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Sarah Donnelly, Tyrone. TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Tyrone v Mayo, 2009.
Sarah Donnelly, Tyrone. TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Tyrone v Mayo, 2009.

All-Ireland runner-up Donnelly aiming to add World Games title to haul


By Eoghan Tuohey

It's not a typical combination you'd associate with the family mantelpiece of inter-county players - but as the GAA World Games continue to grow and develop as a concept, it's only a matter of time before more former inter-county stars seek to add World Games titles to their already impressive collections.

The 2019 Renault GAA World Games have been within Sarah Donnelly's cross-hairs for quite some time - this will be her third attempt at claiming the elusive crown, having contested finals at the two previous games. The former Trillick club-woman is honoured to have been selected on the Australian panel once again, and is coming to Waterford and Dublin this summer with a specific focus.

"To be honest, I feel incredibly privileged to be given a third opportunity to compete in the games for Australia. Anyone who knows me knows I am football mad, demented even, so I am determined not to leave empty handed again. I hope to do whatever this team requires of me to come away as Renault GAA World Games Champions.

I'm just really excited to be a part of it again. I didn't think I would get another opportunity to play at the GAA World Games and feel very lucky to have the chance to be a part of such a special tournament again. Playing in the World Games really brings home the importance and value of Gaelic sports across the world.'"

The decorated star will look back fondly on the era when she - and Tyrone - were in their prime, with the Ulster senior title in 2009 and contesting the All-Ireland final in 2010 the clear highlights. The influential midfielder also claimed a World Games All-Star during the 2015 Games in Abu Dhabi, and has been an Australian All-Star consistently from 2014 to 2018. Her experience will be a critical weapon in the arsenal of this team in what is expected to be a fiercely competitive Irish-Born Ladies Football competition. Her desire is palpable, and one gets the distinct impression that if the rest of the squad have the same hunger, it will take an exceptional side to thwart them on their quest.

"When I get a chance to be on the field I’d like to think I can read the style of the game reasonably well and know I will have to put in a huge running shift to be valuable for the team. It’s a long week so I think whichever squad can use their combined legs most effectively along with a few steady heads up front will come out on top, rub of the green allowing of course. I’m really hoping it’s us this time!​"

Denise Masterson, right, and Siobhán McGrath, Dublin, contest a high ball with Sarah Donnelly, Tyrone. TG4 All-Ireland Senior Ladies Football Championship Final, Dublin v Tyrone, Croke Park, Dublin, 2010.
Denise Masterson, right, and Siobhán McGrath, Dublin, contest a high ball with Sarah Donnelly, Tyrone. TG4 All-Ireland Senior Ladies Football Championship Final, Dublin v Tyrone, Croke Park, Dublin, 2010.

The second-level Mathematics teacher will be hopeful that the Australian squad's formula will result in a positive outcome in 2019, having come so close previously. They are aware, however, that this is a title that is not easily claimed, and the calibre of opposition they will face will be first-rate. Their geographical status Down Under, with such a vast area to cover, means that, logistically, other sides do have an advantage when it comes to preparation for the Games.

"There are so many talented women footballers playing all over the world now that I never know who is going to turn up where at these games! The Middle East, having won it at home in 2015, will no doubt be strong and it’s always hard to overlook New York with so many Irish over there. I played a summer there in 2012 and the standard was brilliant.

The big opposition though is definitely the London teams who I think will be very strong. They have the added advantage of always playing together and that is one feature of an all Australian side which has been difficult to remedy previously. With the size of the country, we are lucky to be able to get one training weekend together to meet, gel and play ball but it doesn’t compare to those teams getting to train and play nine aside games regularly."

Tactically, these Games will be intriguing in the extreme. The small-sided format, coupled with a relatviely large playing area, means that teams need to use their rolling substitutes wisely. Bearing in mind that there are four straight days of games as well, and the ability to build yourself up and then unwind correspondingly will be of the utmost importance.

"That’s something else I think people overlook; how different the nine-a-side game is to anything else. It has the blistering pace of sevens but a significantly bigger pitch. In both 2015 and 2016 we were beaten in the final by teams who had trained for months playing together in this style of game. It was very tactical by the final stages of both tournaments. Despite what management had told us we did not address the short kick-out situation efficiently enough and ran out of steam both years. There was perhaps a bit of complacency creeping into the team at times in 2015 too. Having lost two finals I don’t think there will be any place for it this year."​