With the last kick of the game, Aherne nailed a free to put Dublin ahead against Mayo
SINÉAD Aherne’s incredible free nailed victory for Dublin in this evening's (SAT) titanic TG4 All-Ireland ladies senior football championship semi-final at Kingpsan Breffni Park in Cavan.
Everything hinged on Aherne’s effort from an acute angle on the left hand side and with the last kick of the game, the player-of-the-match delivered to send Dublin through to a third successive final.
It was heart-breaking for Mayo but Aherne’s personal haul of 2-6 was massive for Greg McGonigle’s Sky Blues and proved just how big a miss the St Sylvester’s player was when she took a year out in 2015.
It was cruel luck on Mayo, who had clawed back an eight-point deficit in the second half to draw level.
But they could never get ahead and the Connacht champions also had a goal chalked off in the second half when leading scorer Cora Staunton, who could well have played her last inter-county game, was penalised for over-carrying.
Staunton, in her 22nd season as a senior player, was policed closely by Sinéad Goldrick for the entire game but there was often two – and sometimes three – players around the Carnacon superstar whenever the ball came her way.
Dublin played very much on the edge at times in terms of some of their tackling but when the dust settled, they edged home by a point and will now play Cork or Monaghan in the September 25 showpiece.
As an advertisement for Ladies Gaelic football, the second half of this game was as good as you could wish to see, played out in front of a big crowd and following on from the rich entertainment served up in the intermediate semi-final.
At half-time, Dublin looked well in control as two Aherne goals helped them to lead by six points – 2-6 to 0-6.
After Dublin had stormed into a 0-5 to 0-1 lead, Aherne stuck for the opening goal of the game in the 12th minute, finishing clinically after Niamh McEvoy supplied the pass.
It was a crucial goal, coming just a minute after Sarah Rowe was denied by a superb Ciara Trant save at the other end of the pitch.
Nine minutes from half-time, Aherne bagged her second goal and a converted free from the same player three minutes later had Dublin eight clear – 2-6 to 0-4.
Two frees from Staunton approaching half-time kept Mayo in touch but Aherne had Dublin eight ahead again after the restart – another free followed by a sensational point from play.
But then Frank Browne’s Mayo took over and a run of 1-5 without reply, incredibly, hauled them level.
In that run, Staunton had that ‘goal’ ruled out but Dublin’s net did bulge when sub Rachel Kearns, a late call-up to the starting team, slammed home a fine effort across the boughs of Trant and into the far corner.
That effort had Mayo level at 1-11 to 2-8 and the tide appeared to have turned in their favour but Aileen Gilroy, scorer of two first half points, was sin-binned.
An extremely tense passage of play followed as Aherne missed a scoreable free and the numbers on the pitch were levelled up when Siobhán Woods was yellow-carded.
Nicole Owens ended a long Dublin wait for a score, some 20 minutes in fact, with a vital point seven minutes from home, before Mayo sub Carol Hegarty equalised.
The scene was set for a dramatic finish and after Staunton dragged an effort just wide, Aherne held her nerve to land what could turn out to be a priceless winner if Dublin can land a second Brendan Martin Cup win next month.
Words by Jackie Cahill.
Scorers for Dublin: S Aherne 2-6 (0-3f), S Goldrick, N Healy, N Owens & C Rowe 0-1 each.
Scorers for Mayo: C Staunton 0-8 (6f), R Kearns 1-0, A Gilroy 0-2, G Kelly & C Hegarty 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: C Trant; O Carey, D Murphy, L Caffrey; S Goldrick, S Finnegan, N Collins; L Magee, S Furlong; N Healy, M Lamb, C Rowe; N McEvoy, S Aherne, L Davey.
Subs: N Owens for Rowe (41), S Woods for McEvoy (47), M Ní Scanaill for Murphy (50), F Hudson for Caffrey (52), L Collins for Finnegan (56).
MAYO: Y Byrne; L Ryder, S Tierney, R Kearns; M Corbett, M Carter, O Conlon; F McHale, C McManamon; G Kelly, A Gilroy, D Hughes; S Rowe, C Staunton, N Kelly.
Subs: C Hegarty for McManamon (43), S Howley for Hughes (51), D Caldwell for Kelly (56).
Referee: B Rice (Down)