Once upon a time, not so long ago, Mayo were the dominant force in ladies’ football, winning all before and behind them. While Mayo slipped down the pecking order over the past decade, Cork stepped up and grabbed the top spot in the pecking order and have remained there more or less ever since.
This year’s league campaign has seen Mayo climb back up a few rungs of the ladder and on Saturday at 3.45pm in Parnell Park, they have the chance to really announce their arrival back in the big time when they take on Cork in the division one final of the Tesco Homegrown Ladies Gaelic Football Association National League. This time last year Mayo were taking the first few steps in their rehabilitation and competing in the division two final, where they picked up the title with a win over Galway. Last year’s league victory counted for little a few weeks later when Galway beat them in the championship and, while victory on Saturday is what they are aiming for, there’s enough experience in the side to know that championship is what counts and tomorrow’s game is another tuning session ahead of the summer’s action.
This year Mayo have been under the guidance of Dublin man Peter Clarke on the sideline, the Leinster man has been seen as a very solid and impressive influence on the sideline over the course of the league campaign.
Mayo’s win over Monaghan in the semi-final a fortnight ago was a showcase of their hardworking style where they went into the game as outsiders, but refused to bend their knee and came out on top as 1-10 to 0-9 winners against the Farney county. Once again Cora Staunton took the headlines, by scoring the whole 1-10 of Mayo’s total in that game. But Mayo are far from a one-woman team. Along with Cora’s experience, there are also the likes of Yvonne Byrne, Claire Egan and Martha Carter who’ve been there and done it before, while the likes of Fiona McHale, Noelle Tierney and Lisa Cafferkey have experienced plenty of ups and downs in green and red over the past few years.
But there is a younger layer of players who have taken up the mantel over recent years after being given their chance by the different management teams, the likes of Kathryn Sullivan, Aileen Gilroy, Sarah Rowe, Leone Ryder and Deirdre Doherty have all not been found wanting in the green and red in the recent past.
When both sides met in the group stages of the league it was the girls from Cork who went home from Claremorris with the points winning out 2-10 to 1-11 at the end of March. First-half goals from Valerie Mulchay and Rhona Ni Bhuachalla put the Rebelettes into a 2-4 to 0-3 lead at the break. Mayo pulled back a goal through Aileen Gilroy in the second half, but when Claire Egan was dismissed for a second booking in the second half, they weren’t able to pull themselves any closer. Mayo have everything to gain tomorrow and putting it up to Cork will the be first step in a hopefully long summer of football ahead. The game throws in at Parnell Park in Dublin at 3.45pm.