AFTER TAKING 13 years to bring their fifth Leinster Senior championship title home, in hindsight the Shelmalier ladies won't mind the fact that it took an extra nine and a half minutes of heartstopping injury time to achieve that magnificent feat on the bog-like Aughrim pitch on Sunday last.
However, it was a different story during that memorable period itself as Foxrock-Cabinteely threw the kitchen sink at the leaders but found them impossible to break down before scenes of riotous celebrations erupted at the end of a compelling contest.
The scoreline alone should suggest to readers not in attendance that Shelmalier had lady luck on their side, and that was undoubtedly the case. Of equal importance though was the tremendous composure they showed as a collective unit in that dramatic finale when the tension was at its greatest and the danger of panicking and conceding a handy free never entered anyone's heads.
This was a victory borne out of sheer hard work, a supreme belief in the team ethic, and a refusal to lie down even though the fancied Dublin champions came forward in waves during the second-half. The Shels' 2-2 to 0-4 interval lead was wiped out inside 16 minutes after five points on the trot, but they chose a most opportune moment to pounce for their only score of the second-half - a precious goal at the start of the last quarter of normal time from teenage substitute Aine Lacey who was less than three minutes on the field.
It was finished with a touch of opportunism after a point attempt from Bridget Curran, moved to full-forward, spun off a defender's hands and into the air where the inrushing Leona Tector had eyes only for the ball. Advancing Foxrock-Cabinteely netminder Carol Manning was in the same boat and there was a sickening collision when they clashed at full speed, with the ball breaking to Lacey who drove it home soccer-style to regain the lead (3-2 to 0-9).
A five-minute delay ensued before Manning was eventually forced to retire, while Tector also succumed to her injury after bravely trying to battle on for a short while. Sandy Carr was brought back from the forwards as an extra defender while Catherine Doyle was also introduced to the defence as the Shels shut up shop, and incredibly they restricted their rivals to a mere one point as the play continued for another 18 and a half minutes.
That score came from captain Sinéad Goldrick just before the nine minutes of added time were announced, but the Shels were nothing short of heroic in that spell as they restricted the opposition to a brace of wides from Westmeath intercounty player Fiona Claffey, who was their most threatening forward, and Amy Connolly.
Catherine Doyle caught a dangerous free taken by Ciara Murphy and was fouled herself to relieve the danger, while Kate Kelly did likewise after dispossessing Goldrick, before Kellie Kearney made another vital interception and was taken down. All 15 Shelmalier players were in their own half of the field at this stage, and Clara Donnelly earned another pressure-relieving free before the full-time whistle eventually blew after a Foxrock-Cabinteely line ball on the left flank went into a rival pair of hands.
Captain fantastic Kate Kelly went on to receive the cup from Leinster President Marie Hickey, and there was a fitting acknowledgement of her great achievements when colleague Bridget Curran relieved her of the microphone after her speech and congratulated her on behalf of the Shelmalier players for collecting her sixth All Star camogie award on the previous night.
The respect which Kelly has deservedly earned was evident from the throw-in when rival captain Sinéad Goldrick initially lined out at centre-back but immediately moved into the corner to keep tabs on her. And the contrast in contributions from the opposing number 15s couldn't have been greater and went a long way towards deciding the outcome of the game.
Kelly suffered a recurrence of her ongoing shoulder injury in the very first tussle between the two players for a 50-50 ball under the stand in the second minute and played through the pain barrier for the remainder of the game. However, she still emerged as the game's top scorer with 1-1 from play before dropping back to provide guidance to her team-mates when the pressure mounted during the second-half.
Goldrick is undoubtedly a superb talent, a point underlined by her selection in the final three player of the year candidates last week along with two of Cork's All-Ireland winning team, even though Dublin exited at the quarterfinal stage. However, on Sunday she got a lesson in what leadership is all about from Kelly who is ten years her senior, as she allowed herself to be distracted too easily by refereeing decisions.
The Dublin team's key figure spent ten minutes in the sin-bin for dissent from the 32nd minute, although her colleagues did rise to the occasion in her absence as they hit four points without reply. However, she was in trouble again in added time and committed a second offence to eventually pick up a red card and end the day on a low note. It must be said that referee Colm McManus made several decisions which were completely baffling in my opinion, and the Shels could have no complaints in terms of his overall handling of the game on what was a difficult day for officials as well as players.
The rain came down in torrents for the first ten minutes after a few very heavy showers en route to the Wicklow venue as well, and this meant that attempts to hop the ball were fraught with danger. Any passes that weren't gathered first-time posed equal problems as the leather skidded off the surface, and it was clear that mistakes would be plentiful in the circumstances.
Amy Ring picked out Amy Connolly for the lead Foxrock-Cabinteely point with just over one minute gone, with Nikki Scallan left loose in the full-back line as the Dubs deployed an extra defender in Marla Candon when they played against the wind.
