PLAYERS TO WATCH
AILEEN GILROY (Mayo)
Mayo had struggled in recent years to find a consistent midfield partner for the imperious Fiona McHale. That problem was solved by the return to fitness for Aileen Gilroy as she recovered from a knee injury. The former Irish soccer international moved to midfield this season and her impact was instant. The performance of Gilroy and McHale was best illustrated against the formidable Donegal pairing of Karen Guthrie and Katie Herron who were forced to play second fiddle as the energy and commitment of the Mayo duo was too much for the Ulster champions. Gilroy loves to run directly at opposition defences and can be a real goal threat.
YVONNE BYRNE (Mayo)
Goalkeeper has become a key position in ladies football and, similar to the men’s game, securing possession from kick-outs is one of the most important factors in the winning and losing of matches. Mayo have one of the best in the business in Yvonne Byrne. The Ballyhaunis star has plenty of experience outfield having played in the forwards for Mayo in the past. Byrne’s intelligent and precise passing is a huge factor for Mayo and she has a long kick to call on if the short kickout is not working. Byrne, All Star goalkeeper in 2013, is also a top shot-stopper which may be vital against this goal-hungry Dublin side.
NIAMH COLLINS (Dublin)
An unheralded player in the Dublin ranks, yet Niamh Collins is arguably their most important defender. Playing at centre halfback she has produced some wonderful performances. She is comfortable on the ball and loves to burst forward in possession; however, she has played a more defensively disciplined game this season and is a turnover machine.
NICOLE OWENS (Dublin)
This is the season that Nicole Owens has lived up to the hype that surrounded her as she came through Dublin’s underage ranks. She is one of the most talented players on view today and her attacking performances — including four goals — from wing-forward have been a key feature in Dublin’s success this season. The switch from corner- to wingforward has helped Owens, who has more space to run at opposition defences using her explosive pace to burst through tackles. Her defensive duties are as important as her attacking prowess and this year she has embraced her duty to tackle back and turn over possession.