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'Cork are just a phenomenal team. It's an opportunity for us and we're accepting that challenge'

Tim Rabbitte’s Galway hope to finish a successful league campaign on a high in Sunday’s decider.

Galway manager Tim Rabbitte.
Galway manager Tim Rabbitte.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

TIM RABBITTE HAS overseen a pretty successful start to life as Galway manager.

A selector prior to now, the Oranmore-Maree clubman took the reins when Stephen Glennon stepped down last year. 

With six wins from seven outings under their belt — the only defeat coming against back-to-back All-Ireland champions Dublin — Galway find themselves in their first Division 1 league final since 2015.

11-time All-Ireland champions Cork, their opposition on Sunday, and Mick Bohan’s Dublin have dominated the ladies football landscape over the past few years, and while the Tribeswomen have been competitive, a gap remained to be seen.

But that’s definitely closing, Rabbitte feels. Teams are getting closer and closer to the top two.

“I’d like to think so, that we’re getting closer to it,” he tells The42. “But until we’re beating these teams at a consistent level, we can’t really say that.

“Look, this is what we’re trying to do. We’ve enjoyed the league so far, it’s been super for us. Again, Sunday is a super opportunity for us.

“It’s an opportunity for us to step forward again, and we’re accepting that challenge. We’re not saying, ‘Ah sure it’s great to be there’. It’s not bonus territory, it’s nothing like that. This is a final so we must bring a full performance for it.”

Evidently pleased with his side’s valiant efforts thus far, Rabbitte is full of praise for the “serious talent” in his group of players.

Star midfielder Áine McDonagh’s availability of selection after injury struggles is a huge boost ahead of the decider, while he name checks the likes of Megan Glynn, Orla Murphy and Ireland rugby player Mairead Coyne as valuable additions to the panel.

While stalwart cousins Tracey and Roisin Leonard have been pointing the way along with the “serious operator” and “gifted footballer” that is Louise Ward, they’ve been dealt their fair sure of devastating blows too. 

Louise Ward Galway star Louise Ward. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The latter’s sister, Nicola, and Ailbhe Davoren are recovering from nasty cruciate ligament injuries, while former Ireland soccer and hockey star Dora Gorman suffered cruel fate with a serious hamstring issue which requires surgery just a few weeks after re-joining the panel.

“We’ve had a really good league, but we’ve had some serious injuries along the team,” he continues. “That’s giving opportunities though. The kind of consistency in our group, now we’re able to handle those injuries and give other girls an opportunity. 

“There is serious talent in our group and everyone that comes into us goes, ‘God, there’s serious talent here’ but there’s other parts of the game too.

“There’s the hard work and graft, being defensively strong, hurting teams when the opportunity comes, consistency in our preparation, that we’re not just hoping to pull it off on the day,” he adds, explaining how they’re focusing on a lot of strength and conditioning now.

“Look the standard of ladies football has been driven by the Dublins and Corks of this world so it was up to us to come up to that standard.

“We’ve seen improvements in girls conditioning which is helping in preventing injuries and being able to last a full 60 minutes in a game. We’re starting to see the benefits of it now.”

Rabbitte, who has also managed both the Athenry and Oranmore-Maree footballers, has found the transition to Galway’s main man fairly seamless, the consistency and continuity working well across the board. 

The players wanted the management team to stay together as much as possible after Glennon’s decision to stand down, but interestingly, he’s still around in a capacity helping out with stats and analysis.

Stephen Glennon talks to his side after the game Glennon talking to his side last year. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“That continuity is there. It’s brilliant that Stephen would give up his time to do that for us. 

“It’s been great, I’ve really enjoyed it. I feel very lucky and privileged to be over these girls. There’s some great people involved. They’ve put a lot of work in so far this year and there’s a lot of work ahead of them yet but they’ve been great.

“We’re delighted withe the attitude. They’ve certainly improved in their preparation which has helped put solid, consistent performances together.

“This year, it’s a bit more consistent, there’s more maturity as well in the performance which helps in our results.

“It’ll take another big performance on Sunday because Cork are just a phenomenal team. They’ve got some absolutely super players so it’ll take a huge performance to beat them.”

A big occasion and a big opportunity, of course, with big opposition and 60 minutes of football in Parnell Park in their way of the Division 1 crown.

While Ephie Fitzgerald’s side will be hurting after missing out on last year’s final, they’ll be gunning for their sixth title in seven years. 

Galway, on the contrary, have never won a league title and have been beaten in five finals — their last in 2015 after a replay to Cork.

And Rabbitte is well aware of what lies ahead.

gtown Galway are Connacht champions. Source: Sportsfile.

“Cork have a strong pedigree in ladies football, we know that but this is what we want to be doing to test ourselves against them. I’m sure they’ll be strong favourites, they beat the All-Ireland champions twice over the last few weeks so that’ll tell you the kind of task that we have ahead of us.

“We’re looking forward to it. It’s a super opportunity for us, like I said. We’re trying to improve on our [semi-final] performance against Donegal and that’s something that we set out to do game by game.

“We didn’t set out to win every game or win four out of seven, every game we’re trying to improve our performance. We’ve done it to a large extent. We probably haven’t done it from start to finish in a game yet.

“We’ll be hoping to do that on Sunday,” the fitness industry employee concludes. “We’ve gone a step further than last year and we’ll try and go another step on Sunday.

“A big occasion and opportunity for us.”

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Emma Duffy

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