ALONE WITH THEIR THOUGHTS Mayo’s Cora Staunton and Yvonne Byrne are pictured with members of their families after last Sunday’s All-Ireland
SFC Final defeat to Dublin. Pic: Sportsfile
IT was impossible to escape the feeling of déjà vu in Croke Park last Sunday.
As Aslan’s ‘Crazy World’ blasted over the speakers to celebrate Dublin’s second victory over Mayo in an All-Ireland final in the space of a week, some of the 46,286 spectators inside GAA HQ must have felt like they were reliving history.
But while the one-point margin in the men’s final produced a thousand ‘what ifs’, the ladies’ decider was more one-sided ... even if the final scoreline was rough justice on a Mayo team who trailed by just a goal as late as the 57th minute.
The tie was effectively settled when, moments after Castlebar Mitchels defender Orla Conlon became the third Mayo player to be sin-binned, Dublin substitute Sarah McCaffrey (a sister of 2015 Footballer of the Year Jack) got her side’s second goal to seal the deal.
With that, Mayo were eventually over-run. And by the time Cora Staunton popped over a free in the 68th minute, Dublin had added two further goals – one from the hard-working Carla Rowe following a peach of a pass, the other a second, palmed, effort from substitute McCaffrey. It ends a run of Metropolitan heartbreak that saw Dublin lose the last three senior finals.
Mayo had made much of the early running, and should have been ahead rather than level (at 0-5 apiece) by the 20-minute mark. Dublin captain Sinéad Aherne – who had a ding-dong battle all day with Mayo skipper Sarah Tierney – scored all five of her side’s early points. The tightly-policed Cora Staunton landed three for Mayo (the second a monster free won by Rachel Kearns, the third from play despite being triple-marked), but was also responsible for seven of Mayo’s eight first-half wides. Niamh Kelly, running off the shoulder shortly after being involved in a collision, kicked a nice right-footed point, while her sister Grace scored after good work by Doireann Hughes and Aileen Gilroy.
The crucial breakthrough came in the 24th minute. After a monster kick-out from Dublin goalkeeper Ciara Trant, player of the match Noelle Healy made a storming run before teeing up Niamh McEvoy for the game’s opening goal. The respective number 14s, Cora Staunton and McEvoy, swapped points before an extraordinary finish to the first half.
The drama began in the 26th minute when a foul on Sinéad Aherne led to a yellow card for Mayo goalkeeper Yvonne Byrne, and a penalty for Dublin. But the first act of sub goalkeeper Aisling Tarpey, brought on for a ten-minute spell between the posts, was to save Aherne’s effort. And Mayo got to half-time still trailing only by three (1-6 to 0-6) despite the subsequent sin-binning of Rachel Kearns for an incident involving Noelle Healy.
Dublin’s Niamh McEvoy hit the post late in the first half, and Lauren McGee squandered a goal chance early in the second half while Mayo were still down to 13 players. But the Dubs had to settle for another pointed free from Aherne, which was cancelled out by Cora Staunton after a foul on Sarah Rowe, and so Mayo resumed with their full complement still only trailing by three.
That was still the gap going down the home stretch, as Dublin squandered another possibility of putting the game to bed (Noelle Healy firing wide) and Mayo struggling to create goal opportunities. Aherne added two more frees, negated by points from the left by the hard-working Aileen Gilroy and Cora Staunton). Carla Rowe’s instant response left four between them, but Grace Kelly’s excellent point from play meant Mayo were still very much in the hunt.
“There’s still time,” one man near me observed. “We need a goal!” But when the game’s second goal arrived, it was in the Mayo net, and the dam finally burst. The closest Mayo came to a major was after Fiona McHale was fouled, and Cora Staunton’s low shot was blocked out for a 45’.
At the final whistle, ‘Molly Malone’ blasted over the speakers, and Mayo players sank onto the Croke Park turf. An all-too-familiar sight this September.
C Trant; R Ruddy, N Collins, M Byrne; S Finnegan, S Goldrick, L Caffrey; L Magee, O Carey; C Rowe (1-1), L Davey, N Owens; N McEvoy (1-1), S Aherne (0-9, 7f), N Healy.
Subs used: D Murphy for S Finnegan (20 mins, inj); F Hudson for M Byrne (48 mins); S McCaffrey (2-0) for L Davey (55 mins); M Lamb for N McEvoy (58 mins); H O’Neill for N Owens (62 mins).
Y Byrne; O Conlon, S Tierney, M Carter; R Kearns, M Corbett, F Doherty; A Gilroy (0-1), F McHale; D Hughes, N Kelly (0-1), C Whyte; S Rowe, C Staunton (0-7,4f), G Kelly (0-2).
Subs used: A Tarpey for C Whyte (26 mins); C Whyte for A Tarpey (36 mins); A Dowling for C Whyte (43 mins); S Howley for G Kelly (64 mins); A Duffy for R Kearns (65 mins).
Referee: S Mulvihill (Kerry)