IN GALWAY MANAGER Tim Rabbitt’s first year in the top job, he’s steered the Tribe to a first All-Ireland final since 2005.
Galway ladies football manager Tim Rabbitt.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
The Westerners lost that day but 12 months beforehand, beat Dublin to lift the Brendan Martin Cup for the first time ever. It’s all well and good looking back, but this is a new era. It’s something Rabbitt is very conscious about; his side focus on themselves, and don’t buy into any outside noise.
“It’s a long time ago,” he says as proceedings kick off with a 2005 mention. “It’s something in Galway ladies football we’d look back on fondly but it’s a long time ago and it’s probably not really relevant to this weekend.
“We’re just delighted to be in the biggest day for ladies football for the year. We’ve worked really hard to get here and we’re delighted to be a part of it.”
Likewise, when the camogie side’s win on Sunday gone is mentioned. It’s great and all, but nothing directly to do with the job at hand this weekend.
“It was a super occasion, a lot of our girls went last week to support them as well. It’s brilliant to see the camogie [do so well]. It’s well deserved and I know they put a huge amount of effort in during a couple of years to try and get there as well so it’s brilliant.
“There’s a great buzz in Galway at the moment, particularly in regards to female sport. So we’ll feed off it a little but again, it’s not really a factor. We’ve our own task ahead of us on Sunday.”
Like his opposing manager there, Mick Bohan, recently-departed Cork boss Ephie Fitzgerald and Mayo supremo Peter Leahy, Oranmore/Maree clubman Rabbitt has transferred over from the men’s game.
Before coming into the Galway set-up as a coach under his predecessor Stephen Glennon, Rabbitt coached his own club, and was involved with Galway development squads and junior squads. In that 10-year stint, his last job was with the Tribe U21s.
“I had been with the Galway U21s the previous year and Dublin beat us in the final that year so I had to think long and hard about whether to go with the U21s or go with Stephen and the ladies,” he explains. “I suppose I’m really glad now I made that decision to go with the Galway ladies at the time.”
But then came an even bigger decision last winter, as Glennon stepped away and there was opening for Rabbitt to take the top job.
“I had to think about it because it is a big commitment. It’s like having a second job, I suppose. It’s something I really enjoy doing but it does take up a lot of time.
“I think last year the players saw continuity from the previous years. I was happy to take that on and the players were happy for me to do it. That was very important. I wouldn’t have done it without the support of the players.
“Fortunately when we came back together last September, nearly all the squad were there from the previous year. That was a big sign for me.
“We were well-beaten [by Dublin] in the semi-final last year after putting a lot of effort and commitment in, and this year for the girls to come back again and give it another go, I thought that was fantastic. It’s easy to do it when you’re winning sometimes.
Rabbitt credits Glennon for the solid work that was done before he took over.
Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO
“We weren’t winning the previous year so to come back and say, ‘Right, we want to have another crack at this,’ I thought that was great now, I thought that was a really good sign.”
He adds: “Lucky enough Stephen has stayed with us this year, he’s doing stats and analysis for us.
“That’s just a measure of the person he is and the respect the he would have for the squad and that they would have for him that he was back in, helping us out on the sideline.”
Getting past the semi-final stage this year was absolutely massive, it can’t be denied.
Branded the “nearly team” time and time again, Rabbitt knew his side needed to take a step forward after last year’s comprehensive dismissal by Dublin.
That, they did after a narrow win over Connacht-rivals Mayo at Croke Park last month, while they also made progress in Division 1 league by reaching the decider, although beaten by Cork on the day. That development is pleasing.
Not only was getting to the top table and shaking that “nearly team” tag captain Tracey Leonard so often refers to hugely important in the semi-final, the HQ experience will be invaluable on Sunday.
Before that historic double-header, none of the Galway team had featured on Gaelic Games’ biggest stage so nerves were natural. That’s over, done and out of the way now and they’ll be happy to focus on the job at hand, having been there and done that.
“It was an important factor,” he agrees. “There is the Croke Park effect, so we were delighted to get the semi-final [there]. It was a super, super occasion to be part of with our neighbours as well.
“We were delighted, hopefully it will stand to the girls the next day. Obviously it will be a different scenario, there’ll be three or four times as many people there on Sunday.
“It will be a different kind of atmosphere but something we’re really looking forward to. It’s a challenge for the girls to be able to play in that environment, we’re really looking forward to it. We’ve been here before, we’ve won here before so it’s on to the next day.”
With the focus on that, he sees no particular weakness in three in-a-row chasing Dublin, and is keep for his side to focus on their own performance.
Even looking at last year’s semi-final defeat at their hands, what does Rabbitt take from that 4-8 to 1-10 loss?
To not concede goals.
of the team
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“Obviously Dublin are a very talented team and they do hit those hammer blows of goals at different times,” he says. “Obviously it wouldn’t be possible for us to win the game the next day if we’re going to concede four or five goals.
Galway’s Sinead Burke with her niece, Marley Burke, and Barbara Hannon with her son, Miko Finnegan.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
“We’ll have to have a really good strong defensive plan in place that coexists with a really good attack plan when we get the opportunity to do it as well.”
“We’re not in it to try and stop the Dubs,” he responds immediately when asked of that motivation for revenge with the Sky Blues also chasing their third consecutive title.
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“We’re in it to try and get a performance full of hard work and honesty and football smarts as well, something that we can be really proud of and I suppose that’s what we’re trying to do, to get our own performances right.
“We think we can challenge Dublin, but Sunday is the day that will be tested.”
A first year in charge that couldn’t have gone much better, regardless of the outcome.
“We could top it all off now,” Rabbitt smiles. “I feel very proud and am very privileged to work with this kind of group. They’re a super bunch of people and super quality players are involved as well…
“A really good management team, really good structures in order to put everything in place, people like Mike Comer and Ciaran Moran, I know these people have been working really hard in the background and it’s been a pleasure to be around them.”
Lastly, a word for the profile of the game, and of women’s sport, which is increasing all the time.
“Brilliant to see, absolutely brilliant to see. If you were at the semi-final it was a brilliant occasion.
“I don’t know how many people came up to me afterwards and said their daughter now wanted to play for Galway in football so I think it’s brilliant when you hear that sort of stuff.”
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