Ladies Senior Final Report – Foxrock/Cabinteely vs Ballyboden

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Foxrock/Cabinteely 1-10 – 1-5 Ballyboden

Foxrock/Cabinteely won their third senior championship in a row last Sunday, getting past a Bollyboden side who simply refused to lay down.

The Fox-Cab girls had come into the game as significant favourites, and at 1-8 to 1-1, entering the final third of the game, playing with the significant wind in their backs, they looked value for their favourites tag.

Boden, however, simply refused to lay down, and would pull things back to being within a missed free of bringing the deficit back to just three points with ten minutes of normal time remaining.

And for all of that, on what would turn out to be a relatively low scoring game, had two early goal chances been converted, it might literally have been an entirely different ball game.

After Fox-Cab had scored the opening point, Boden wing back, Doireann Mullany, in the third minute, made a typical run forward and was fouled for a penalty. Simmone Reilly’s technique from the spot looked almost perfect, and she struck it cleanly, but saw her low strike, agonisingly, go inches past the right-hand post.

From the ensuing quick, short kick-out from Fox-Cab, Sinéad Burke intercepted the intended pass and bore down on goal, for a second bite at the cherry for the underdogs. With Fox-Cab’s keeper, Laurie Ahern, still trying to get back to a central position in the goal, it was a golden opportunity. Under pressure from converging defenders, however, Burke couldn’t steer the effort into the gap to Ahern’s left, and saw her effort blaze wide of the posts.

Fox-Cab had had a double let-off.

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In what would transpire to be a game where virtually every score would have to be etched out, until the latter stages of the game, an early goal would have been a significant buffer. Two early goals would have been a complete game-changer. Even at the time, coming in as underdogs, you couldn’t help but feel that Boden had missed a glorious opportunity to poke their finger in the eye of the supposed favourites.

More noteworthy in the general pattern of the game was the source of this second goals chance – a misplaced short kick-out. It was particularly poignant as it would transpire to be the only one of the afternoon.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the corner-stone of Fox-Cab’s game plan, and dominance up to the fortieth minute, was their capacity to get off the quick kick-out, long and short. Ahern’s nerve was unflinching. As any tactician or statistician would tell her she should, despite an early glitch, she kept with the same tried and tested plan for the rest of the game. Fox-Cab would completely control their own kick-outs for the rest of the game.

A combination of immensely quick delivery, under four seconds in some cases, Ahern’s eagle eye and consistent boot, and a superb set-play created by Fox-Cab, they gained possession on almost every, if not every, kick-out after kick-out.

Typically, the Fox-Cab girls would bunch the centre, within thirty yards of Ahern. If Boden tried to squeeze them up high, it was set up for the ball over the top to midfielders in space, especially with the wind in the second half. If they didn’t squeeze high, runners would pick up easy possession close to Ahern. Just as frequently, they had the ball off to the corner back areas before they even needed to set up the set-play.

As with Jim Gavin’s Dublin, it was a double-edged sword. Firstly, it guaranteed primary possession on every kick-out, and never let Boden build up momentum after scores, always having to defend the next ball.

Secondarily, it allowed Fox-Cab to take advantage of their phenomenal athleticism, forcing a high tempo game which would always suit the fitter side. Despite Boden’s late efforts to draw themselves back into the game, in the final ten minutes or so, Fox-Cab would create a number of one-on-on chances, simply by using their superior fitness to overrun Boden and create overlaps.

The combination of the almost unhuman will of the Boden girls to keep driving their tired legs on at Fox-Cab in the final quarter, and the pace at which Ahern got the ball back into play throughout, meant there just wasn’t enough in the tank for Boden to defend as efficiently as they had in the final ten or more minutes.

As I’d suggested in my preview would be a worthwhile move, Boden did indeed put a “man-marker” on Dublin star, Sinéad Goldrick – Sinéad Burke. While you couldn’t say anything akin to her having marked Goldrick out of the game, she certainly kept close enough to her to make her have to earn every line-break she made, with Burke hot on her heels when she did. Goldrick would exert less influence than normal, albeit still a significant one.

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Even more notably, with the “man-marking” of Ciara Ruddy to contend with, Fox-Cab centre forward, Fiona Claffey, the cog around which their forward line typically revolves, was having a difficult time even gaining primary possession, let alone making her typical line-breaking runs.

With quality all over the field, however, it didn’t seem to affect the Fox-Cab girls. Niamh Collins, frequently free at centre back, Laura Nerney at midfield and Ciara O’Riordan at wing forward were to the fore in terms of driving at Boden in the first half as they slowly but surely opened up a lead.

With Boden’s number 13, Elaine McGrath playing her typical role at sweeper, possession was key, and Fox-Cab, as ever, blended their clever use of the ball with penetrative runs when the opportunity arose. Noteworthy was their Kerry-esque style of free takers turning 360 degrees to see who they could play the ball to behind them, when no good option appeared up-field.

