By Damian Dolan
Both clubs will be out to win the junior title for the second time in their respective histories.
Dulwich will be hoping it’s fourth time lucky having been runners up for the past three years.
For the south Londoners, Saturday is an opportunity they’ve waited 12 months for, after last year’s chastening 6-10 to 2-7 defeat to Tir Chonaill Gaels in the final. A defeat and a scoreline they are sure to want to put right.
Goalkeeper Tara Kilcoyne, Catherine Keville, Helen McGurrin, Clare Kennedy, Maeve Wylie and Diane O’Brien are some of the survivors from that day. O’Brien accounted for 2-2 of her side’s tally that day.
That defeat appears to have left a fire in the belly of Dulwich Harps.
Tony Stafford, in his second year as manager having previously coached the team, says they’ve “rectified” a “few problems” and “improved” in “certain areas” since last year’s final.
“The girls have worked hard this year and to be in contention for a championship trophy is exactly what they deserve,” Stafford told the Irish World.
“Last year, we were beaten by a better team. They [Tir Chonaill Gaels] were simply too good for us on the day.”
Stafford admits the occasion may have got the better of one or two of his players last year, but says that won’t be the case this time around.
“We’re more prepared than ever. It’s about getting the job done this year, which I’m confident we will. The girls are fully capable of it. I hope the occasion doesn’t get the better of them, and I very much doubt it will.
“The girls work well together and they know how each other works best.”
Founded in 2007, Dulwich won their only previous junior title in 2013. As well as losing out in the final in 2018, 2017 and 2016, they also fell at the final hurdle in 2012.
They go into Saturday’s final, however, having already got their mitts on some silverware this year, with victory over St Anthony’s in the Tom O’Connor Cup final by the slenderest of margins, 0-8 to 0-7.
A physiological advantage perhaps, but a game which also suggests that Saturday’s final could be a very close affair indeed.
Five unanswered Dulwich points in the space of just four first half minutes ultimately proved the difference at Tir Chonaill Park, as the Harps overturned a two-point deficit to lead by 0-5 to 0-2.
Although the game was only 15 minutes old it looked like being a significant swing, and so it proved. Anthony’s, who were missing London panellist Ciara Corrigan, battled back but were never able to get closer than to within a point.
It might have been very different for the Reading club, though, had Isabel Delaney’s shot rebounded into the net off the inside of the post, and not back out into play.
Or if Anthony’s had been able to take advantage of Diane O’Brien’s second half sinbinning.
By the end, Dulwich were hanging on for all their worth. But hang on they did.
It was a victory Dulwich captain Maeve Wylie dedicated to teammate Siobhan McCann, who passed away last month after a battle with cancer.
Incredibly Siobhan togged out in last year’s final against TCG, just two months after being diagnosed. She’ll be in Dulwich’s thoughts on Saturday.
Set up in 2010, St Anthony’s did the Junior title and league double in their first year, as well as lifting the Tom O’Connor Cup.
Junior league winners again in 2013, 2014 and 2016, a second junior championship has since eluded the club, however.
Captain Clara Caravan is the sole survivor from the 2010 junior title winning team.
On route to Saturday’s junior championship final, Anthony’s had an impressive 2-19 to 2-2 win over a good Tara side in Round 1, before being handed a walkover by Dulwich. That was enough to book their final place.
Dulwich racked an impressive 4-12 to 2-1 victory against Fr Murphy’s in Round 1, but following that walkover needed to beat Tara to be in with a chance of reaching the final. A close game saw the South Londoners prevail by 0-13 to 0-10.
For St Anthony’s manager Richie Landy, victory would cap his six years as the team’s manager, before he heads home to Cork.
“It’s my last year in London and I’d really like to win the championship,” Landy told the Irish World.
“We really wanted to play Dulwich in the championship and we’ve already lost to them in a final, so Saturday is all or nothing – it’s a championship final.
“The girls have taken on a lot of responsibility themselves this year and they’re looking forward to it, because the team can offer more than it did in the Tom O’Connor Cup final.
“Whatever team you lose to, you want to play them again and be better, and beat them.
“Whether it’s championship or league, games between Anthony’s and Dulwich are always tooth and nail. There’s nothing between them and they’re always hard-fought.”
Saturday promises to be no different.