FOOTBALL: Time to crown the 2021 Lidl Ladies National Football League Champions
Compiled by Jackie Cahill (Division 1 Final captains Sinead Aherne of Dublin, left, and Martina O’Brien of Cork in attendance during the Lidl Ladies National Football League Finals captains day at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)
THE time has come to crown the 2021 Lidl Ladies National Football League champions.
For the first time in over two years, League silverware will be handed out, as the 2020 campaign was halted due to Covid-19.
Cork will go into tomorrow’s (SAT) Division 1 decider against Dublin as League holders from 2019 – and this repeat of the 2020 TG4 All-Ireland Final should be a game to savour at Croke Park (Live on TG4 – 7.30pm).
Before that, Kerry and Meath will battle it out for promotion from Division 2 in the first game of the Croker double-header (5pm – Live on TG4).
Spectators will be present at Croke Park as the Lidl League Divisions 1 and 2 Finals will form the basis of a Government-approved test event.
On Sunday, attention switches to the Finals in Divisions 3 and 4, with Laois, Kildare, Leitrim and Louth in action.
In Baltinglass at 4pm (Live on Sport TG4 YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQuKeZdI7-s), Laois take on neighbours Kildare in the Division 3 decider.
Earlier in the day, Leitrim and Louth will do battle for the Division 4 crown at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones (2pm – Live on Spórt TG4 YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLNSUBMixj0).
Tickets for Saturday’s Lidl NFL Divisions 1 & 2 Finals are on sale at https://am.ticketmaster.com/gaa/buy, while stocks last.
Saturday June 22:
Lidl NFL Division 1 Final – Cork v Dublin – Croke Park, 7.30pm – Live on TG4
Lucky 13 for Cork – or a second title for Dublin?
All will be revealed on Saturday evening at Croke Park when the big city rivals lock horns in the 2021 Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 Final.
It’s a recent rivalry that has captured the imagination of Ladies Football fans – and another big-day meeting between two excellent sides is a mouth-watering prospect.
Just over six months since they met here at Croke Park in the TG4 All-Ireland Senior decider, Cork and Dublin are back for another shot at silverware.
Dublin ran out winners on that occasion but it was another intriguing battle that was in the balance for long spells, with a powerful second half performance from the Sky Blues proving good enough for a fourth successive All-Ireland title.
Where once it was Cork calling the shots when these counties met, now it’s Dublin with the upper hand.
When they clashed in the group stages at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, it was a nip and tuck affair but Dublin prevailed by a point from a thrilling encounter, on a 3-15 to 4-11 scoreline.
Dublin’s strength in depth proved crucial on that occasion, as former Ireland rugby international Hannah Tyrrell, back with the county team for the first time since 2014, landed 2-7.
In the second half, the likes of Lauren Magee, captain Sinead Aherne and Niamh McEvoy came off the bench to aid the Dublin cause and bring know-how and experience to the table.
That’s not to say that Cork are lacking in the squad stakes. Looking back on that evening, they had Orlagh Farmer, Eimear Meaney, Emma Spillane and Brid O’Sullivan among the subs that came on.
These are two teams with so many options to call upon – and the respective managers, Dublin’s Mick Bohan and Cork’s Ephie Fitzgerald, know so much about their opponents.
Cork and Dublin met in three successive All-Ireland Finals from 2014-2016 – and Cork won each of them, having also tasted victory in the 2009 decider.
2018 marked a shift in the rivalry – Dublin finally getting one over on Cork, and in an All-Ireland Final.
That year, Dublin had also lifted the Lidl National League Division 1 title for the one and only time in the county’s history, when they defeated Mayo.
Fast forward to the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final – and victory for Dublin again. Last December, Sky Blue ribbons adorned the Brendan Martin Cup and where once Dublin were the hunters, they’re now very much the hunted.
Cork did get the better of Dublin a classic Lidl National League semi-final in 2019 but they’ll want to scalp them on a bigger day – and Croke Park this evening provides the latest opportunity.
Cork (v Dublin): M O’Brien (capt.); S Kelly, R Phelan, E Meaney; E O’Shea, A Hutchings, M Duggan; M O’Callaghan, H Looney; E Spillane, B O’Sullivan, O Finn; S O’Leary, C O’Sullivan, L Coppinger.
Dublin (v Cork): A Sheils; M Byrne, N Collins, H Leahy; L Caffrey, O Carey, L Magee; S McGrath, J Dunne; H Tyrrell, L Davey, S Killeen; S Aherne (capt.), N Hetherton, C O’Connor.
