result, the win that we needed.
"The win in the Ulster final, the manner of the win against Limerick and how the girls bounced back from the Carlow defeat - there is a new found belief in the players and they are determined to get over the challenge of Louth and get back to an All-Ireland final."
TG4 All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final: Dublin (holder) v Galway (Today, Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon, 4.30pm live on TG4)
ALL-Ireland champions Dublin put their title on the line against Galway in the second of a senior semi-final double header at Dr Hyde Park this afternoon.
The last time the Tribeswomen reached the semi-finals, it was Dublin who ended their summer ambitions with a 2-14 to 1-13 victory in Mullingar in 2014 and they will be hoping the outcome is slightly different this time around. While Dublin are favourites, Galway have made it to the last four on merit and on their day are good enough to beat the Jackies. They did so in earlier this year in the league in what is Dublin's only competitive defeat so far this year. However, the champions got the better of them in the league final and for Galway this will be another chance to claim a huge scalp.
They must do so without one of their young stars, Ailbhe Davoren, who suffered a cruciate ligament injury late on in their quarter-final win over Mayo, spoiling what had been a dominant and impressive performance from Galway over their Connacht rivals, winning 5-11 to 0-12.
Dublin had a comfortable 18 point victory over Kerry in their quarter-final win but it was only in the second half that they took control after just a three point half-time lead with full-forward line of Sinead Aherne hitting 1-7, Niamh McEvoy chipping in with 1-2 and Noelle Healey, two points, doing much of the damage.
Galway need their leaders - captain and star forward Tracey Leonard, Olivia Divilly, Leanne Coen, Sarah Conneally, Roisin Leonard, sisters Nicola and Louise Ward and former All Star Ever Flaherty to put in big performances if they are dump out the champions.
Sixteen players from the 2014 championship panel are still on the current Dublin squad like Sinead Goldrick, Healy and Aherne, Carla Rowe, Niamh McEvoy, so Dublin carry huge experience in their mission to defend their All-Ireland crown.
TYRONE will learn their All-Ireland intermediate final opponents later today when Meath and Roscommon clash in the semi-final in the first of a triple header at Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon (1pm).
The Ulster champions are favourites to go one step further than last year and lift the Mary Quinn Cup in Croke Park on September 16, making a long-awaited return to senior football, and they will have a keen eye on proceedings.
Meath will be favourites to set up a final with Tyrone and they have been in fine form all season reaching the Division Three final, although they did suffer defeat to Roscommon when the sides met in an early league round. Roscommon have been equally as good in this year’s championship and both side pulled off big quarter-final wins against Division Two opposition. Meath saw off Clare 2-11 to 1-10 while Roscommon defeated Laois 3-17 to 1-19.