‘This becomes a drug – you want it and you want it as often as you can get it’

Carla Rowe (left) celebrates with Lyndsey Davey and Ciara Trant at the full-time whistle.

Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

AFTER ALL THE drama that unfolded on a colourful afternoon at Croke Park yesterday, three in-a-row chasing Dublin were in buoyant form deep in the bowels of the Hogan Stand.

It was job done and onto the next one for Mick Bohan and his team of Blues Sisters after their six-point All-Ireland semi-final win over arch-rivals Cork. 

Having just written more history in front of 10,886 at HQ where the last-four clashes were staged for the first time ever, steely centre-half forward Niamh McEvoy was first into the press conference room to face the media. 

The smile on her face said it all. 

A sixth consecutive All-Ireland final reached, the St Sylvester’s star was evidently over the moon. But as her manager Bohan settled into his seat beside her, it was business as usual.

“We’re not going to run away with ourselves here,” she began when asked for her immediate thoughts.

I know obviously there was a lot of talk coming into the game, we’re rivals with Cork for years and we’ve played them in some very, very tight games but at the end of the day, it was only a semi-final.

“We’re not going to lose the run of ourselves, we have a good bit of work to do. I know I say this every time but Mick’s going to come back with lots and lots from that tape for us to work on.”

When Carla Rowe entered the fold, she was of the same mindset. It’s all well and good to win and prevail, but ultimately it’s all about the next day.

“It was a fantastic game and it’s brilliant to have got out to Croke Park today. For four teams with that crowd, it was a great day out, but we have another game to go.

“We know we won’t be remembered for winning this game, a semi-final.”

Niamh McEvoy excellently fields a high ball.

Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

With the lower Hogan Stand full to the brim with blue and red, and green, red and maroon after the earlier semi-final meeting of Mayo and Galway, both players noted how the milestone opening of Croke Park for semi-finals was rather special.

“You have to take these games as you can,” 2018 Player of the Match in the final in front of a record-breaking attendance of 50,141 Rowe added on walking out on the hallowed turf. 

“It’s the first time ever that a semi-final has been here and personally, I just like to take it in. On days like this you have to perform, you want to play well as a team and you want to do all you can for the county of Dublin. You just have to enjoy it.”

And McEvoy soon interjected with her own thoughts, reflecting on last year’s 1,000 showing at last year’s Dr Hyde Park semi-final double-header:

I think it was a great step forward for the LGFA. I think they have done great work, this was a bit of a trial and if you think about in there were 10,000 here — that’s 9,000 if not more than was at our semi-final last year.

“Hopefully as the profile of the game keeps building you’ll get more and more at the semi-finals. We love playing on the best surface in the country so we love playing in Croke Park.”

Then, in jumped Bohan after answering standard questions about his side’s performance, his advocacy for the sin-bin rule and how that could work in the men’s game, and the injury fears surrounding star forward Nicole Owens. 

The Clontarf clubman stressed how important of a step it was, adding that children shouldn’t be brought up with the mindset that boys can aspire to play at GAA HQ, and girls can only dream of lining out at smaller grounds around the country.

“The reality is Croke Park has its own aura about it with the stories and the history that goes with it,” he said, “but to bring your family and your kids to Croke Park for any occasion is fabulous, completely different to anywhere else.

“We’re terribly aware coming into this that it was a huge occasion and Croke Park made it a bigger occasion. I think if we’re genuine about this as GAA people that’s the way we have to go.

Bohan after last year’s All-Ireland final win.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

I didn’t bring up my kids for the fellas to play in Croke Park and the girls to play somewhere else — I didn’t do that. If we talk about equality, we have to back it up.

“We’re very aware of the fact that once you put your hand up looking for equality then we must deliver with our performances because people come here to be entertained.”

Entertained, they were, by two of the fiercest rivalries in ladies football. 

Looking back on Dublin and Cork’s epic competitiveness against one another, and immense mutual respect, the first thing that springs to mind for Bohan is his side finally getting over the line in the 2017 All-Ireland final.

But that one came against Mayo. Of course, prior to that, Cork had inflicted three heartbreaking decider defeats in-a-row on the Jackies. Last September, they finally got the Cork monkey off their back in championship football. 

“First of all winning the All-Ireland in 2017 was huge,” Bohan noted. “Getting to this stage at any time… When you look at the sport from a helicopter view, I’d want every player to experience that day (All-Ireland final) at least once.

“That’s obviously not possible. These next three weeks are the best three weeks of your life. You’re preparing at a really high level with a view to playing the biggest game of the year. That’s what drives them.

I can understand why Cork became so dominant because this becomes a drug — you want it and you want it as often as you can get it and the adrenaline buzz that comes from that.

“Winning an All-Ireland after what they had gone through over the three years was the goal, no more than that at the start. The minute we had done that we were told we hadn’t beaten Cork. I’d say we had only left Croke Park and people were saying that.

“I even remember being approached that night at the banquet and that’s what was said to me: ‘You haven’t beaten Cork’. You’re there saying, ‘Honestly? We beat who was put in front of us and we can only do that’.

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“Immediately the second year [2018] it was a bigger focus because it was built up that we hadn’t beaten Cork and then that monkey was off their backs, which was huge.”

He added: “There’s an incredible respect for any team that’s gone to do what Cork has done, we’d be fools not to.

“In fairness, in the National League semi-final we threw all of our cards at them in that match, it wasn’t a case of holding anything back, and they beat us in extra-time so we knew how dangerous they were.

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Cork’s Eimear Scally with Eabha Rutledge of Dublin.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The achievement today for our group is massive, but ultimately we know that if we go on in three weeks time not to be victors, no one will remember this game. From the point of view from the development of the group and personal development, today is a huge one for them.

And now, all focus turns to Galway and the All-Ireland final on Sunday, 15 September back at HQ. The Tribe are back in the showpiece for the first time since 2005, and bidding for their first title since 2004.

That day, they beat the Dubs. And they’re the last county to lift the Brendan Martin Cup since Cork unleashed their reign of terror of 11 triumphs in 12 years, and Dublin have come out on top every other year (2010, 2017 and 2018).

Bohan admits he was “in a blur” for the Galway and Mayo clash, with his focus entirely on his side’s job at hand. But the big showdown in three weeks’ time is one he is relishing.

“I’d know a lot about Galway,” he concluded. “In fact at underage, a lot of this group would have been on the receiving end of Galway teams.

“I certainly know with my last involvement with women’s football in 2003, we were beaten by a last-minute goal by Mayo [in the final] and I would have backed that team to go on and win an All-Ireland in 2004. They were 11 or 10 points up against Galway and Galway beat them.

“In 2005, in the All-Ireland semi-final, Galway beat them. Those things stay with you. That’s a mark of what they’ve done over the years and this group have been very, very successful at underage.

“It’s an All-Ireland final, it takes on a life of its own.”

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