By Kieran Murphy
IT is fair to say, and many of the Old Leighlin players would admit it themselves after Saturday’s fantastic win over Castleknock, not too many of them saw this coming. At the start of the year the focus was on winning a county title. Old Leighlin needed two attempts to get over Bennekerry-Tinryland but once they did the shackles were off and players felt free to express themselves. Their run to this provincial decider was impressive.
At half-time they were in trouble. The dream was in danger. Michelle Dermody said the players regrouped at the break.
“I cannot explain what it means. For a moment I thought we had it lost but I said we were not going to give up and we were going to dig deeper and deeper,” she said.
At half-time neither side went to the dressing rooms. Strong words were spoken in the huddle before they returned to their positions.
“We all communicated and we fought harder. When we went ahead we were not looking back,” emphasised Dermody.
In previous games the responsibility fell on the young shoulders of Rachel Sawyer. On Saturday an Emma Brennan goal put her team ahead and Sawyer knocked over a free to nudge them further in front. Then Nicole Hanley converted a penalty.
“They had their homework done and had a lot of players behind the ball. We had to work to get goals and prevent them scoring goals. We did that with the exception of the excellent free which Hannah Hanlon scored. Other than that, I think we held them at bay.”
That late Castleknock goal threatened to scupper a huge Old Leighlin last quarter effort. Winning the kick-out was massive in injury time.
“I said to myself what happened last Saturday was not going to happen again. We had girls who were not going to give up,” said Dermody, who is living in Kilkenny now but describes herself as an “Old Leighlin girl”.
For Emma Brennan this win brings her football glory after camogie success with Carlow and Naomh Uinsionn in Dublin where she has won two senior county titles. Her goal lifted the whole team and from there they battled to victory.
“It is great. This is such a good feeling. I kicked four wides or so before that so I had to do something to make it up.”
In the opening half a lot of ball was coughed up tamely and Castleknock effectively turned defence into attack. Only two points in arrears at the break, the game was finely balanced.
“Mistakes are inevitable. Particularly with nerves and the tough game we had last weekend. We knew coming here how tough it was going to be,” said Brennan who was optimistic the penalty would be converted.
“Nicole (Hanley) is fantastic. I have seen her take penalties before and I had every confidence in her that she was going to finish it off. We needed it in the end. I didn’t even know we had won when the final whistle went as the scoreboard wasn’t working.”
She said this win was right up there with any of her previous sporting achievements.
“They all mean something different and all are quite special,” she said.
At midfield, Muireann O’Sullivan’s ability to come back and help out in defence and then quickly move the ball forward has been key to victory this year.
“It is unbelievable. We knew and hoped we could win the county championship. We didn’t consider Leinster at first but then as we won a few games we started to believe we could do this. Like Brennan, she was confident the penalty would be converted.
“Nicole’s goal was unbelievable but anyone who knows her knows she loves her football and practices those the whole time. I knew when she lined up there was no better person to stick it in the back of the net.”
Conscious that this was a team effort, O’Sullivan was happy to distribute the plaudits evenly.
“All our forwards, and not just for scores, are unbelievable. The work-rate across the whole team is unbelievable. Anyone who comes in does a job. I am just happy to have the win.”
Full-forward Aoibhinn Gilmartin expressed similar sentiments.
“It means so much. We had the belief and we had to come back from behind just like the last day. We learned to dig in from the county final,” she said.