The flip side of Boden’s sweeper, and Fox-Cab’s typical shape and appetite to get behind the ball, when Boden attacked, it was typically two forwards on four defensers, at best, in the first half, with Collins at 6 and Aedin Murray at 3 holding the space. Boden simply couldn’t make any in-roads and despite productive line-breaking runs by Sinéad Burke, Aoife O’Brien and Maria McGrath in particular, they were frequently forced into ambitious long-range shots.

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Their cause wasn’t helped when on three separate occasions, when they had created more favourable numbers up front, the player who had been fouled for a free didn’t take the opportunity to play the quick one into the full forward line. The delay would allow Fox-Cab to get players behind the ball.

Already leading by 0-4 t0 0-1 in the 23rd minute, despite the close attention of Burke , Goldrick would still create Fox-Cab’s goal with a phenomenal slalom-like run through the heart of Boden’s packed zonal defence which put Dublin team-mate, Hannah O’Neill, through on goal to dispatch to the net.

What might have appeared to be Boden’s death-knell, however, was immediately followed by a goal from Reilly at the other end, which dropped just under the bar, after they worked the ball end to end, straight off the kick-out.

With O’Riordan having scored three points from play and Amy Ring hree from frees, Fox-Cab, having played into the strong wind, would lead by 1-6 t0 1-1 at the break.

Having scored the only two points of the opening twelve minutes of the second half, Fox-cab keeping Boden safely at arm’s length was looking fairly likely.

The arrival of Mairéad Luttrell off the bench into the half forward line of for Boden, however, would completely alter the dynamics of the game. As she began to take ball off the defence as they came up-field and move it this way and that, things began to click for Boden, and they began to weave through the Fox-Cab rear-guard.

Boden would score three unanswered points in six minutes to move within four points, 1-8 to 1-4. They continued to drive forward, most notably through Ciara Ruddy, Rachel Ruddy, Maria McGrath and Aoife O’Brien.

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Had they converted a free kick a couple of minutes later, it would have put them within a goal of the reigning champions, something you’d scarcely have imagined ten minutes earlier. Into a strong wind, the opportunity went a begging, however.

The ensuing kick-out, of course, would once again put them on the back foot as Fox-Cab got it off quickly and attacked, putting Boden back having to build from the back. Their exertions were beginning to show. They drove and drove, but it was clear that their Herculean effort to get back into the game were showing on their legs.

With Fox-Cab’s key second half line-breaker, wing forward, Ciara Ni Murchadh, continuing to drive them on, aided significantly by substitute, Jodi Egan, on the other wing, Fox-Cab began to look more dominant, beginning to pull Boden’s defence apart with their fitness showing.

A security point to give them a four point buffer was followed by a couple of one-on-on chances, or what were a final hand-pass away from creating one-on-one chances, late on. Substitute Ann-Marie Murphy would fist one of these over to give them a five point buffer.

Their clever use of possession was equally key, as they pulled Boden up-field, out of their zonal structure, before exploiting the space left inside.

Subtle though it was, perhaps their key figure in the second half was number 3, Murray, whose meticulous timing saw her drive on a number of these attacks, moving out of the full back line at the perfect time to bring her presence as a spare player at the back, further up-field.

Once Fox-Cab had taken the five point lead, despite the eight or so minutes of injury time, Boden simply looked too out on their feet to get the goals they’d have needed.

Fox-Cab looked in total control in the final few minutes of injury time, as they went on to win their third championship on the trot.

Fox-Cab : Laurie Ahern, Sarah Quinn, Aedin Murray, EmmaMcDonagh, Sarah Brophy, Niamh Collins, Sinéad Goldrick, Laura Nerney, Tarah O’sullivan, Ciara Ní Mhurchadh, Fiona Claffey, Ciara O’Rioradan, Hannah O’Neill, Amy Ring, Ciara Murphy. Subs Ann-Marie Murphy, Jodi Egan, Ciara Crotty, Sarah O’Leary,Cara Cooke Scorers : Ring 0-4 (4 frees), O’Neill 1-0, Ciara O’Riorcdan 0-03, Goldrick 0-01, C Murphy 0-01, A.M. Murphy 0-1

Ballyboden : Elizabeth Colohan, Claire Kirwan, Doireann Mullany, Ciara Ruddy, Rachel Nugent, Rachel Ruddy, Dee Lawless, Aoife O’Brien, Sinéad Burke, Katie Murphy, Maria Hoey, Simmone Reilly, Elaine McGrath, Maria McGrath, Emily Flanagan. Subs Máiréid Luttrell, Aoife Martin, Hannah Hyland. Scorers : Reilly 1-02, M McGrath 0-02 (1 free), Kirwan 0-01

By Stephen O’Meara

Images courtesy of Maurice Grehan and Dublin Ladie’s GAA