- 19 Dec 18
“With the ladies, it’s a very tight battle between four or five teams. It’s an exciting time to be playing”
Having put in a barnstorming performance as Dublin secured back-to-back All Irelands against Cork, ladies football star Carla Rowe reflects on a triumphant year, and explains how her team has reached the pinnacle of the sport.
Interview: Paul Nolan
Your correspondent previously caught up with Dublin ladies football star Carla Rowe back in the spring before the season commenced. At the time, I remember feeling that the team were nicely poised to complete a clean sweep of titles having played exceptional attacking football when seeing off rivals Mayo in the previous year’s All Ireland.
Dublin duly collected the league, Leinster and All Ireland titles in 2018, with the latter attained against the traditional superpowers of the ladies game, Cork, on a day that saw Carla put in a barnstorming display and score two decisive goals. Afterwards, the hard-working wing forward was deservedly selected as player of the match for her outstanding performance.
But first things first – was Carla as optimistic as I was about Dublin’s prospects at the start of the year?
“Well, you have to be confident without being cocky,” she considers. “There’s a difference in those two. You have to be confident in the way your team is playing; we had said to ourselves that no matter what Cork threw at us, we’d continue to work hard and play for each other. And as an individual as well, you have to be confident that if you get your chances, you’ll take them.”
On a broader level, this is an unprecedented golden era for Dublin football: next year sees the men’s team embark on the drive for five, while Carla and co. will be setting out to make their own bit of history with a three in a row. The ladies team does seem to be a very enjoyable set-up to be a part of currently.
“Absolutely,” nods Carla. “We’re out four days a week, so we’re well-bonded as friends and teammates. That’s always important. On the day when things get hard, you know that everyone will have each other’s backs. And if it’s not your day, someone will come off the bench and do the job for the team. Also, if it’s not happening for you, you’ll still have girls coming up to you saying, ‘Don’t worry about it, get your head up.’ All those different things make the panel very strong.”
The final represented a serious psychological challenge for the team as well, with Dublin having come out on the wrong side of the last two finals during Cork’s six-in-a-row run from 2011-2016.
“There was a psychological thing,” acknowledges Carla. “As much as you might say coming up to the game that you’re not focusing on them – which you’re trying not to do – it is there in the back of your head. Cork are an absolutely brilliant side, and I don’t think there’s been a ladies football team yet who’ve been as good as they have.
“But it’s about putting that behind you, and using it as a strength rather than a weakness. Knowing that they are very good and that in order to beat them, you have to be better than them. We did analysis on them, as most teams do, and then after that we just focused on ourselves. It was all about Dublin, our plan and how we were going to play.”
Though Dublin enjoyed a good half-time lead in the game, Cork came back hard in the second half and at one stage narrowed the gap to a point. It was at this stage that Dublin showed the kind of composure their male counterparts are renowned for – it is probably the single attribute that makes Jim Gavin’s charges so difficult to beat – as Carla’s cooly taken second goal set them up for the win.
Countless sports teams talk about remaining calm in crunch situations, but so many react to adversity with emotion rather than icy intelligence. Gavin has taken some ribbing for how often he refers to this approach as a “process”, but it’s actually quite a good word for it; you simply have to stick to the gameplan.
“Sometimes people say Jim Gavin isn’t elaborating because he doesn’t want to give it away,” says Carla, “but there’s not much more you can actually say about it. It’s just about what you do in training – what you practice is what you have to replicate in games. Especially on big days, when the crowd is big and noisy, and you can almost feel them with you with every pass, you can get over-excited.
“In previous years, we probably would have done that, but this time we knew that was going to happen. And when it did, we slowed the game down and managed it. We had a really good score at the end of the first half, when there were nine or ten passes before the point was taken. That really showed us that we weren’t going to be making the mistakes we made in previous years.”
Having achieved the record of best attended women’s sport event globally for 2017, the All Ireland ladies final achieved that remarkable feat again this year, with a crowd of 50,000 watching the game.
“It’s amazing for us when we’re playing,” enthuses Carla. “When I run out from the tunnel and I’m looking up, I just have to take it all in. It’s a brilliant feeling; you want to perform for yourself and the people behind you. Then when things are going well for the team, you can feel all the people behind you, and it makes such a difference. It’s incredible and it’s down to the LGFA, who are doing trojan work on the ground to promote the game.”
Finally, with the men going for five consecutive titles next year and the women for three, when are Dublin going to start giving the rest of the country a look in?
“There are teams who are close if not right there with us,” says Carla. “Sometimes in a final, it’s a flip of a coin as to who performs better. I don’t think it’s that we’re dominant; maybe the men’s is a bit more like that, but with the ladies, it’s a very tight battle between four or five teams. It’s an exciting time to be playing.”