Friday, September 16, 2022

TELLAB SENIOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL PREVIEW – Bennekerry-Tinryland v Old Leighlin, Netwatch Cullen Park, Sunday, 6pm.


THE battle for supremacy in Carlow Ladies football between Bennekerry-Tinryland and Old Leighlin has developed into one of the most intriguing rivalries in Carlow GAA in recent years. On Sunday, they once again meet in the SFC Final and Netwatch Cullen Park is a fitting venue for this clash.

KIERAN MURPHY spoke to both camps ahead of Sunday’s game as Bennkerry-Tinryland attempt to retain the title they won last year after three years of Old Leighlin dominance.

Old Leighlin and Bennekerry/Tinryland have been the best of rivals in recent years and meet in yet another SFC final on Sunday
Photo: Adrian O’Neill

Niall Barrett-Bennekerry-Tinryland manager

In management terms, Niall Barrett has a recent 100% record when it comes to leading teams to victory in county finals. Last year when Bennekerry-Tinryland regained the senior football title after a three year gap he only got the job shortly before the final. That happened when the manager at the time, Alan Doyle, had to step down when he picked up an injury himself.

So was Barrett the key appointment and did the players fall on their feet when he got the job?

“I wouldn’t say that,” he laughs.

“To be honest, I had to find out about the players. I had seen only one game.”

Since then he has been at loads of games and claims Carlow football is in a good place.

“Women’s football is on the up. In Carlow and outside the county. You can see it at county level as well. Everything is on the up,” Barrett points out.

He says the key for progress is the ability of players to park their club rivalries when the county scene comes around. Both Old Leighlin and Bennekerry-Tinryland have been exemplary in this regard

“They had a great run with the county. You can see them playing together in the county and at club level when it is over, it is shaking hands and putting on the Carlow jersey again,” notes Barrett.

With loyalty to the county very much in the players’ minds, it meant Barrett had to blood younger players

“We had up to ten players involved with the county so, as a club, to field for the league without ten players it was difficult but it gave me an opportunity to find youth in the club.

Barrett is resigned to the loss of their top scorer, Cliodhna Ní Shé, while another intercounty player, Niamh Kelly, is also out with a long-term injury. Over the weekend, Roisin Byrne has picked up what is suspected to be a cruciate issue.

“Cliodhna was a huge loss. She is training away, working well, recovering well and we are keeping her involved as much as possible.

Niamh was kicking a ball over the bar and it was the way she landed. It is so unfortunate. The team are down so it is important to help them get over it.”

A 1-15 to 2-6  defeat  in the group stages to Old Leighlin hurt Barrett and the players. They have to try and recover from that.

“It was poor. I will be straight up,” agrees Barrett.

“There was a lot of  soul-searching. To be honest against St Annes there was an improvement but losing Niamh as well, it is an extra threat up front we don’t have. We are blooding other players. The youth we have brought through during the year, it will be up to them to make a mark for themselves,” the Bennekerry-Tinryland manager says.


Nuala Mohan-Bennekerry-Tinryland player


Nuala Mohan is a Monaghan lass who has played club football at the highest level with Foxrock-Cabinteely contesting a club All-Ireland decider and winning provincial medals with the Dublin giants. She is five  years in Carlow and is very much settled now.

Her route to settling in and meeting people was easy something she planned.

“I settled in Carlow and then came to Bennekerry-Tinryland. You meet a crew of people who are only out the road from you. You get so close to people  in the club and you have friends straightaway,” she explained.

She has rolled with the punches winning county finals, losing three in a row and then bouncing back last year when it was somewhat of a surprise when they beat Old Leighlin well in the final.

That defeat was tinged with tragedy.

“The main factor last year was losing Amanda Kinsella. It gave us a focus to go and do it for somebody like that who was committed. Any time she was home, she was out training with us. She was a huge part of the club through juveniles and coming into the senior teams. I played with Amanda in one county final and she was inspirational that night. It was our little way of trying to do something to remember her,” said Nuala.

The presence of Old Leighlin and Bennekerry-Tinryland has lifted Carlow football. The intercounty players were united in 2022 performing in a league above them in Leinster.  To a player, it was all about improving  as an individual, as a club player and at county level. Switching off for key moments during intercounty games has been costly over the last three years. Against Antrim this year, it was the opening ten minutes which did the damage when conceding a soft goal and a number of points

“That is experience. You learn. At times we didn’t click for a full sixty minutes. It is coming. The talent is there and Ed Burke is brilliant is about getting everyone in behind the jersey. It will come.”

So the players went back to their clubs and now the two foes meet again.

“You want to be playing on county final day. That is why you go out and do your pre-season training,” says Nuala.

“From my experience, it is something I look forward to,  try to enjoy and not let nerves overtake you. In our squad we have a lot of young players coming in. You want to impart that on to them. These days don’t come around every week, every month, every year. Try to enjoy it while you are there particularly when it is in Netwatch Cullen Park.”

