Tipperary’s Orla O'Dwyer pictured in action against Meath during the All-Ireland semi-final at Semple Stadium.
Shane Ronayne’s undefeated Tipperary team will contest the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Ladies Football Championship final on Sunday, September 24th at Croke Park, Dublin against Tyrone - please read on for a detailed preview of the game and the thoughts of the manager Shane Ronayne, strength and conditioning coach Alan O'Connor and star forward Aishling Moloney.
Journalistic integrity will be dumped somewhere in the River Liffey on Sunday - bound and gagged with a blue and gold scarf. Tipp Star Sport paid a visit to the Tipperary ladies football camp on Friday night and the buzz around the players and management team was absolutely intoxicating. Here we encountered a playing squad and back room team who were not afraid to declare their hopes and wishes for the up-coming All-Ireland final. And, we dearly hope that the dreams of the Tipperary players come true on Sunday.
Tipperary won the Mary Quinn Memorial Cup once previously (2008) while the Premier County secured the senior crown in 1974, 1975 and 1980. And, the Premier County, who are undefeated this season, will face Tyrone in the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Intermediate Championship final on Sunday, September 24th at Croke Park, Dublin (throw-in 1.45pm) - the game will be preceded by the junior decider between Derry and Fermanagh (11.45am) while the senior final involving Dublin and Mayo takes place at 4pm.
Tipperary played some sensational football during their recent TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Ladies
Football Championship semi-final victory over Meath (3-19 to 2-19) and remain unbeaten in competitive games this year - Tipp won the division three league title and followed up that national honour when registering a 34-point Munster championship win (8-16 to 1-3) over Limerick before beating Clare in the provincial final (4-9 to 0-14). Following the Munster campaign Tipperary took on an outstanding Wexford side and prevailed after extra-time (2-15 to 3-11) at the quarter-final stage of the competition before seeing off Meath in the last four.
Only Wexford, in the drawn league final, managed to check the progress of the Tipperary team this season, but, thankfully, the Premier players are on their guard when facing into this weekend’s final against Tyrone.
This season Tipperary have played fourteen games and scored 51-193 with star forward Aishling Moloney accounting for 13-40 of that tally. The ball behaves itself in the hands of the 19-year-old Moloney who is as impressive in person as she is on the field of play - Moloney bounded into Friday’s press event and took it all in her stride; grinning, eager and balancing on the balls of her feet; standing as if the world the whole world was about to rush at her like a bull, but she was ready to vault it if needs be.
"We are aware of the task that is ahead of us,” Aishling Moloney said with a smile.
"We are unbeaten, but we scraped through some of the games in the championship. We were well ahead in the Meath game, but it was great that we did not win it by so much in the end. Going forward into the final to have only won by three points will give us the push on now - we know that the game is never over.
"Tyrone is going to be a totally different story - as you can see from the men's team they are extremely defensive. It's up to us forwards up front to make up our minds and take them on. We are slightly confident, but we are also wary of what is ahead of us," Aishling Moloney added.
Although Tyrone are playing in their first-ever All-Ireland intermediate final Gerry Moane's team look a formidable outfit and contested the senior decider as recently as 2010. Indeed, Tyrone operated at a level above Tipperary in the national league this season and only missed out on qualifying for the division two semi-finals on scoring difference.
Tyrone won the Ulster intermediate title at the expense of Down while Gerry Moane's team beat Leitrim in the All-Ireland quarter-finals before upsetting Sligo (1-16 to 0-11) in the last four.
Key forward Niamh O’Neill notched 1-4, but it was the defensive performance of the Tyrone team which really caught the eye - at the back Caoileann Conway and team captain Neamh Woods are exceptional players while goalkeeper Shannon Lynch also saved a penalty against Sligo.
Despite playing into the wind in the opening half against the Connacht champions Tyrone counter-attacked expertly and led 1-7 to 0-7 at the break with the three-pointer representing the final score of the half - Tyrone had created a whole series of goal-scoring opportunities before Niamh Hughes countered from deep and found Gemma Begley who set-up Niamh O’Neill for a simple finish.
