Galway go in search of their first national league title when they face Cork in Sunday's decider at Parnell Park (4pm ).
While Cork are hoping to annex their sixth Lidl NFL title of the last seven years, Galway have lost all five of their previous division one final appearances, and Sunday is their first decider since losing out to Cork in the 2015 replay at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise.
Galway, now managed by Tim Rabbitte, finished runners-up in 2010, 2007, 2005 and 1979, and this current crop will be determined to create history.
The current squad is much changed from that 2015 final, and with a number of the U21 All-Ireland winning team of 2017 starting to consolidate their places, there is a blend of both youth and experience in this side.
Rabbitte's charges have some serious fire power in attack, but the team's sucess throughout the league this year has been built on defensive solidity. In conceding an average of just 10 points a game during the seven group league games and only conceding 1-05 in the semi-final win over Donegal, Galway have shown they will not easily be beaten by any team this year.
Galway held the upper hand when the sides met in the first round of the competition in February, and having only been turned over by current All Ireland champions Dublin so far this year, Galway will be full of confidence heading into this game.
Work started two seasons ago under Stephen Glennon, who still remains involved with the squad, and success came via the U21s, while the seniors enjoyed a first semi-final appearance since 2014. Now manager Tim Rabbitte, then a coach, has ensured a seamless continuation, with players buying into his style of play, and the reward is a national league final.
All of Rabbitte's big-name players have stood up throughout the league, and while championship matters most, a solid league campaign cannot be underestimated. One more big performance is needed to bring this title home for the first time.
Cork have been the league's high achievers over the last decade and a half in the ladies' game, and after coming through a tough semi-final after extra time against Dublin, the Rebelettes are showing they are not finished just yet.
Defence is a revelation
They know will have their work cut out for them on Sunday. The Leonard cousins, Roisin and captain Tracey, are both in flying form and will be eager to get one over on Cork having both been involved in 2015 when they lost in the final.
Their scoring prowess is only part of their contribution to the team, with Tracey’s increased level of work rate off the ball easily noticed this year. Both are consistently high scorers, but Galway are by no means dependent on them. Olivia Divilly, Megan Glynn, Leanne Coen and Sarah Conneelly have all shown their shooting ability when required.
The strength of Galway's defence has been a revelation this year. And it will need to be on top again when they come up against Orla Finn, who scored a massive 0-13 of her team's 1-18 against Dublin in her last match. However, she is far from Cork’s only threat, but she is certainly the biggest, and must be stopped.
Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald believes little separates the two teams, both having been the two form teams in the league.
“It will be an interesting game on Sunday. Galway are a very good footballing side. They are blessed with girls who have a lot of natural footballing talent,” said Fitzgerald.
“They have added a bit of steel to their game this year. They are tough in the tackle and it will be probably the two form teams in the league in the final.
“ If you were going on our performance against Galway initially, you’d say Galway are favourites, but I think we’ve improved a lot since them. We have tried different things, we have different personnel. Sunday is a new ball game for us and it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.
“I think Galway have always been competitive, so have they closed the gap? I think their style is different this year, they are not as open, but when they break, they can be devastating and they create a lot of problems.”
Defeats to Galway and Tipperary in two of their first three games was a poor start for last year’s TG4 All-Ireland finalists, but Cork finished the round robin stages with four straight wins, including a last-round victory over Dublin.
“There are only two national finals at the end of the day, and we’re lucky enough to be in one, just to see how they react and how they perform when the pressure is on.”
It makes for an intriguing game with two of the meanest defences in the country along with some of the form forwards of the year so far. Cork are probably slight favourites due to their recent success, but if Galway continue to play the way they have been this year, they will certainly give them a run for their money.
The eagerly-anticipated fixture will be preceded by the division two showpiece involving Munster rivals Kerry and Waterford (2pm ).