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Saturday 20 July 2019

Hurling turf is a perfect stage for big ball royalty

EXPERIENCE: Dublin’s Lauren Magee. Pic: Sportsfile
EXPERIENCE: Dublin’s Lauren Magee. Pic: Sportsfile

IT began for Dublin on a sharp February night under the Croke Park lights. And now tomorrow will see them in the semi-final of the Lidl Division 1 National League at Nowlan Park (2.0).

Just as Mick Bohan would have wished. And they got there whistling his tune. Giving many players game time. Seeing how they coped in the heat of the kitchen.

Dublin have won five matches from seven. One of those wins came on an atrocious afternoon at DCU in the rain and the mud. Dublin grinded it out against a Westmeath side that had brought buckets of spirit.

Niamh McEvoy said that they are the days that will stand to a team. Getting the result on heavy, sodden pitches. It makes life easier when the sod gets firmer.

And that's what Nowlan Park will offer against Cork. The Kilkenny venue was voted the Pitch of the Year last season.

It's treated with all the care of the Botanical Gardens. And this hurling haven will be the perfect stage for Dublin and Cork. For many, this match will offer the milk tray in the Easter egg. They always produce drama. They have played in some of the most compelling All-Ireland finals of all.

In this campaign, both counties have lost twice. Dublin lost on that opening night to Donegal, and they also fell to Cork the last day in Mallow. But by then, the four teams had secured their ticket to the last four.

Ephie Fitzgerald has done a super job with Cork. It's never easy following a legend. One of the game's greatest managers in Eamonn Ryan. And Cork have lost some of the biggest names in the sport.

Dublin are the League champions. They defeated Mayo in the final in Parnell Park last May.

That was one of the most pleasing days of all for Mick Bohan. Dublin were Division 1 champs for the first time. But it was not just that. It was the performance they had produced in the sunshine of Donnycarney.

They carried that with them for the rest of the summer. And they have now emerged as the best team in the country.

For so many years, Cork had that honour. So much success. And showing the hunger to come back year after year.

Dublin overcame them in last year's All-Ireland final. And that has also instilled another pocket of belief.

In the Group match against the Dubs, Cork had impressive performers in Orlagh Farmer, Rhona Ní Bhuachalla, Ciara O'Sullivan and Niamh Cotter.

Dublin know how to get the job done. Especially when it matters most. Leaving HQ with the Brendan Martin Cup for the second successive year has done wonders for the morale.

There's experience and pace in the side. Olwen Carey, Lauren Magee, Carla Rowe, Nicole Owens and Noelle Healy always put in the hard yards.

The prize is a big one. The chance to meet the winner of the other semi-final between two excellent teams, Donegal and Galway.

VERDICT: Dublin

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