Tyrone can also call on a whole series of top class players like Gráinne Rafferty, Shannon Quinn, Lycrecia Quinn and Shannon Lynch.
The Tipperary ladies football senior management team pictured from left: selector Elaine Harte (Cork), strength and conditioning coach-selector Alan O’Connor (Cahir), selector Tony Smith (Moyle Rovers) and manager Shane Ronayne (Cork).
Tipperary ladies football manager Shane Ronayne (Cork) is joined on the management team by strength and conditioning coach-selector Alan O’Connor (Cahir), selector Tony Smith (Moyle Rovers) and selector Elaine Harte (Cork). And, this week team captain Samantha Lambert was eager to highlight the contribution that the management team have made to the cause.
"Without a doubt they are absolutely superb - they all have great experience and each and every one of them bring something different to the team too. So, we are lucky to have every single one of them. We believe in them one hundred per cent," Samantha Lambert said.
Shane Ronayne is, obviously, thrilled with the progress of the Tipperary team this season, but he also knows from experience that if you do not prepare properly you will live to pay the price. Indeed, the former Cork ladies football coach knows that this Tyrone side will present the Premier County with a huge test.
"I think Tyrone are in serious shape," Shane Ronayne explained.
"Tyrone were in the senior final in 2010 - that's only seven years ago and a lot of those players are still there. So, they are very, very strong and they were playing in a division above us this year (in the league) - that division was very competitive. So, that's a bit of a worry. They beat Leitrim in Leitrim at their ease and I thought the last day (against Sligo) that they were always comfortable," the Cork man said.
"That is going to be the question: can we deal with that level? Because in a lot of games this year we have not been playing teams who are at the standard that we would have liked to have been playing. We actually put a lot of emphasis on the league because regardless of what happens next Sunday it will be very beneficial to us whether we are (playing) intermediate or, hopefully, playing senior to be up playing in division two,” Shane Ronayne added.
"The excitement is building and we are happy with where we are. It's great to be in the All-Ireland final and it is great to be going to Croke Park. We are really looking forward to it. The players are very happy with the way that things have gone during the year - we have had a good year, but we want to finish off the year on the right note. The players are excited and I suppose there is probably a bit of nerves there as well. They want to perform and they know that you don't get to Croke Park every year. And, they are very aware of the task that is facing them."
The Tipperary team pictured celebrating their dramatic league final replay win over Wexford at St Brendan's Park in Birr earlier this year.
It is likely, given Tyrone’s predilection, to defend in great numbers and break forward on the counter-attack that Sunday’s final could make for a great spectacle - especially when you consider that Tipperary play a much more attacking and proactive style.
"I think it has (the makings of a great final) because of the contrasting styles. We are probably a bit more attack-minded, but, that said, they are able to put up big scores as well. But I think they will be worried about our forwards and I think they will have to set up a bit defensively to deal with our forwards.
"I think Wexford were very similar - I think they were possibly even more defensive than Tyrone are. They are very, very good to get back the field a bit like their men's team. They are very, very quick and they break at pace - like their men's team; when they turn over the ball they are gone. They have fierce pace in the team, a very good inside forward line and lots of experience," Shane Ronayne said before revealing that he admired teams and players who were prepared to defend from the front in such a determined manner.
“It is hard to get a team to buy into that; to work hard and make those hard runs back the field. I think it is easy to run forward - anyone can run forward with the ball in their hands or make a supporting run forward, but the runs you make back the field are very unselfish," Ronayne explained.
"Look, I think the Dublin men's team have shown that if you do things right and you do things quickly you can get through any defensive system. I think it is up to our players to do things fast because if we do things slow I think we will be in trouble. We can't give the opposition team a chance to get back in defence. Hopefully, the girls will get it right on the day,” the Tipperary manager said before praising the mental fortitude that his players have shown this season.
