Historic first NFL glory for Dublin

by James Hendicott
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Sinead Aherne, Nicole Owens and Niamh Collins starred as Dublin blew away Mayo to take their first ever ladies league title at Parnell Park on Sunday afternoon.

The Jackies, in the early-season decider for the first time since 2014, started strongly against the side they beat to an All-Ireland title last year, and always looked in control as they strolled to a 3-15 to 1-10 win.

Both sides started at a frantic pace in the heat with a double from captain Aherne getting Dublin underway as Mayo struggled to connect up top.

In fact, while touching relatively little of the ball, Aherne was immediately and efficiently doing her finishers job.

A pull by Hughes on Nicole Owens close saw her add an emphatic early penalty, and with barely ten minutes on the clock, Dublin had established a 1-3 to no score.

The early procession continued, as Aherne and Healy combined to play Olwen Carey clean through, with the half-forward opting to chip over with only Rachel Kearns to beat. Mayo, meanwhile, were being harried all over the pitch, forced to shoot under pressure and unable to create any meaningful momentum.

Niamh McEvoy had added another before Mayo finally added their first point from a free, but not before Collins – a key figure throughout – had proved her worth once again. She stretched to clear a shot off the line with her foot after Ciara Trant in the Dublin goal was beaten at close range. Trant was called into action again soon after to stop Sarah Rowe from close in, tipping over. At 1-5 to 0-2, Mayo had finally woken up.

Niamh Kelly slid an effort into the side netting for Mayo before Laura McGinley was twice denied at close range by Mayo ‘keeper Rachel Kearns.

Kelly and Rowe responded at the other end, only for McGinley to get another go, this time rounding Kearns and slotting into an empty net for the Dubs.

The response was immediate from Mayo, a goal for Rowe from a penalty and a free for Grace Kelly closing the gap before the break but, at 2-10 to 1-5, Dublin were more than worth their half-time lead.

Dublin effectively put the game to bed straight after half time as Aherne played in Healy who ran straight through the heart of the Mayo defense to slot past Kearns from ten yards two minutes after the restart.

Shortly after, Healy in turn played in McEvoy who found herself at a tight angle and blasted high and wide.

A frantic game was inevitably slowing and taking on scrappier dimension in the May bank holiday heat, however. Mayo’s big chance to get back into things came from an error from Trant, who played a ball out straight to Kelly.

The forward charged in on goal before shooting from no more than five yards, but the Brigid’s ‘keeper redeemed herself, stopping at point blank range.

Instead, Owens and Aherne added to the margin, which stood at four goals with 15 minutes to go, and the game started to peter out towards a conclusion that had looked inevitable since at least early in the second period.

There was one more save to be made: another cracker of a close range stop from Trant: Mayo had had their chances, but so had Dublin.

A 3-15 1-10 no less than the Jackies deserved on the balance of play and while there’s no question Aherne’s team are treating this as the lesser of this year’s trophy options, it was worthy of a noisy celebration.

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