THE LADIES FOOTBALL season commences this weekend and reigning champions Dublin will begin their league title defence with a major target on their back.

Mick Bohan’s charges may have only won a first Division 1 title for the county last year, but they have quickly developed into a dominant force in the top tier.

They cruised to victory in last year’s decider against Mayo, with captain Sinéad Aherne posting 1-9 en route to a comprehensive win in Parnell Park.

And after clinching back-to-back All-Ireland crowns last September, momentum is certainly on their side to repeat that feat in the Ladies National Football League in 2019.

Eight teams comprise the top Division this year, but who will be able to wrestle the title from Dublin’s grasp?

Orla Finn in action against Dublin in the 2018 All-Ireland final.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Cork

The rivalry between these two sides stretches back for almost a decade, meeting in five senior All-Ireland finals since 2009.

That includes last year’s decider where Dublin’s superiority eked out a five-point win in Croke Park. Given the heartache they had suffered against Cork in previous deciders, this result marked a changing of the tide in Dublin’s direction.

But Cork will always be a dangerous prospect for the Dubs and both sides are favourites to reach this year’s Division 1 final.

Mourneabbey’s Ciara O’Sullivan is a key performer in Ephie Fitzgerald’s side, along with deadly attackers Orla Finn and Eimear Scally.

They appear to be setting out their stall early too, with 10 players who started last year’s All-Ireland final named to line out in their league opener against Galway, although O’Sullivan’s sister Doireann is not listed in the matchday squad.

Donegal’s Karen Guthrie fights for possession in the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork.

Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Donegal

Maxi Curran’s side have enjoyed huge progress in the senior ranks over the last few seasons.

They reached the senior All-Ireland semi-final for the first time in their history last year and were unfortunate not to progress to the showpiece game.

Their league form has been impressive too. Donegal featured in the 2017 Division 1 final and lost out by just one point to a Cork side who were seeking a fifth consecutive title.

Star forward Yvonne Bonner is currently on Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) duty with the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants, but Curran still has plenty of experienced players to call into action throughout their league campaign.

They have arguably the toughest fixture to begin with however, as they take on Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday evening.

Galway captain Tracey Leonard [file pic].

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Galway

Another All-Ireland semi-finalist from 2018 with bags of potential in their ranks.

The Tribeswomen earned a major scalp against Dublin in Division 1 last year with a deserved win in March. Bohan’s charges avenged for that defeat later in the campaign however, when Nicole Owens kicked a late goal to fire the Dubs through to the league final.

The contest wasn’t as close when the sides met again in the All-Ireland semi-final later in the year. Again, Dublin captain Aherne was in prolific form as they stormed through to the All-Ireland decider.

But Galway will be hoping to rediscover that league form that unsettled Dublin last year and will be looking to players like Tracey Leonard, Roisin Leonard and Olivia Divilly to lead the charge.

They will be kick-off their Division 1 campaign with a first-round tie against Cork.

Mayo will be without Sarah Rowe during the league.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Mayo

Last year’s league finalists are a much-changed outfit heading into 2019.

They’ve lost some seasoned inter-county stars following that well documented departure of 12 players from the panel last summer. Ace attacker Sarah Rowe is also unavailable for the league as she is currently with AFLW side Collingwood whose season starts this weekend.

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Peter Leahy has handed league debuts to Laura Brennan, Roisin Flynn, Ciara McManamon, Noirin Moran, Dayna Finn for their first-round outing against Tipperary on Sunday while Niamh Kelly will captain the team.

It’s a time of transition for Mayo following those key losses in personnel but they will need to build up a winning momentum early in the league if they are to in with a shout of returning to the final.

Aisling Moloney will be a key forward for Tipperary.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Tipperary/Westmeath/Monaghan

Tipperary are newcomers to the top flight after winning last year’s Division 2 final. Similar to Mayo and Donegal, they also have a regular starter in Australia as Aisling McCarthy prepares for the AFLW season with the Western Bulldogs.

Given it’s their first year in Division 1, picking up a few wins and maintaining their top-tier status will be the main priority for Tipperary.

Westmeath survived the drop to Division 2 last year and will be eager to avoid that precarious position this year. Monaghan endured a difficult run in the league in 2018 and will be aiming to steer away from relegation again this time around.

Division 1 Round 1 Fixtures

2/2/2019: Dublin v Donegal –  Croke Park, 5pm [eir sport]

2/2/2019: Cork v Galway — Mallow, 1pm 

3/2/2019: Mayo v Tipperary — Swinford Amenity Park, 2pm 

3/2/2019: Westmeath v Monaghan — St Loman’s Mullingar, 2pm 

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