Ladies Football: Leinster Club Junior Football Championship Final Replay
Old Leighlin 2-8
By Kieran Murphy
IF you wanted someone to bottle character, courage, self-belief and a never-say-die spirit then look no further than the new Leinster club junior football champions.
The Old Leighlin players had all these traits in abundance on Saturday in Athy. After a tough replay which could have gone either way, it was the Carlow champions who emerged victorious.
If the original game was dramatic then this was equally so. Old Leighlin have had the ability to pick off early scores in many of their games this season but Castleknock didn’t let them do it again on Saturday. Rachel Sawyer did convert an early free but Old Leighlin found themselves behind when Laura Carolan and Hannah Hanlon pointed. The lead changed hands again with Niamh Forde and Aoibhinn Gilmartin finding the posts.
After that assured start, Old Leighlin lost their way as the Dubliners ramped up the pressure. Two frees and a point from play by Hanlon opened up a three-point gap in favour of Castleknock. Infuriatingly for Old Leighlin, at least three points were conceded after they were turned over inside their opponents’ half. Some of those were simple intercepts which could have been avoided.
In the first half there were a number of goal chances for either side but Castleknock were left to rue a missed opportunity when an overcooked pass to a player free in front of goal allowed Nicole Hanley to gather and clear.
With the game threatening to get away from them, Aoife Roche’s 28th-minute point was huge as Castleknock led at the interval by 0-6 to 0-4.
Gilmartin landed an early second-half point for Old Leighlin but on 34 minutes Hanlon’s free cancelled that out. The same player then proceeded to miss an even easier free and shortly after that the influential Lauren O’Neill was yellow-carded. This all got inside the confidence of Castleknock.
In the men’s game yellow is just a warning, but for the midfielder it was 10 minutes in the sinbin for O’Neill and her side were reduced to 14.
Sawyer and Hanlon then swopped frees as the intensity of the game began to rise. With 15 minutes left for play there didn’t seem to be much on when Old Leighlin were awarded a 35-metre free.
Spotting Rachel Sawyer in space, Aoife Roche delivered a perfect 10-metre kicked pass. Sensing danger the defence closed down the dangerous Old Leighlin player but left space inside. Sawyer spotted Emma Brennan on the edge of the small square and once again the delivery was accurate. The ball receiver took the ball cleanly and scored what was probably the most important goal of her footballing life. The sides were level.
Castleknock still looked dangerous but Anne Roche marshalled her defence well. Time and time again Old Leighlin players won 50-50 ball and from deep in defence the screw was turned on Castleknock.
Sawyer converted a free. The game was still on a knife-edge when Shauna O’Neill got inside the Castleknock defence in the big square. When she was hauled to the ground it was a definite penalty. A game-defining moment.
The Old Leighlin goalkeeper, Nicole Hanley, came forward and after what seemed an age was allowed to place the ball for the penalty. If a nation held its breath in Italia 90, then all of Old Leighlin did so again in Athy on Sunday. They need not have worried. Hanley buried the ball in the net to give her side a four-point lead. It was Old Leighlin’s to lose now. There were still eight minutes plus three minutes’ injury time left.
Hanlon narrowed the gap with a free as the decibel levels increased among the Old Leighlin and Carlow supporters. Going into injury time, Gilmartin landed another free. Surely that was it?
No. Castleknock came back down the field and were awarded a close-in free. Hanlon went for goal and her unstoppable shot to the top left-hand corner found its way to the net.
With the referee set to blow the full-time whistle, Castleknock needed to win the kick-out. Instead Old Leighlin seized possession, fought hard not to lose it and with that came the final whistle. From losing a 12-point lead in the drawn county final to becoming the champions of Leinster. Who would have believed it? Dreams do come through.
Old Leighlin: Nicole Hanley (1-0 pen); Roisin Maher, Anne Roche, Amy Hanley; Eleanor Meaney, Ellen Atkinson, Michelle Dermody; Muireann O’Sullivan, Caoimhe O’Neill; Rachel Sawyer (0-3 frees), Shauna O’Neill, Niamh Forde (0-1); Aoife Roche (0-1), Aoibhinn Gilmartin (0-3, 0-1 free), Emma Brennan (1-0). Subs: Eleanor Purcell for Meaney (46 mins), Laura Regan for Aoife Roche (54 mins), Eimear Meaney for O’Neill (62 mins). Ella Meaney, Philomena Murphy, Gemma Carpenter, Orla Sawyer, Roisin Ryan, Annmarie Meaney, Laura Kearney, Niamh Bambrick, Amy Monahan, Ciara Farrell, Michelle Purcell, Maggie Forde.
Castleknock: Amy Mahony; Orlaith Higgins, Jenny Hickey, Sinead Comerford; Nicola Fagan, Aisling Mahony, Louise Mahony; Denise Convery, Lauren O’Neill; Laura Carolan (0-1), Aisling O’Connor, Hannah Hanlon (1-8, 1-7 frees); Aoife Whelan, Ciara Burgess (0-1), Jessica Comerford. Subs: Ciara Murray for O’Connor (h/t)
Referee: Sarah Stanley (Meath)