Early goals help girls set up All Ireland final spot
BY DAIRE WALSH
A brace of opening period goals by Clane’s Melissa Lyons proved to be the catalyst for Kildare in Donaghmore, Ashbourne GAA Club on Saturday afternoon, as Jim McMullen’s charges booked their place in the final of the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Premier Junior Camogie Championship with a magnificent ten-point victory over Down.
Having won the National Camogie League Division Four title in the same venue just four short years ago, the progression of Camogie in the county in recent years has been extraordinary, and following on from their appearance in the Division Two League Final earlier this year, they will now contest the third-tier decider against Laois in Croke Park on September 15th.
In the form of Down, they were facing opponents that had fallen narrowly short of the mark in the 2011 & 2012 All-Ireland Junior showpieces, and The Lilywhites were certainly under no illusions about the task that faced them in north Meath.
They were displaying no signs of apprehension during the early exchanges, however, and although centre-forward Siobhan Hurley’s second minute point was cancelled out by a similar Karen McMullan effort for the Mourne girls, Lyons was on hand to flick a diagonal ball by Susie O’Carroll to the net five minutes in.
Kildare remained a goal to the good when Hurley contributed her second point in reply to a close-range free by Down corner-forward Catherine McGrourty. As was expected, Alastair McGilligan’s side grew in confidence as fine scores by McGrourty and Laura Hughes reduced their gap to the bare minimum at the end of the first quarter.
Yet, Kildare were refusing to panic, and when Lyons followed a Clodagh Flanagan point with a neatly-struck second major on 17 minutes, there was a sense that this was going to a memorable afternoon for all those involved with the team.
Down had other ideas, though, and when inside forward Niamh Mallon’s fantastic 21st minute three-pointer was added to by a trio of McGrourty scores, parity had been restored to the proceedings with three first-half minutes remaining.
However, the end of the half belonged to Kildare, as ace forward O’Carroll lived up to her billing with a clinical finish past Caitriona McCrickard at the end of an outstanding individual run, and with Louise Keatley and Hurley also tagging on points in stoppage time, Kildare held a pivotal five-point cushion (3-6 to 1-7) during the interval.
Johnstownbridge’s Hurley was creating havoc in the Down defence, and she wriggled her way through a host of challenges to fire over once more three minutes after the restart. Another McGrourty brace either side of another excellent score by the increasingly influential O’Carroll kept Down in touch moving into the final quarter, but a fourth Kildare goal on 46 minutes ultimately put the final outcome beyond doubt.
A goal-bound attempt in this instance by Flanagan, the team’s captain, was batted down by McCrickard, but the Liatroim custodian watched in horror as the ball ended up in the bottom corner of the net. A 50th minute point by skipper Fionnuala Carr (who had transferred from defence to attack) marginally reduced Down’s deficit, but the talismanic Carroll joined Lyons in scoring a second major just a minute later, as the Celbridge star finished off a mazy run with style and aplomb.
With much of the tension now removed from the game, Hurley and Mallon swapped scores, before a second from St Laurence’s Keatley, and Kildare’s first point from a Hurley free after 55 minutes, edged them into a 12 point ascendancy. The Ulster outfit did battle admirably during the closing stages, but thanks to numerous blocks by the heroic Lilywhite defence, they were denied the opportunity to secure a consolation goal.
Late points from Carr and replacement Aimee McAleenan did add some gloss to their final tally, but it wasn’t enough to deny Kildare a magnificent victory, which is precisely what the team need ahead of their upcoming showdown against Laois, who were most impressive in their 4-13 to 3-5 dismantling of Westmeath in the preceding semi-final.
KILDARE: Saileog O’Keeffe; Jane O’Donoghue, Aoife Trant, Hazel Mulligan; Fiona Trant, Carol Nolan, Angela Lyons; Caroline Forde, Orla Bambury; Clodagh Flanagan (1-1), Siobhan Hurley (0-6, 0-1 free), Louise Keatley (0-2); Melissa Lyons (2-0), Susie O’Carroll (2-2), Roisin O’Connell.
Subs: Niamh Breen for O’Connell (42), Niamh Concannon for Mulligan (54).
DOWN: Caitriona McCrickard; Karen Tinnelly, Lisa McAliskey, Emma McCormick; Ciara McGovern, Fionnuala Carr (0-2, 0-1 free), Catherine Rocks; Karen McMullan (0-1), Lisa McPolin; Kelly O’Higgins, Sara Louise Carr, Aoife Keown; Laura Hughes (0-1), Catherine McGrourty (0-7, 7 frees), Niamh Mallon (1-1).
Subs: Aimee McAleenan (0-1) for Keown (half-time), Briege McGrourty for Hughes (57).
REFEREE: Donal Ryan (Dublin).