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Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
# Ladies Football
Key storylines and players to watch in today's Division 1 league semi-final showdowns
There’s a big weekend of ladies football action ahead.

ladies Inpho / Sportsfile. It's Cork v Donegal, and Dublin v Mayo. Inpho / Sportsfile. / Sportsfile.

THE BUSINESS END of the league, with a Super Saturday in store.

Reigning champions Cork face Donegal in the first of the two Lidl National League Division 1 semi-finals, while four-in-a-row All-Ireland winners Dublin go up against Mayo in the other last-four battle.

A rematch of the 2017 final — Donegal’s only ever top-flight decider — Tuam Stadium plays host to the opening clash [throw-in 3pm, is live on TG4]. Ephie Fitzgerald’s Rebels are masters of the league at this stage, and widely tipped to reach their 15th top-flight decider since their first in 2004. That said, Maxi Curran’s Tír Chonaill outfit have been motoring along nicely with three wins from three. “We may have poked the bear,” as he noted after their 16-point win over Galway last week.

In this evening’s later clash at Limerick’s LIT Gaelic Grounds, Dublin and Mayo reignite their recent big-match rivalry [throw-in 5,15pm, live on Sport TG4 Youtube]. This one is a rematch of the 2018 final, when the Sky Blues won their one and only top-flight league crown, while, of course, they also locked horns in the 2017 All-Ireland senior championship final at Croke Park.

Like Donegal, Mick Bohan’s Sky Blues have also won all of their games — one of those an incredibly tight battle with Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh — and will be eyeing silverware as an added bonus as they continue to use the league to try, test and blood new players. New Mayo boss Michael Moyles is at the same, and they’ll fancy shaking things up against the very best.

With a Division 1 relegation battle between Tipperary and Westmeath, and semi-finals in the other three divisions, also on the cards today (all listed below), it’s set to be a big one — with some lucky fans getting to attend for the first time since Covid-19 changed the world forever.

Whether you’re in the stands or still watching from home, here’s a few players from each team to keep an eye on in the top-tier semis.

Ciara O’Sullivan (Cork)

pwc-gpa-womens-player-of-the-month-in-football Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE Ciara O'Sullivan. Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

One of the most consistent footballers in the country over the past few years, O’Sullivan was rewarded for just that with the first-ever PwC GPA Women’s Player of the Month in football award earlier this week. The Mourneabbey forward hit 2-8 across three games and was undoubtedly Cork’s leading light on the road to the semi-final, with her work-rate through the roof as always.

With eight All-Irelands and four All-Stars to her name through a glittering senior career, O’Sullivan will be hell-bent on steering Cork back to the promised land in her 14th year involved. A successful defence of their 2019 Division 1 league crown would be a massive step on the ladder in doing just that.

Attacking half-backs Erika O’Shea and Melissa Duggan are two more worth keeping a close eye on, while Kinsale’s Sadhbh O’Leary has been a big addition in attack this campaign.

Niamh McLaughlin (Donegal)

galway-v-donegal-lidl-ladies-national-football-league Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE McLaughlin has been huge for Donegal in recent weeks. Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

McLaughlin has taken the Donegal captaincy in her stride, bagging crucial scores as Maxi Curran’s side won three from three. Also a talented soccer star and physiotherapist, the Termon player is a real leader and has been a key figure so far this year.

“Niamh would drive us on,” as Evelyn McGinley said this week. “She would always be correcting and keeping you going even during a game. If you did something wrong she would tell you how to do it better. Always encouraging, never putting you down. It’s great.”

With other big names in attack like Geraldine McLaughlin and Karen Guthrie, their skipper has really come to the fore this season and will play a huge part if Donegal are to beat Cork and reach just their second-ever top-flight decider.

Hannah Tyrrell (Dublin)

hannah-tyrell Bryan Keane / INPHO Tyrrell facing Waterford in her first game back. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Tyrrell has been electric form since her return to the Dublin fold, racking up 3-15 in three games. Irish rugby’s loss certainly is Dublin football’s gain, the former international star taking to her Gaelic football roots once again like a duck to water.

The Na Fianna forward adds another dynamic to the All-Ireland champions’ already lethal attack, and is named to start in a star-studded full-forward line alongside Sinéad Aherne and Siobhán Killeen. It will be interesting to see how she fares in a bigger game, with some pressure on her shoulders after an impressive few weeks in the group stages.

Fresh off a year out, Olwen Carey is another who has been lighting it up for the Sky Blues, with Lauren Magee and Niamh McEvoy returning from their Australian adventure, the former partnering the ever-solid Jennifer Dunne in midfield.

Shauna Howley (Mayo)

Like every other county contesting the last four, Mayo have no shortage of big names available to them this weekend, especially in their forward line: Rachel Kearns, Niamh and Grace Kelly, and Fiona McHale to name a few.

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But Howley really has been a star turn through the league at centre-half forward, and one of the finds Michael Moyles will be happiest with. In and out of the squad the past few years, Howley has really made the middle spot on the ’40 her own — she was full-forward last week, too — with her spectacular left boot digging the Green and Red out of many a hole.

Player of the Match against Westmeath last weekend, Howley stepped up with 0-7 (2f) to add to her 0-8 (4f) from the previous two games. Her scoring, and the midfield pairing of Fiona Doherty and Sinéad Cafferky, will be hugely important if they are to overcome all-conquering Dublin.

2021 Lidl Ladies National Football League fixtures

Saturday 12 June

Division 1 semi-finals

  • Donegal v Cork, 3pm, Tuam Stadium – Live on TG4
    Mayo v Dublin, 5.15pm, LIT Gaelic Grounds, Limerick – Spórt TG4 YouTube

Division 2 semi-finals

  • Kerry v Monaghan, 3pm, Mountbellew-Moylough, Galway
    Cavan v Meath, 1pm, Kingspan Breffni

Division 1 relegation play-off

  • Tipperary v Westmeath, 1.30pm, Banagher (St Rynagh’s), Co. Offaly.

Sunday 13 June

Division 3 semi-finals

  • Sligo v Kildare, 2pm, Kiltoom
    Roscommon v Laois, 2pm Tang, Westmeath

Division 4 semi-finals

  • Leitrim v Limerick, 1.30pm, Milltown, Galway
    Louth v Offaly, 4.30pm, Clane, Co. Kildare.

All games will be available to view at: https://page.inplayer.com/lidlnfl/

(The Division 2 and 3 relegation play-offs will be played on Sunday, 20 June.)

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