By Kieran Murphy
OLD Leighlin ladies football team are the champions of Leinster.
In the provincial junior club championship final replay in Athy they produced a brilliant last-quarter performance when it looked as if they were in deep trouble and victory was slipping away from them.
Second-half goals by Emma Brennan and Nicole Hanley from a penalty turned impending loss into a glorious 2-8 to 1-10 victory for a side who never contemplated defeat.
After a bright opening to the game, the eventual winners found themselves on the back foot and trailed 0-6 to 0-4 at the interval. That two-point gap remained but going into the last quarter Brennan struck for the lead goal and while Castleknock equalised, Rachel Sawyer converted a free and Nicole Hanley converted a penalty.
Castleknock stayed in touch but an Aoibhinn Gilmartin free late on proved to be the insurance point before Castleknock’s Hannah Hanlon brought her total to 1-8 when lashing a free to the Old Leighlin net. It was too late and Old Leighlin ran out the narrowest of winners.
“This means everything,” said captain Anne Roche after the game. “We are over the moon with it now. We had to dig deep and give it our all. That is what we did. Every one of the players played their hearts out.”
Roche maintained the players took ownership when the game was going against them.
“We didn’t give up. We didn’t let our heads drop and we kept fighting away,” she added.
While Brennan’s goal provided the impetus for the fight-back, goalkeeper Nicole Hanley’s penalty was the eventual match-winner.
“It is a long run up but I had the whole way up to go to clear my head. I was calm,” she revealed.
With poor and scarcely visible pitch markings, referee Sarah Stanley was obliged to step out the spot from where the ball would be placed. Again Hanley was unnerved as she consulted with the referee.
“At that point we were just checking the spot and taking the time. The lads (Derek Mara and Barry Hayes) had me practicing taking penalties in case we needed them,” she said.
All the preparation paid off as her rocket found the net. From there she raced back down the field.
“I ran like my life depended on it to get back to that goal but the girls were filling in for me. I knew it was covered and it was a hard run back,” she conceded.
“I cannot even put it into words. For years we talked about getting to a Leinster final but I didn’t believe we really would. Winning it is a dream come true.”
Old Leighlin dream comes true
By Kieran Murphy