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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 23 October, 2018
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The day the Dublin Ladies turned the screw

Gerry McGill’s Dublin side found a way to banish their All-Ireland ghosts in 2010. Now they need to do it again on Sunday afternoon.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

IT’S ALL-IRELAND final day in 2010 and the Dublin Ladies team bus is late. Manager Gerry McGill wants his team to be in Croke Park at least an hour ahead of the throw-in but their plan to depart from their base in the St Brigid’s GAA club has been scuppered by traffic.

It’s the kind of scenario that leaves McGill feeling anxious about the possibility of other things going wrong, but far removed from the panic engulfing the Donegal man are the players. The hurt from three All-Ireland final defeats has steeled them for this opportunity and the moderate inconvenience of a bus not turning up on time has no chance of distracting their focus.

While they wait for the bus, the team decamp to a nearby pub and get their pre-match routine underway. It may not be the location they had in mind, but their willingness to adapt to the situation and find solutions indicates that this is a team who want to be more than just contenders. McGill finds a spot to read the personal and team goals that each individual player has written on a piece of paper. He still has them today.

They eventually arrive in Croke Park with just 45 minutes to spare but the rush turns out to be the perfect build-up. By half-time, they’re nine points clear of Tyrone but Dublin have been here before. They had a one-point advantage over Cork at the same stage of the previous year’s decider but at the final whistle, they found themselves on the wrong side of a 0-11 to 1-09 scoreline.

They had their chances to steal the victory that day. Cork were hit with a sin-bin in the first half and two Sinead Aherne goalbound shots never reached the net.

General view of fans with TG4 flags Dublin and Tyrone parade before throw-in: "We knew Tyrone were going to be a good side.” Source: James Crombie

Cathy Donnelly surrounded by the Dublin defence Dublin defenders swarm around Cathy Donnelly. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

But the 2010 final was going to be different and McGill knew it when Dublin stalwart Mary Nevin rose to speak in the dressing room at half-time.

“Mary Nevin set the tone for the second half and she did it with one sentence. It was very simple, she stood up and she said ‘Just before Gerry speaks, girls, I just want to say we’ve been here before, we’re here now again, but this time let’s turn the screw.’

“You could see there was no nervousness. She had been there against Mayo in 2003 and Galway in 2004 when Dublin were up at half-time. This time there was going to be no repeat of it.”

“It didn’t matter what I said after that. You can’t buy that type of stuff, it was great.”

Dublin went on to crucify Tyrone that day with an 16-point win that marked a complete departure from their second half implosions in 2003, 2004 and 2009. Dublin were All-Ireland Ladies football champions at last.

Gerry McGill McGill: "2009 All-Ireland took an awful lot out of me.” Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Amy McGuinness celebrates a second half score Amy McGuinness celebrates a second-half score. Source: James Crombie

Elation and relief were the emotions of the moment but they took a bit longer to manifest in McGill. On his way over to the media room, the reality of their achievement finally registered and when he turned to captain Denise Masterson, he spoke about the ‘difference of twelve months.’ But he wasn’t just talking about the team’s change of fortune.

After the 2009 final, it was uncertain if McGill would even be managing the Dublin Ladies team again for the upcoming season.

“The 2009 All-Ireland final took an awful lot out of me,” he begins. “We were going in the right direction and I was fully convinced that we would beat Cork. I remember actually looking online at the odds for the final and we were 14/1 against Cork. We were rank outsiders and maybe rightly so because Cork had been so dominant.”

His return had the full support of the management but McGill wanted to get the input of his players. He met a selection of the more senior members of the Dublin squad to get a measure of how they were feeling before reconvening with the wider group.

Before any plans could be made for 2010, the pain of 2009 had to be confronted.

“When we decided to go back training, we met and we had to get closure as well. I think Denise Masterson and Mary Nevin summed it up at the meeting and they spoke about how difficult it was going to be to get back to that place again. They talked about the stumbling blocks we would meet but that we would remember what we agreed in this meeting.”

“The sad thing about that meeting was that there were players in that room and it was said that by the time it came to the end of the year, the same amount of people wouldn’t be sitting together.”

Maria Kavanagh celebrates with Cliodhna O'Connor Maria Kavanagh celebrates with Cliodhna O'Connor. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

This wasn’t the first time that McGill found himself managing a Dublin team that was nursing wounds of All-Ireland heartbreak. When he first took the job ahead of the 2007 season, Dublin were harbouring the scars of two failed All-Ireland attempts and McGill misread the magnitude of the task in front of him.

“The only nervousness I ever had as Dublin manager was after my first year in charge. I got an awful amount of things wrong. 2007 wasn’t a good year and it was a steep learning curve for me. I thought I was coming into a ready-made confident team who had been to two All-Irelands a couple of years before that. I was very wrong and Dublin were a team that was very hurt and very bruised.”

Three years later, Dublin were willing to return to the well once more. They were relegated from Division 1 and yet, a review of the National League left them with a positive feeling about what the team could achieve. From that, a sense of conviction grew which ultimately delivered the county’s first senior All-Ireland title.

Lyndsey Peat does a jig with the trophy Lyndsey Peat does a jig with the Brendan Martin Cup. Source: James Crombie

Their route to Croke Park featured Clare (quarter-final) and Laois (semi-final), but the one team who didn’t provide opposition along the way was the reigning champions Cork. Dublin had come up short against them the previous season but never got the chance to try again in the year of their eventual triumph. This can lead to misconceptions about the value of Dublin’s achievement but McGill says he will never endorse any such theory.

“All-Ireland titles are very simple. You either have the medal in your pocket or you don’t. If you ask any of the Cork girls who have 10 All-Ireland titles does it matter who they played and I don’t think they’ll tell you that one is any sweeter than the other.”

He adds that Tyrone were no token opposition for the Brendan Martin Cup that year. Their credentials for the final were earned on the back of wins over Cork in the quarter-final and Kerry in the next round after a replay.

“They beat two very well established teams. Tactically, we put a plan in place for Tyrone that day. Along with that, everything just fell right for us on the day and you had some very hungry players who were hurt from the previous year. Tyrone forwards, particularly that year, had terrorised a lot of defences. We knew Tyrone were going to be a good side.”

Dublin Players wave to fans Dublin's All-Ireland winners wave to fans during their open-top bus tour. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

This weekend, a new Dublin team with their own baggage from All-Ireland finals will venture to the well again. Some of the class of 2010 are still playing for Dublin, still striving for that elusive second All-Ireland gong. And if Dublin are to break the cycle of disappointment against Cork, McGill advises that the first and last 10 minutes of the game are where they need to play with particular alertness.

“Cork can cause a lot of damage in those particular times. In that final 10 minutes, I certainly witnessed it in 2009, they know how to close out big games. They’ve done it so many times. The key thing is going to be that Dublin take their opportunities. The big players are going to have to perform. But I certainly think they will have the hunger but also, they have a better balance to their team this year.”

No further briefings about Cork will be needed on Sunday. They just have to rediscover a way to turn the screw.

– First published 08.00

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