Lidl Ladies NFL Division 1 – Semi Finals (ET if Necessary)
SATURDAY, APRIL 23RD
Cork v Dublin
1.30pm, Birr, Offaly
There can be little doubt that the biggest rivalry in Ladies Gaelic Football in recent years has been that of Cork and Dublin and the latest chapter is set to be written in Birr this Saturday at 1.30pm.
Cork squeezed into the knockout stages at the last possible opportunity as they defeated Armagh last weekend to secure their passage into the semi-final. Dublin had already secured their place in the final by that stage but they still finished level on points with their rivals.
Dublin own a morale-boosting victory over Cork already having defeated them by a point earlier this season. However, alarm bells will be ringing in the capital after they stuttered towards the end of the season losing their final games to Armagh and Galway respectively.
The sight of the Rebellette red jersey on the other side of the pitch is sure to bring the best out of the Sky Blues who will need to hit form to win this one.
Dublin have quality throughout their side with Sinead Finnegan leading the defence and they are strong in the middle of the field where Noelle Healy and Amy Connolly are a formidable partnership. It is up front where Dublin look particularly potent where Lyndsey Davey, Carla Rowe and Niamh McEvoy are very dangerous but it is Sinead Aherne that will carry the bulk of their scoring threat.
It is notable that their defeats towards the end of the league happened in the absence of Sinead Goldrick, who is due to return this weekend in a huge boost for Dublin.
Cork have hit their stride under Ephie Fitzgerald and it couldn’t have come at a better time as they put together a string of impressive performances to clinch their semi final place at the last opportunity. Valerie Mulcahy is the latest of the legends to call time on her glittering career but Fitzgerald has wasted no time in replacing her influence. Orla Finn has been excellent on placed balls with Hannah Looney showing great potential on the edge of the square.
It is the form of Ciara O’Sullivan that has been the brightest point of the campaign to date as the 2015 All-Ireland winning captain has been exceptional this season. Cork will rely on the tried and trusted midfield pairing of Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery to give the experience that they will need if they are to gain the advantage.
There will be very little between these two sides at the final whistle and with both teams keen to gain the psychological advantage ahead of the championship there will be plenty at stake in Birr.
Mayo v Kerry
3.30pm, Birr, Offaly
Mayo surprised some with the level of their performances throughout the group stages of the competition as they defeated all comers to emerge undefeated at the top of the table. It has been a stuttering campaign for Kerry who have mixed the brilliant with the disappointing. The Kingdom only secured their place in the semi-finals on score difference but now it is knockout and what has gone before will count for nothing.
There can be no doubt that Cora Staunton will be the focal point of the Mayo attack as the Carnacon star, in her 22nd season, will look to make up for some painful experiences suffered at the hands of this Kerry side in recent years. Despite what many may think this Mayo side are far from a one player team; Martha Carter is a leader in defence with Yvonne Byrne amongst the best net minders in the country.
Fiona McHale has been one of the best midfielders in the country for many years but the real boost has been the decisions of Aileen Gilroy and Sarah Rowe to commit to football for the year. Claire Egan has also performed a U-turn on her decision to retire and her experience will be a huge boost to this group.
Kerry will go into this match as underdogs due to the form of Mayo but that will suit them just fine. There has been a blow for the Kingdom’s chances as captain and full back, Aislinn Desmond, has been ruled out due to injury. Desmond is one of the few defenders in the country that has had the measure of Cora Staunton.
Bernie Breen will need to be at her best around the middle of the field where her match-up against Fiona McHale will be one to savour. Up front it will be up to Sarah Houlihan to provide the scores necessary to win, especially from placed balls. Louise Ní Muircheartaigh returned to training and may be available this weekend but with Laura Rogers finding her best form it has enabled Alan O’Neill to leave Ní Muircheartaigh on the bench until she is needed.
If Kerry can handle Cora Staunton in the absence of Aislinn Desmond then that could turn the tide in their favour but they will need to find an extra gear against a Mayo side that are the best in the country going on current form.