Kellie Kearney kicked the first of just two Shelmalier wides (compared to eight for the opposition) before she enjoyed a stroke of good fortune and gave the underdogs the lead in the fifth minute. Tara Moloney played a short free to Mag Kelly who handpassed across to the inrushing Kearney, and her point attempt from distance deceived netminder Carol Manning as it looped over her head and into the net.
Amy Connolly pulled back a point in between two wides from the same player, the first from a free, with the rain mercifully stopping before Shelmalier pounced for another goal in the 19th minute. Kate Kelly got to the ball marginally ahead of Sinéad Goldrick and picked out Leona Tector whose effort for a point came back off the post. Kelly had continued her run and, although she stumbled as the ball rebounded into her path, it cannoned off her leg and into the net to establish a rather fortuitous 2-0 to 0-2 lead.
Fiona Claffey opted for a Foxrock-Cabinteely point when Cara Cooke presented her with a possible goal chance, but the response was swift and impressive as a patient move ended with Bridget Curran supplying the last pass to Deirdre McMahon who split the posts in the 22nd minute.
An Amy Ring free reduced the gap to 2-1 to 04, but the Shels went in with a double scores advantage after Kate Kelly latched on to a Leona Tector free and picked off a point in the 27th minute. Tara Moloney hit the post from a scoreable free in added time before an off balance Sandy Carr kicked what proved to be the last Shelmalier wide of the contest, but they had to be happy with the situation at the interval when they led by four points.
Foxrock-Cabinteely introduced Clongeen native Sinéad Murphy, a sister of ex-county player Liam, to the attack at half-time, and it's worth noting that their squad included a brace of players apiece from Roscommon, Mayo and Donegal too, as well as one each from Tipperary, Louth and Westmeath.
Clearly they needed Sinéad Goldrick in a more attacking role, and she resumed at midfield where her ball-carrying ability was put on hold after that early sin-bin for reacting to the referee's decision to penalise her for a push on Kellie Kearney.
It was practically all Foxrock-Cabinteely during her tenminute absence though as the points flowed from Amy Ring (free), Fiona Claffey, Emma McDonagh, another Ring free and the lead score at the halfway mark from substitute Eimear O'Herlihy (0-9 to 2-2).
Laura Corrigan also got a vital right-handed touch on a Sinéad Murphy shot from the right wing during that spell of dominance, with the Shels only lifting the siege on one occasion.
That was in the 39th minute when Tara Moloney floated in a free which Kate Kelly managed to connect with, but the danger was averted comfortably by netminder Carol Manning whose involvement in proceedings was cut short through injury shortly afterwards.
A player in her very first year as a Senior, Aine Lacey, was responsible for the match-winning goal, and she was only five years of age when colleagues Laura Corrigan, Mag Kelly, Leona Tector, Sandy Carr, Kate Kelly and Catherine Doyle shared in that last Leinster success all of 13 years ago, along with Maeve Quill and Fiona Cullen who were substitutes.
The influx of new young talent also includes Shauna Murphy, Clara Donnelly, Kellie Kearney, Eleanor Neville and Ciara Neville who have added freshness to the mix.
And the third component of the team features players who came to the fore after 1999 but who have been repeatedly denied on the provincial stage ever since - Nikki Scallan, Bridget Curran, Tara Moloney, Deirdre McMahon and Shelly Doyle whose composure and class in the back line was deservedly recognised with the player of the match award.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of Sunday's fine win is that it was forged by a Wexford club at a time when we have mere Junior status in the inter-county game. No other club in the entire country is in a similar position and it was a major achievement to break the stranglehold of the traditional 'big three' of Laois, Dublin and Meath who had shared every title between them since that last Shelmalier success 13 years ago.
The next test will come on home ground on November 17 or 18 when Ulster specialists Donaghmoyne of Monaghan travel south for the All-Ireland semi-final, having recovered from a 2-4 to 0-7 interval deficit to defeat Termon of Donegal by 1-12 to 2-6 and retain their provincial title in Augher, Co. Tyrone, on Sunday last.
The Shels are in bonus territory at this stage but, having revelled in the tag of underdogs for their last two assignments, they won't mind in the least if they are classed in a similar vein this time around.
They are in with the really big guns now as regular All-Ireland championship contenders Carnacon of Mayo await the Munster victors on the other side of the draw.
One final thought: 'integration' is the buzz word at the moment, with G.A.A. politicians all over the land preaching about the value of uniting the Gaelic games family which is a laudable concept.
Bearing that in mind, someone may explain the logic of having the Shelmaliers Under-21 footballers playing a county semi-final in Rathangan at practically the same time as their ladies brought a Leinster crown back to the parish over 50 miles up the road, because it is completely lost on me.