All-Ireland Ladies JFC Rnd 3 Preview
By Damian Dolan
London Ladies welcome Leinster junior champions Louth to McGovern Park on Sunday with vice-captain Naoimhin Daly promising they’ll be no let up from Exiles, despite Paddy Bowles’ side having already secured a place in the semi-finals.
London’s sensational comeback win over Antrim secured safe passage to the last four for the third year running for the Exiles, where they’ll be joined by Sunday’s opponents Louth, who like London have played two, won two, in Group 1.
Who awaits them in the semi-finals will be wrapped up on Saturday when Carlow and Limerick meet. Derry are also in the mix in a very tight Group 2 and it could well come down to points difference.
If they all end up with the same points difference, then it will need play-offs to separate them and that will push London’s semi-final back.
London’s focus, though, is solely on 2015 All-Ireland junior champions Louth, and for Daly, Sunday’s clash is certainly no ‘dead rubber’.
“You want to win every game, and if that’s not your mind-set then there’s no point being there,” Daly told the Irish World.
“The fact that it’s not a ‘must-win’ game doesn’t come in to our minds. Although we don’t have to win, that’s what we want to do.
“We’ll focus on ourselves and what we need to improve on from the weekend [vs Antrim], both individually and as a team.
“The boys [London’s management team] will know how Louth set-up and they’ll know how we’ll arrange ourselves against them, but the main thing is to focus on ourselves and improve our game.”
London will run out at McGovern Park buoyed not just by their win over the Saffrons, but by the manner of it. Bowles called it a result that could be the “making” of this team, and it’s not hard to see why.
Trailing by 1-4 to no score inside eight minutes, the Exiles recovered to lead by a point at the break. With six minutes of normal time remaining, however, Antrim led by five and London’s championship hopes were hanging by a thread.
But a whirlwind finish saw London rack up 1-4 without reply, with captain Catriona McGahern starting the ball rolling with the all-important goal.
“It showed massive heart and determination, to not panic,” said Daly, who captained Tir Chonaill Gaels to a junior title this year, with an All-Britain semi-final to come in September.
“We’ve got fantastic girls and everyone just pulled together when we really needed to, and we got across the line.
“We’ve got lots of leaders and characters in the team, and that hunger just came out.
“Obviously we’re still getting to know each other, but there’s a great bond between us. When you’re away from home, that team becomes your family.”
Daly added: “We knew it was going to be a tough game against Antrim and we were expecting a challenge.
“They’re a physical and fit team and to be able to pull it together and beat them was great.”
Ulster runners up, Antrim comprehensively knocked London out at the semi-final stage in 2016. Last year, it was Fermanagh who ended London’s hopes of a first All-Ireland title since 2008, and only their third in total since their 1993 triumph.
From Irvinestown in Co Fermanagh, Daly lined out that day in Dunleer against her native county, as they knocked the Exiles out with the last kick of extra-time.
She admits that while it still rankles, both London and Daly are living in the “present” and not the past.
“That’s done and dusted. Obviously it was quite heart-breaking at the time, but it just makes you even more hungry to come again,” she said.
“It’s a new team with a lot of new players and new management, and that’s where the mind is at.
“Fermanagh went on to win, so if we were going to lose to anyone it was at least the winners.”
Daly’s onwards and upwards outlook goes for Fermanagh’s 21-point defeat to Down in the 2014 All-Ireland intermediate championship final at Croke Park. Daly a second half substitute in a forlorn course.
“That seems like ages ago now. You set out at the start of the year and you have your dream and your goal. That’s what you’re gunning towards. But I’m very much about taking each game as it comes.”
There can be no disguising London’s ambitions, though. The target is to win another All-Ireland.
Daly added. “That’s the dream and the goal, but it’s one step at a time. And our focus is on Louth.
“It’s all about the now.”