Lidl NFL Division 2 Final – Kerry v Meath – Croke Park, 5pm – Live on TG4
WHILE many neutral observers will take a keen interest in tomorrow evening’s Lidl National League Division 1 Final between Cork and Dublin, they should also train their eyes on the Division 2 curtain-raiser.
Kerry and Meath are two teams brimming with talent – and with promotion to the top flight on their minds.
Kerry dropped down from Division 1 when they suffered relegation in 2018 while Meath have adapted brilliantly to the second tier, having been crowned Division 3 champions in 2019.
The Royals, who won the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate title at Croke Park last December, were going great guns in the 2020 League before Covid intervened.
But under the astute guidance of Eamonn Murray, Meath are determined to finish what they’ve started, and victory here would see them promoted for a second successive ‘full’ season.
Kerry, of course, have ambitions of their own in that regard. Pride was dented three years ago when the Kingdom slumped into Division 2 but double-act Declan Quill and Darragh Long are shrewd operators and they’ve put together a united and hungry squad.
Kerry won by six points when the sides met in the group stages of the competition – but this one could be much closer.
Kerry (v Meath): C Butler; J O’Sullivan, A Desmond (capt.), C Murphy; A O’Connell, K Cronin, C Lynch; L Scanlon, N Carmody; L Galvin, E Dineen, A Galvin; N Ní Chonchúir, H O’Donoghue, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh.
Meath (v Kerry): M McGuirk; E Troy, M.K. Lynch, K Newe; A Leahy, A Cleary, O Byrne; V Wall, M O’Shaughnessy; S Ennis (capt.), S Grimes, N O’Sullivan, S Melia, E Duggan, B Lynch.
Sunday June 23:
Lidl NFL Division 3 Final – Laois v Kildare – Baltinglass, 4pm – Live on Spórt TG4 YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQuKeZdI7-s
LOCAL rivalry is at stake and there’s also a Division 2 slot in the 2022 Lidl Ladies National Football League up for grabs when Kildare and Laois lock horns in Sunday afternoon’s Division 3 Final.
They met in the opening round – Laois running out three-point winners on that occasion – and another close encounter is anticipated in Baltinglass on Sunday.
Laois were in all sorts of League trouble in 2019 – relegated from Division 2 and without a single point from a forgettable campaign.
But now they’re just 60 minutes away from a possible return to the second tier – and with the wind in their sails following an impressive semi-final victory over Roscommon.
Laois have attackers Mo Nerney and Erone Fitzpatrick in brilliant form but Kildare have plenty of scoring threat of their own – with Neasa Dooley and Hazel McLoughlin scoring the crucial goals in their semi-final victory over Sligo.
These are two neighbouring counties with talented players and rich traditions but only one can earn silverware and promotion.
Kildare (v Laois): D McGinn; C Sullivan, L Lenehan, M Doherty; L Murtagh, L Gilbert, H McLoughlin; S O’Sullivan, G Kenneally; C Wheeler, L Curran, G Clifford (capt.); E Dowling, N Dooley, A Rattigan.
Laois (v Kildare): E Barry; C Dunne, A Potts, A Kelly; R Williams, E Healy, L Nerney (capt.); F Dooley, J Moore; A Healy, E Galvin, E Fitzpatrick; M Nerney, S.A. Fitzgerald, L Tarpey.
Lidl NFL Division 4 Final – Leitrim v Louth – St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, 2pm – Live on Spórt TG4 YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLNSUBMixj0
LEITRIM struck a psychological blow against tomorrow’s opponents Louth in the group stages – winning by eight points – but this one looks like being much closer.
Louth suffered yellow and red card woe on that occasion – and they were without key attacker Kate Flood too.
The Wee County have bounced back impressively since then, scoring big wins over Antrim, Derry and Offaly en route to the Final.
Leitrim followed up that opening day win with further successes against Derry and Antrim, to set up a semi-final against Limerick.
Michelle Guckian, who’s been brilliant to date in the League, led the way with 1-6 on that occasion, while Louth will look to the scoring prowess of Flood, Niamh Rice and Lauren Boyle in the Final.
Leitrim will look to emulate their Division 4 title win of 2010, while Louth are aiming to atone for their 2018 Final loss to Wicklow.
Leitrim (v Louth): M Monaghan; M.A. Maguire, S Tighe, S McCartan; A Quinn, C Owens (capt.), C La Guen; Á Heslin, V Egan; L O’Dowd, M Guckian, E Brun; L Fox, A Clancy, R McHugh.
Louth (v Leitrim): U Pearson; E Hand, S Quinn, E Murray; M McMahon, S McLaughlin (capt.), C Nolan; Á Breen, N Rice; A Russell, K Flood, R Carr; L Collins, L Boyle, D McKenna.