Bennekerry-Tinryland were victorious last year but know that Old Leighlin will be gunning for them on Sunday     Photo: Adrian O’Neill


Emma Brennan Old Leighlin player

At a stage in her career where she has won county, Leinster and All-Ireland camogie and football titles Emma Brennan could be forgiven if she had decided to play her football and camogie up in Dublin where she is based. She did line out with St Vincent’s for a spell but the draw of the parish sees her back playing with Old Leighlin and Naomh Bríd. It isn’t easy but she continues to commute.

“I am up and down the road a good bit between training and matches. When you are still enjoying it and getting something out of it then it is good. I don’t mind it too much. It does take a lot out of you but when things are going well, I am happy enough to do it,” she says.

There is a gnawing feeling in her club at the moment. They lost their title last year to old rivals Bennekerry-Tinryland.

“I wasn’t involved with Old Leighlin last year and I know some of the players were very disappointed on the day from an Old Leighlin perspective. I think they would be hoping to rectify that this year. They will be looking for a good performance from the team. Whatever the result is, the result is but for us we are looking to put in a good performance and to say we gave it our all at the end of the day,” Emma says.

They will be without Ellen Atkinson who has taken time off to travel. Now Old Leighlin will have to fill the void left in defence as well as compensating for the experience which Atkinson brought to the side.

“I think it is something we have been trying to do since the start of the year was to build a panel. You can have your fifteen starting players but you never know who is going to be injured or who is going to have to leave the panel for a variety of reasons. We have had a bit of that this year. Ellen  is a big loss for us. She has gone abroad which is fantastic for her but we will miss her.

“Other teams will be missing players too and that is the importance of having more than fifteen players available and having a panel ready to go. This is something we have been trying to do since the start of this year in particular. There are some fantastic young players coming up too which is great for the future of Old Leighlin,” claims Emma.


Con Brennan Old Leighlin manager

Con Brennan may not have been known that well in Carlow but he has pedigree.

From Donegal, he was working in Dublin but with his wife working locally, they moved to Carlow about five years ago.

“I got hooked up with Bagenalstown and during that time in 2019 I got involved with Gerry McGill when he was over the Carlow ladies. I got to know the Old Leighlin team and then the job came up at the start of this year and I got talking to a few of them,” says Con.

“One thing led to another and here we are.”

With his background, he sees the way the players in the clubs are anxious to play for the county. Carlow have been so near an appearance in Croke Park on All-Ireland Sunday but it has eluded them.

He says the players are putting in huge efforts with their clubs and that is benefitting the county team.  Old Leighlin and Bennekerry-Tinryland are the teams to beat at the moment.

“Not only do you see the benefits of that when they are playing each other but the clubs around them are trying to improve to get up to that level. You are also seeing that transferred to the county team. You can see big numbers of those squads coming into the county team. It is benefitting everyone and long may it continue,” maintains Brennan.

The number of teams playing in the senior championship may be limited at the moment but Brennan says this does not diminish the efforts of any of the teams and players.

“At the end of the day, there are 32 county championships handed out every year and the one in Carlow is as important as the one anywhere else. I know the two groups of players are very familiar with each other. They are consistently in county finals and playing against each other. Next Sunday, that rivalry will be there and you can expect both of them to put their best foot forward and get a performance on the day.”

Old Leighlin easily won the group game when they met not too long ago. Like any other manager, Brennan quickly scoffs at the suggestion that his side are bound to be favourites.

“We are not the reigning county champions. The reigning county champions are back in the final again. It is going to take a big improvement for us to get from where we were last year to where we can win it this year. Group games mean nothing and every final will take on a game of its own. We will look to get in a performance and hopefully it will be good enough on the day,” he says.






Éire Og v St Brigids

Netwatch Cullen Park, Saturday, 2.30pm.

The intermediate final between two teams who know each other reasonably well promises to be an entertaining affair. St Brigids are probably favourites but their manager, Rory Stokes, is just concerned about building and improving players. If success comes, all the better but it is not paramount. The Wicklow man was part of the Tinahely success story and two years ago, the club beat Old Leighlin in a Leinster final. Now his connections are with the Clonmore based club.

“A lot of good work has been done before I came on the scene. We won a junior championship last year and what we are trying to do is develop players and close the gap to where Tinryland-Bennekerry and Old Leighlin are. Both teams are well established. We played Old Leighlin in the league final and they gave us a bit of a lesson. You have to play these teams so that you can improve,” he says.

They two sides have played each other already and St Brigids were ahead when their match against Éire Óg was called off due to an injury to a home player at Teach Asca.

Éire Óg selector, Seamus Kenneally, says there is a bit of unfinished business after they lost the final last year to St Annes.

“It is good to be back in the county final. We were there last year but we were well beaten. We are looking forward to this one again. We have it all to do. Brigids would be favourites but they are a very good team.”



Netwatch Cullen Park, Saturday, 12.30pm – Rathvilly v St Annes



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