Old Leighlin 3-16
By Kieran Murphy
NEVER mind the scoreline. The final tot suggests the county champions held onto their title for what looks like a comfortable victory in the ladies football senior A final at Netwatch Cullen Park on Thursday.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In what was one of the best county finals in any grade and at any level in recent years, Old Leighlin recorded a fabulous two-in-a-row success.
Trailing by nine points early in the second half they produced a miraculous recovery and by the end had learned a little bit more about themselves.
The heart must go out to Bennykerry-Tinryland. They played some great football. They also lost the influential Cliodhna Ní Shé early in the second half. It was a sorry sight to see the dual Gaelic football and soccer star helped off the field in distress by two of her colleagues. Sport can be glorious. Then there is the opposite. That is what makes it so fascinating.
Even though Rachel Sawyer opened the scoring with a third-minute Old Leighlin point, Bennykerry-Tinryland went on to dominate the opening quarter. A minute later at the O’Hanrahan’s end of the ground the Old Leighlin defence were breached when Lauren Dwyer, instead of shooting wildly and inaccurately, opted to place the ball in the bottom left-hand corner of the net. It was a magical finish as her side went on to lead by 1-3 to 0-1 at the end of the quarter.
Old Leighlin held their heads and Aoife Roche was rewarded when, a bit like Dwyer at the other end, she stroked the ball into the back of the net.
Approaching half-time the challengers seemed to go up a gear and when they raided down the left wing Nicole Kelly could have settled for a point. Instead she backed herself and her delicious delivery found the top right-hand corner of the net. It was a masterful finish and that silken strike helped Bennykerry-Tinryland into a 2-7 to 1-4 interval lead.
Just as they did in the first half, Bennykerry-Tinryland scored an early goal; Elaine Kelly scored the three-pointer when she was on the end of a move which also included Elaine Ware and Dwyer.
Astonishingly, from leading by 3-7 to 2-4 early in the second half they would only score one more point from there. The loss of Ní Shé was massive. In contrast, Old Leighlin called on all the experience which saw them win a Leinster junior title last season.
Their forwards ran amok. The defence was watertight but possibly the losing side played into the hands of their opponents with Dwyer frequently foraging back in her own half-back area and around the half-way line. It was one less worry for Old Leighlin who opted for a player-marking job on someone who scored so many goals for Carlow this year.
If Kelly’s finish was top-class, then the goal which precipitated the Old Leighlincomeback was equally as good when Emma Brennan picked her spot and found the net. A little bit closer to the target, a cool head and accuracy was required. Brennan possesses such qualities
Little by little Old Leighlin ate into the deficit. Brennan’s 45th-minute point put the champions a point in front.
A Bennykerry-Tinryland overcarry at the tunnel end drew a massive roar of appreciation after the defence forced the free out. Nothing was going to stop the blue and whites now. Substitute Laura Regan got among the scorers for Old Leighlin who were finishing not like a train but similar to a Concorde.
When Sawyer hit the crossbar with a rocket, the ball fell to Roche. She buried the ball in the net and in the process ended Bennykerry-Tinryland dreams of regaining the title.
It was glorious decider which saw huge celebrations for one side but for their rivals, extreme disappointment on a huge night for ladies football in Carlow.
Old Leighlin: Nicole Hanley; Amy Hanley, Anne Roche, Philomena Murphy; Amy Dooley, Ellen Atkinson, Keeva Collins; Helen Roche, Caoimhe O’Neill; Emma Brennan (1-1), Niamh Forde, Aoibhinn Gilmartin (0-1); Aoife Roche (2-3), Rachel Sawyer (0-9, 0-4 frees), Shauna O’Neill (0-1). Subs: Laura Regan (0-1) for Gilmartin (41 mins), Roisin Maher for Collins (61 mins).
Bennykerry-Tinryland: Andrea Janey; Deirdre Tomlinson, Leanne Corcoran, Leah Mullins; Ruth Bermingham, Fiona O’Sullivan, Nuala Mohan; Cliodhna Ní Shé, Grace Lawler; Niamh Kelly (1-1), Roisin Byrne (0-1), Sinead Hayden (0-1); Elaine Ware (0-3, 0-1 free), Lauren Dwyer (1-1), Elaine Kelly (1-1). Subs: Aoife Timmons for Ní Shé (32 mins), Orla Woods for Emma O’Regan for Hayden (56 mins).
Verdict: Jonathan Murphy (St Mullins)