Rabbitt takes Galway Ladies to another level

'The big days come and you have to be able to perform at the level'

Galway Ladies Football manager Tim Rabbitt is banking on his team having developed sufficient reserves of resilience and steel to see off favourites Dublin in Sunday's All Ireland Ladies Senior Football final.

"It's going to be a big mental test," says Rabbitt. "It's a challenge for us. We believe we have done a lot of work on mental strength, added a bit of steel to the squad this year, and it will be tested."

A Connacht final replay against Mayo has helped, in addition to a league final defeat to Sunday's opponents, but All Ireland final day is a different proposition.

"We have to believe in ourselves. We have put a lot of time and effort into it, and the girls have made a lot of sacrifices to get there, so it's important we deliever a performance that we can be really proud of and, if it's good enough, we have to wait and see."

The Oranmore Maree clubman was the ideal candidate to take over the managerial reins from Stephen Glennon at the start of the season, having worked as a coach with the squad.

"I had the experience of knowing all the girls and was able to bring that continuity from last year, along with the rest of the management team. It meant things we were working on last year, we could progress a little further this year, so I suppose it is a small bit of reward for what has happened over the last two or three years."

"All the squad of players and management who remained realised we had made progress in the last two years. Stephen [Glennon] had put really good systems and structures in place, and standards within the group, and we wanted to continue that. The onus was on us this year to set even higher standards, to see if we could challenge the girls and achieve those higher standards, and in fairness they have."

A Connacht title and a tight 2-10 to 2-9 semi-final victory over Mayo ensured Galway have broken a 14 years drought since they last contested an All Ireland final. It has been a long journey, during which time they have suffered five defeats in National League finals, including this year to Cork.

"We have some super girls who have been involved for a good few years, and they are no strangers to big games at this stage. There are no new girls in the squad this season, everyone has been invovled for a while, so they understand what inter-county football is all about. But now it is about trying to get to the elite level of county football, it's another step up, and that is the big challenge for us.

"In fairness, they have been pushing standards themselves - how they behave as an inter-county player, being part of a squad and the responsbility it brings, standards at training, standards in preparation before a game, in their diet and nutrition, strength and conditioning, and then with big perfomances on big days when required as an intercounty player.

"They have also been demanding of us as a management team. It's been a mutual thing and it has got us this far."

Although the women love playing football, it remains a big commitment at this level. However Rabbitt says the management team has tried to make it as enoyable as it could and "maybe as difficult as it could, to challenge them as much as it could".

Dublin, favourites to win their third in a row, was the only team to beat Galway in the round-robin stages in the league.

"We weren't overly disappointed. Dublin are the standard bearers of football at the moment, and we were testing and trying our squad at that stage, so we didn't read that much into it. However, we were beaten by Cork in the league final, by two points as well, and that was a really big test for us. Mayo, our natural rivals as neighbours, tested us as well, so we have been through plenty of games where our mental agility has been tested, so I am happy we have a squad that is experienced, durable, understands the game, the flow of a game, and what it means to win a game as well.

"We now have the advantage of having played the semi-final in Croke Park. It was a brilliant initiative by the LGFA, TG4, and everyone involved, and whoever won there was going to have an advantage."

Rabbitt is full of praise for his girls who always give their all.

"They are a resilient bunch. They train really hard, they are diligent in applying themselves, they have made good progress, standards have risen and that was really important. The most pleasing aspect of these girls is their honesty. Any day out, they have worked really hard, and throughout the game they have applied themselves. I couldn't speak highly enough of them, and I am lucky to be part of this group.

"The final is a big step for us, and is something we haven't achieved since 2005, so it's an important step for us. We think we deserve to be there, but we will only win the final if we deserve it as well."

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