IT was a weather-affected opening round for the Lidl Ladies National Football Leagues but there was still plenty to talk about as the dust settled on Round 1.
In Lidl NFL Division 1 it was a surprise defeat for the champions as Cora Staunton inspired Mayo to victory over Cork as she started her 22nd season in the green and red. Dublin put on an awesome display as they easily disposed of a good Kerry side in Parnell Park. Already there are gaps beginning to emerge as the competition for the knock out stages gets underway.
Lidl NFL Division 1 Round 2 Previews – February 7th
Kerry (H) v Cork
2pm, Brosna, (K Delahunty)
This is already a crunch match in a season that is only one game old. Kerry had travelled to Dublin in Round 1 fancying their chances but they were sent packing after being on the receiving end of a Dublin blitz. Cork suffered a similar fate as they encountered a hungry Mayo side powered by a very determined Cora Staunton.
Kerry need to rally and they will see the visit of their much vaunted neighbours as the perfect opportunity to set the record straight. No team has caused the Rebellettes more trouble than Kerry in recent years and the Kingdom will be determined to show that their Munster championship victory was no fluke.
Cork are in unfamiliar territory, they lost their opener to a Mayo side that had not beaten them in nearly a decade and they are without the familiar guidance of Eamonn Ryan. This Cork side will want to create their own identity and that will need to begin this weekend. It is not unusual for Cork to start slowly in the league, they have only claimed their semi-final place on the final day in the past two years; but, such is the quality of the division it will become a much more difficult task if they do not get points on the board this weekend.
Mayo (H) v Dublin,
2pm, Swinford Amenity Pitch, (G Chapman)
Mayo were the surprise package in Round 1 of the Lidl NFL. They had gone nine years without a victory over Cork and made the journey South as underdogs but they quickly dispelled that notion as Cora Staunton inspired her county to a famous victory.
The tough opening schedule continues for Mayo though as they face the favourites, Dublin, in Swinford. Mayo have been buoyed by the return of players like Aileen Gilroy and Amy Bell plus the availability of international soccer player, Sarah Rowe. However, in their experienced players like Cora, Fiona McHale and Martha Carter they have the capability to go take a giant step towards the knock out stages.
Dublin had a dream opening to their Division 1 campaign as they hit their stride immediately disposing of a fancied Kerry side in impressive style. The return of ace attacker Sinead Aherne has had the effect of giving the whole team a confidence boost and has released Lyndsey Davey to be their chief creator from centre forward, a role she relishes.
Noelle Healy has taken on the leadership role of being captain with the greatest of ease as Niamh McEvoy maintained her 2015 form by scoring a brace of goals. Dublin have welcomed back several players that were unavailable last year and look like a team headed in very much the right direction.
Galway (H) v Monaghan
2pm, Tuam Stadium, (M Kenny)
There will be a lot of interest in this fixture amongst ladies football supporters. Galway have been the nearly team in recent years, they came close to beating Cork on three occasions in 2015, but failed to get over the line. Monaghan were the team to push Cork the closest most regularly for the last decade but they have since gone into something of a decline. Last weekend’s terrible weather conditions meant that both teams have had to wait an extra week for their first taste of action.
Galway will go into this season without their talismanic midfielder, Annette Clarke, for the first time since 1997 as the two-time All Star confirmed her retirement this week. However, there is a great depth of talent in the Tribes ranks as players like Nicola and Louise Ward, Olivia Divilly and Megan Glynn are expected to deliver on their huge promise this year whilst forwards like Roisin and Tracey Leonard are both match winners. This is a Galway side that have the talent to deliver an All-Ireland but new manager, Willie Ward, will want his side to start with a positive result on Sunday.
Paula Cunningham takes charge of Monaghan for the first time this weekend with question marks hanging over several of their more established players. Amanda Casey has already called time on her career but there are suspicions that she will be joined in doing so by several other star players.
Monaghan face into a rebuilding phase as they hope to put the foundations in place for a renewed run at the championship later this year. The likes of the McAnespie twins, Grainne McNally, Catriona McConnell, Sharon Courtney, Ellen McCarron and three-time All-Star Cora Courtney mean that the talent is there for this team to become a real force again but having to play away from home against a determined Galway side is as tough an opener as they could possibly have had.
Tyrone (H) v Armagh
2pm, Killyclogher, (B Rice)
The weather of last weekend means that both of these sides have yet to get their campaigns underway.
Tyrone will host their Ulster rivals in a crunch match. Tyrone only confirmed their Division 1 status in the final round last season after a shoot out with Laois and they will be determined to avoid a similarly nervous finish to their campaign this season. This is a key match for this Tyrone side who welcome an Armagh team who lack experience in the top division, victory for Tyrone will make them feel like they are ready to return to the elite but defeat will reignite fears of a long struggle in Division 1.
Armagh are a side that have taken huge strides in recent years. They have been won in Croke Park, claimed the Ulster title and had back to back promotions in the League. Ronan Clarke has taken over from the architect of that success, James Daly, and he has inherited a squad that is full of potential. Caroline O’Hanlon is acknowledged as one of the best players of this or any other era, Kelly Mallon, Fionnuala McKenna, Mairead Tennyson, Caoimhe Marley and Sinead McCleary are all top players and in Aimee Mackin they have one of the most promising young talents in the game.
Ronan Clarke will want his Armagh team to make an impact on their return to the top division but they will face a Tyrone side experienced at the top level that know they must get early points on the board.