Expecting an All-Ireland final Christmas cracker, going again with Donegal and comparisons with Oz

WHILE DISAPPOINTED NOT to be there herself, Donegal star Katy Herron will be keeping a close eye on Croke Park this Sunday.

Katy Herron facing Dublin’s Jennifer Dunne in last year’s keague.

Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

Once again, on the biggest day of the ladies football calendar year, Dublin and Cork will do battle for the TG4 All-Ireland senior championship crown.

The rivals have shared the Brendan Martin Cup between them for the past 15 years; Cork’s reign of terror from 2005 onwards delivering 11 titles in 12 years, the chain only broken in 2010 by Dublin’s first success. And having lost three consecutive decider defeats in 2014, 2015 and 2016, the Sky Blues have won the last three.

And Herron, whose Donegal side ultimately had their championship ended at the first hurdle by Mick Bohan’s Dublin at Kingspan Breffni Park on Halloween weekend, is certainly looking forward to a Christmas cracker.

As always, it will be two top sides going at each other with forward lines expected to have a big say, though a fast-flowing battle royale is anticipated all over, in this, their fifth final meeting in seven years.

Cork’s inside trio of Saoirse Noonan, Doireann O’Sullivan and Áine Terry O’Sullivan have been firing on all cylinders on their path to the final — combining for 6-15 against Kerry, Cavan and Galway — while Dublin’s physicality, athleticism and running game, led by the likes of Carla Rowe, Lyndsey Davey and Noelle Healy, has always been a big strength of theirs.

Free-takers will also be important, both sides having experts in their ranks in Orla Finn and Sinéad Aherne. But there’s certainly doubt hanging over the three-in-a-row winning captain’s involvement, the St Sylvester’s star injuring her hamstring in the semi-final win over Armagh.

A lot of the pressure is on Dublin, there’s no doubt about that, but Ephie Fitzgerald’s side will come in quietly confident of ending their All-Ireland title ‘drought,’ by Cork football’s incredibly high standards. 

“I think it’s going to be a brilliant game,” Herron, who also played with Western Bulldogs in the AFLW in 2020, tells The42.

“Dublin have been put to the pin of their collar probably in our game and a couple of other games as well; Armagh put it up to them and Waterford as well. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond to that. Knowing the experience they have, they’re probably coming out stronger every week.

“Cork are up there as much as they ever have been and they’re battling to to win themselves a title for the first time in a couple years. I think it’s gonna be a brilliant game, and despite not being in it, I’m looking forward to it. I think it’ll go right down to the dying minutes to split the teams, so it’ll be interesting to see how it goes.”

At an AFLW camp last year.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

While it pains Herron to reflect on another season in which Donegal fell short, the Glenfin star was pleased to return from Australia to represent her county.

She starred in midfield and chipped in with a point as Dublin were three-point winners after Aherne’s freak goal in their group opener, while she accounted for two more against Waterford as Maxi Curran’s talented side ended their year on a high.

But just being involved after her stint Down Under was huge for Herron.

“That’s kind of where your heart lies. It’s never gonna be too far from home. We set our stock out at the start of the year to give it a good rattle this year.

“It was lovely to get the chance to even play football coming back. There was a stage where we thought we mightn’t have got that. Although it didn’t end as we might have hoped, it was lovely just to get back playing with the girls and to give it a good rattle and get back out on the pitch.

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“I suppose that’s where my heart will be for another year. One more year, as they say, for the past I don’t know…”

Ah, there’ll be many more? Still only 31, Herron is in the prime of her career and will be rooted firmly on home soil next year after her absence from the Bulldogs’ list was recently confirmed.

“We’ll see when the dust settles now,” she adds, “but it’s hard to walk away when you feel like we haven’t done ourselves justice. We’ll see where the road takes us.”

While it may be overshadowed at the moment by the complicated situation surrounding her exit from the club, Herron has nothing but good to say about her first season playing Aussie Rules in Melbourne.

Although the campaign was shortened by the pandemic, she played all six games for the Dogs alongside Irish team-mate Aisling McCarthy, who has since moved clubs. Key at the back, Herron averaged 6.8 disposals at an impressive 68% efficiency.

The experience as a whole was a fantastic one, as she enjoyed focusing solely on football with her son, Joshua, by her side. 

“It was brilliant. It’s something I never expected to happen and when I got out there, just to experience that kind of lifestyle was brilliant. It’s something I’ll treasure forever, getting the opportunity.

Facing Fremantle in Australia.

Source: AAP/PA Images

“When you’re at home, you’re spending your whole life running from work to football and juggling everything in between, it was nice just to get over there and be able to relax a wee bit and not have that busy lifestyle chase you down every day. It was lovely just to have the time to put it into something you’ve loved doing all your life and giving it that dedication.

“That part for me was that was the biggest part that I got the time to actually focus just on football and life wasn’t crazy, like it is at home. It was lovely to see that and to get the chance to kind of exploit it.”

“It was great just to kind of compare as well from what we do at home to what we do there,” Herron added. “You think of a professional setup and you think it’s so much more than probably what it is, to be fair.

“The work we’re putting on with Donegal with regards training and standard and expectation is on par, if not ahead of what some of the clubs are over there. The commitment of the girls here is through the roof but I suppose it’s more so the facilities and the funding and backing that they have over in Australia that really sets it above the set-ups over here.

“All that finance is obviously a massive help but the facilities and stuff, that’s kind of what puts the benchmark between amateur at home and professional over there. It was good to kind of see that and to appreciate what’s going on in Ireland and what’s going on with Gaelic, to see that we’re given just as much as professional athletes here.”

Subscribe to The42′s new member-led GAA Championship show with Marc Ó Sé and Shane Dowling. 

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