"They have shown a variety of mental strengths during the year - they have won games at their ease and they have been very rootless and other days they had to dig it out and battle. They showed great mental fortitude on a lot of days, especially in the league final on both days against Wexford, the comeback against Clare in the Munster final and even against Wexford in the (All-Ireland) quarter-final we were ahead, then we were behind and we went back ahead again. They dug it out and, I suppose, the last day things didn't go great during the last ten minutes of the game, but we showed great composure. So, I think they are learning all the time - they have learned from what has happened in the past and, hopefully, we can get it right on Sunday."
Pictured are Tipperary players Orla O'Dwyer (Boherlahan), Maria Curley (Templemore), Cathriona Walsh (Moycarkey-Borris), Elaine Fitzpatrick (Templemore) and Nicola Loughnane (Thurles Sarsfields).
If anyone should doubt the pedigree of this Tipperary ladies football team as contenders to win Sunday’s All-Ireland final we, dear reader, would ask you to pay careful attention to the words of strength and conditioning coach-selector Alan O’Connor.
The Cahir native has trained a Tipperary minor team to an All-Ireland title (2011), the Premier County under-21s and, of course, Loughmore-Castleiney to an eye-catching football and hurling double in 2013. This man’s whisper is worth more than most men’s shout - when Alan O’Connor speaks up you stop what you are doing and pay attention.
"They have been outstanding - they are as good as any team that I have worked with. And, I have been with a lot of good teams. The response I have gotten personally from them has been outstanding," Alan O’Connor told the Tipperary Star.
"From day one they have been outstanding. We started in January - we made a conscious decision not to do anything before Christmas because we were hoping for a long year without being too cocky about it. They like training hard and I would be very happy with where they are physically - we will be ready for that big pitch," the Cahir man added.
Lidl National Ladies Football League
Tipperary 4-10 Wexford 2-10
Tipperary 0-21 Roscommon 1-10
Tipperary 5-14 Down 0-3
Tipperary 5-10 Meath 2-10
Tipperary 5-7 Offaly 0-7
Tipperary 4-13 Leitrim 2-12
Tipperary 4-16 Limerick 0-6
Tipperary 7-17 Offaly 2-6
Tipperary 0-12 Wexford 2-6
League Final Replay
Tipperary 0-15 Wexford 1-10
Munster Intermediate Ladies Football Championship
Tipperary 8-16 Limerick 1-3
Tipperary 4-9 Clare 1-14
TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Ladies Football Championship
Tipperary 2-15 Wexford 3-11
Tipperary 3-19 Meath 2-19
The Tipperary ladies football squad: Emma Buckley (Cahir), Anna Carey (Clonmel Commercials), Bríd Condon (Aherlow), Caoimhe Condon (Brian Ború’s), Siobhán Condon (Aherlow), Maria Curley (Templemore), Laura Dillon (Ardfinnan), Sarah Everard (Moyle Rovers), Evrena Everard (Moyle Rovers), Áine Fitzgerald (Moyle Rovers), Elaine Fitzpatrick (Templemore), Lauren Fitzpatrick (Ballymacarbry, Waterford), Jennifer Grant (Brian Ború’s), Patricia Hickey (Brian Ború’s), Roisín Howard (Cahir), Elaine Kelly (Cappawhite), Anna Rose Kennedy (Aherlow), Samantha Lambert (Ardfinnan, captain), Alison Lonergan (Galtee Rovers), Niamh Lonergan (Moyle Rovers), Nicola Loughnane (Thurles Sarsfields), Aisling McCarthy (Cahir), Aishling Moloney (Cahir), Laura Morrissey (Brian Ború’s), Mairéad Morrissey (Brian Ború’s), Gillian O'Brien (Moyle Rovers), Rachel O'Donnell (Cahir), Orla O'Dwyer (Boherlahan), Aoibhe O'Shea (Mullinahone) & Catherina Walsh (Moycarkey-Borris).