By Kevin Egan, at Coralstown-Kinnegad GAA
Granemore (Armagh) 3-9
Athleague (Roscommon) 2-5
A dominant first-half performance gave Granemore the platform for victory in Kinnegad this afternoon, with superb second-half goals from Rachael Merry and Corinna Doyle helping them to hold off a strong surge from Athleague in a very entertaining AIB All-Ireland junior club camogie final.
Merry was in sensational form for the Armagh and Ulster champions throughout the contest, finishing with 2-7, and her two second-half points from the right-hand sideline would have illuminated any stage. She got a huge stroke of luck for her first goal with just a couple of minutes gone, however.
The Armagh star’s shot for a point from the 45m line looked to have been underhit, but after the sliotar took a deflection off a hurley on the way towards goal, Paula Daly was unable to gather at the first attempt and the ball crept over the line.
Aideen O’Brien and Kelley Hopkins battled hard for the Roscommon side in the opening half but at the other end of the pitch, the Rossies were gaining no traction against a strong Granemore back division, and one hard-earned score from Rebecca Brennan was all they could muster in that opening period.
The Armagh side weren’t out of sight and also had captain and goalkeeper Ciarraí Devlin to thank for a superb save to deny Rachel Fitzmaurice in a one-on-one situation, but at 1-5 to 0-1 in front, they still had complete control of the contest at that stage.
Athleague were transformed after half-time however, and points from Hopkins and Fitzmaurice were followed by a wonderful team goal, rifled to the top corner of the net from Tara Naughton.
The response from Granemore was exactly what the Orchard County club needed.
Fiadhna Loughran had a simple chance for a point from the right corner of the attack but she sensed that there was more there, and floated a perfect pass over the head of a defender into Merry on the edge of the square. One perfectly cushioned touch later, the deadly attacker shot on the turn into the roof of the net, ushering in wild celebrations from the substantial crowd of fans that travelled south.
It wasn’t time to pop the champagne yet, and Athleague came roaring back a second time. Tara Naughton could have had a second goal only to take her eye off the ball at the wrong time, but with six minutes remaining, Rachel Fitzmaurice was dragged down in the square and Kelley Hopkins’ penalty was perfectly struck, low and into the stanchion at the bottom right corner.
Hopkins followed up with another free to reduce the gap to three points, but once again Granemore produced a Christmas cracker of a score to ease their nerves. Corinna Doyle was the hero on this occasion, taking possession some 60 metres out from the Athleague goal and powering forward, before cutting in onto her right for the game’s final, decisive green flag.
As they had done all half, Athleague continued to battle as if their lives depended on it, even after Merry struck the second of her two sublime points from play, and Fitzmaurice earned a second penalty, albeit too late to make a difference to the result.
This time around, Devlin correctly guessed which side Hopkins would target and with a slightly weaker contact from the Athleague midfielder, Devlin was able to crown a memorable December afternoon with her second excellent save. It was one final magic moment for the jubilant Granemore crowd that packed the stand to see their club’s first All-Ireland final appearance in their 47-year history prove a successful one.
SCORERS FOR GRANEMORE: R Merry 2-7 (0-5fs); C Doyle 1-1; E Lavery 0-1
SCORERS FOR ATHLEAGUE: K Hopkins 1-3 (1-0 pen, 0-3fs); T Naughton 1-0; R Brennan, R Fitzmaurice 0-1 each
GRANEMORE: C. Devlin; C McClelland, C O’Hare, Á Keenan; A McVeigh, G McWilliams, S McClelland; A Doyle, E Lavery; L Carr, F Loughran, J Carr; C Doyle, R Merry, C Hill Sub: K Smyth for J Carr (41)
ATHLEAGUE: P Daly; C Whyte Lennon, E Daly Donnelly, É Ní Chumhaill; É Dowd, M Tiernan, A O’Brien; L Fleming, K Hopkins; N Conway, R Fitzmaurice, C Dowd; T O’Brien, T Naughton, R. Brennan. Subs: A McDermott for Conway (40), N Farrell for C Dowd (52)
REFEREE: Jerome McAllister (Antrim).Tweet