“LOOK, IT’S A great opportunity for us. They’re the All-Ireland champions and we’re just mad to have another go at them.”
You can almost hear Nicola Ward smiling down the phone as she speaks about Galway’s Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 semi-final against Dublin (throw-in 3pm, Kinnegad).
“There’s a place in an All-Ireland final at stake and everyone is really looking forward to it,” she continues. “There’s a great buzz at training and preparations are going very well. It’s really exciting times.”
It’s Friday morning. The sun is shining and the excitement is building as throw-in time edges closer and closer. Galway are the only team to have beaten Dublin in 2018 and of course, they’ll be hoping to cause an upset once again.
In fact, they’re only team to have beaten the Sky Blues since their league semi-final exit this time last year. They’ve done it before. They can do it again. That confidence is there.
“Absolutely,” Ward tells The42.
“In the last few years with Galway, we’ve been making All-Ireland semi-finals, quarter-finals but not pushing on so I hope Sunday now we do one better and make the final.”
Interestingly, Mick Bohan’s side have never lifted the Division 1 crown and they’ve only lined out in one decider which was in 2014 against Cork. Likewise, Galway are yet to lift the title but they’ve frequented the final, their most recent appearance coming in 2015.
None of that will be read into too much though. The focus is on the present and the 60 minutes of football that lies in the way of a National League showdown date with either six in-a-row chasing Cork or 2017 All-Ireland finalists Mayo.
Ward is the first to admit it that 2018 has been a mixed one for the Tribeswomen to date. It’s early days yet though, and they’ve shown well in the league overall, it must be said.
They kicked off their campaign with a win over Monaghan before drawing with Dongeal and suffering a three-point loss to Connacht rivals Mayo at Pearse Stadium. Wins over Kerry and Dublin followed, along with a loss to Cork and victory over Westmeath to seal their last four status.
“In a way, we’ve had a bit of an inconsistent league,” the 21-year-old Kilkerrin-Clonberne star concedes. But Stephen Glennon’s charges have achieved their goal.
“Some bad days and some good days, a few wins and a few losses and a draw to Donegal as well. But look, our aim at the start of the year was to make the semi-final and we’re here now.
“We’re delighted to be there but we’re under no illusions. Dublin are an extremely strong force. I know we bet them the last time in the league but their preparations probably weren’t as good as ours at the time. They had 10 girls on the All-Star trip.
“I’m sure they’ll be raring to get one back on us.”
One thing that Galway have done over the last few weeks is establish themselves as a side bursting with young, up-and-coming talent.
The likes of Áine McDonagh, Ailbhe Davoren and Leanne Coen have all impressed and made names for themselves on the senior inter-county scene, with Ward and her twin sister Louise making the transition to the more senior group of players.
“The talent is something else and it’s great to see those young girls as well coming up and getting a Galway senior jersey,” she continues.
“They’re holding their own against experienced players and that’s great to see. Look, those girls have so much experience as well. They’ve been playing county up through the years so they know how to win as well.”
And the fact that she’s now one of the more experienced players at just 21: “It’s scary!
“We’ve been there the last three or four years so now you’ve to kind of step up and be counted for. You’re not a young one any more. You have to take responsibility every day you go out, whatever position you’re playing in or whoever you’re marking.
It’s something herself and her sister Louise have done with pride right through the years.
Almost a package deal, they’ve been making waves on the ladies football scene in Galway from an extremely young age and their respective stars have continued to rise from there to the forefront at national senior level.
As Ward talks about growing up, it’s always ‘we’. The duo played rugby with the boys when they were younger but that fell by the wayside when they reached the age that girls could no longer play alongside.
Then there was basketball, and plenty of it. But there was always one true love.
“We were kind of transformed Gaelic players into basketball. There’d be a lot of over-carrying the ball in basketball and stuff like that. We got to a few All-Irelands in the National Arena in Dublin as well.
“From national school up, the teachers would be so into it and it’d be such a massive sport in our area. It’s been mainly football.”
It’s always been Nicola and Louise, Louise and Nicola leading the charge and bouncing off each other for club and county the whole way up. But in 2016, they played against each other for the first time in the O’Connor cup final.
Nicola rattled the net and inspired UCD to a first third-level top-flight success in 10 years while Louise and UL fell just short.
Playing together though, what’s it like? Are there ever any words said on the pitch?
“Every day we go out, I always know where she is and she knows where I am,” Ward, who studies Nursing, grins. “I think we can read each other like a book.
“I suppose if I did something stupid or she did something stupid, we’d have a word in each other’s ear but when we come off the pitch we know whatever happens on the pitch stays on the pitch and that’s the way it goes.”
And there’s assurance at the end of the call that the family will be there in full voice later today, with no loyalties divided like there was in that 2016 O’Connor Cup final.
“They’ll all be shouting for the one on Sunday! I don’t think they’ve missed a match in the league yet so I doubt it will be no different!”
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