By Daragh Ó Conchúir
St Munna’s (Westmeath) 2-7
Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh) 1-5
Two goals in the opening period from Sandra McGrath propelled St Munna’s to a hard-earned victory over Crossmaglen in the AIB All-Ireland Junior B club camogie final at NGDC Abbotstown.
McGrath finished with a match-winning contribution of 2-5 but the likes of AIB Player of the Match Abbie Reihill, the hugely energetic Caitriona Egan and Bridget Leavy were just some of the others those contributions were critical to the result.
St Munna’s are only the second Westmeath side to claim All-Ireland club camogie honours, after Raharney made the breakthrough in the junior championship in 2020. Delvin fell at the final hurdle against Lacken of Cavan 12 months ago but this time, it was the Ulster champions that had to give way though it wasn’t for the want of trying.
Cross fought magnificently in a bid to mark the 20th anniversary of their triumph in the inaugural running of this competition in fitting fashion and had a chance to complete a remarkable double for Armagh camogie after Granemore’s success in the junior B final earlier in the day but they will rue spurning some excellent scoring chances.
In particular, a stunning save by Leavy from Lauren McConville was notable early on and Leavy was alert on a few more occasions, especially in making a stop from 18-year-old Eva Cassidy in the second half.
Perhaps the key moment of the entire game was McGrath’s second goal in the second minute of first-half injury time, coming in response to Cassidy’s major at the other end, and it gave Paddy Maloney’s crew a 2-3 to 1-3 lead at half-time.
McGrath’s first strike was fortuitous, coming from a free outside the 45 that eluded every hurley around the Rangers parallelogram.
Cassidy’s was perhaps a touch lucky too, although it was well worked with the dangerous McConville providing the ammunition and the teenager getting off a snap-shot on the turn, about 25m out, that just looped into the far corner, evading the stick of a disappointed Leavy.
There were five McGrath sisters in the squad and team captain, Sheila drew the defensive cover expertly before timing her hand-pass to Sandra, who made no mistake from close range for the green flag that must have had the Lakesiders bouncing into the dressing room at the short whistle.
These were two of the highest scoring teams in the country but although the conditions were excellent for the time of year, it was the defences that had the upper hand, with some close marking and in particular, lots of good blocking.
The shackles tightened even more after the break and Cross were never out of it. Indeed, though Sandra McGrath extended the gap to four with a brilliant point from a free just inside the 45 but close to the right sideline, that was down to two with ten minutes of normal time left as the outstanding pair, Faye Fitzpatrick and Cassidy split the posts, the latter probably the score of the game.
Paul Monahan’s black and amber troops must have sensed blood as the game was now well and truly in the melting pot but with composure a premium product down the stretch when all the marbles are on the line, it was Sandra McGrath that showed her experience, coolly converting three frees, two in the final three minutes of normal time and one in the fourth minute of injury time to ensure victory.
SCORES FOR ST MUNNA’S: Sandra McGrath 2-6 (1-6fs), Sheila McGrath 0-1
SCORERS FOR CROSSMAGLEN: E Cassidy 1-1; A McMahon 0-3fs; F Fitzpatrick 0-1
ST MUNNA’S: B Leavy, A Glynn, F Glynn, S McGovern, R O’Neill, Shauna McGrath, S Carey, C Egan, L Geoghegan, N Burns, Sheila McGrath, Sandra McGrath, A Galvin, O Glynn, A Reihill. Sub: D Martin for Galvin (ht), N Burns for Geoghegan (57)
CROSSMAGLEN: S Califf, S Hanratty, R McConville, C Len, E McMahon, A McEntee, G Fitzpatrick, A McConville, A McMahon, F Fitzpatrick, O Donaldson, B O’Brien, M O’Callaghan, L McConville, E Cassidy. Sub: K Shields for A McConville (38), R Leneghan for Donaldson (40), M Hughes for O’Callaghan (52), B O’Neill for G Fitzpatrick (60)
REFEREE: Enda Loughnane (Galway)