A YEAR which surpassed all expectations came to a harrowing end for the Shelmalier ladies' footballers before a large home crowd in Hollymount on Sunday last when they were outgunned by a superb Donaghmoyne team in the Tesco All-Ireland Senior Club championship semi-final.
DONAGHMOYNE (MONAGHAN) 1-21 SHELMALIER 0-7
It was exhibition stuff from the classy Monaghan outfit as they gave a master class in how the game should be played and stormed through to face Carnacon of Mayo in the decider.
Sometimes in sport you encounter a vastly-superior team and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. That was the position the Shelmalier side found themselves in, but it still has to rank as a season of considerable progress as the Leinster crown was brought back to the club for the first time since 1999.
I've watched a lot of football in my time but I can't ever recall a performance as good as that produced by Donaghmoyne in the first-half in particular. It was simply a joy to watch and the only pity was that a Wexford team had to be on the receiving end.
They showed exactly why they are reigning All-Ireland sevens champions with a display of pace, movement and support play which was awesome at times. Declan Flanagan's DVD should be required viewing for anyone seeking a template as to how the game ought to be played, and I doubt if there has ever been a better exhibition of football given in Hollymount in any grade.
Yet, Donaghmoyne will find it very hard to beat Carnacon in the final, and that simply goes to underline the vast gulf in class between the serious All-Ireland contenders and the rest.
Every single one of the visiting team was comfortable on the ball and they had an array of outstanding performers. Team captain Cathríona McConnell, the national player of the month for July and a current All Star, gave a marvellous display of finishing with her cultured left foot and ended with an incredible twelve points to her name, with nine coming from play.
However, if one was to look for a player of the match, my personal choice for workrate alone would be midfielder Cora Courtney whose incredible engine saw her cover miles of ground throughout. Right corner-back Joanne Geoghegan was another stand-out performer for the Ulster champions who rarely wasted a ball with their exemplary decision-making.
It was 0-15 to 0-1 at half-time and the stats speak for themselves: 14 of those scores came from play and just two wides were added, whereas the sole Shels point was registered by Kate Kelly in the second minute and their only wide was a wild kick at a loose ball rather than an actual attempt at the posts.
There was an element of Murphy's law about the game for the home side too as their problems were compounded by three serious blows. Leona Tector had been a major injury doubt beforehand, and it was clear that she was in trouble after her very first kick. The experienced attacker was a mere spectator until her withdrawal after 21 minutes, with young Aine Lacey playing well when she came on.
Then to compound matters, first-half added time saw Shelly Doyle sin-binned for what a lineswoman confirmed afterwards was an elbow which forced Donaghmoyne forward Hazel Kingham out of the game. And before efficient referee Keith Delahunty blew for the interval, Mag Kelly had also succumbed to a knee injury and the Shels had lost another influential player.
It took 55 seconds for Cathríona McConnell to avail of an error and fire over her first point, with Kate Kelly responding as Kellie Kearney immediately moved from the left corner out to play as a third midfielder against the elements. Those who felt that the outcome might have been different if Shelmalier had enjoyed first use of the wind are only clutching at straws; perhaps the victory margin mightn't have been as high, but Donaghmoyne's vast superiority would have told either way in the long run.
The game was effectively over by the 12th minute when they led by 0-7 to 0-1 as five McConnell efforts were supplemented by two from Hazel Kingham. Shelly Doyle was moved on to McConnell at an early stage while Mag Kelly and Sandy Carr switched places near the end of the first quarter, and it took a good Laura Corrigan save to deny the Donaghmoyne top scorer a goal midway through the half.
The leaders added another eight points without reply in the second quarter, with the best coming in the 25th minute when a Deirdre McMahon shot was blocked at the Complex end and, after a slick and quick transfer downfield involving several players, Fiona Lafferty fired over to make it 0-11 to 0-1. Niamh McCarthy, Sharon Courtney, Hazel Kingham, Majella Woods, substitute Niamh Callan and the deadly Cathríona McConnell (two) all registered as well for Donaghmoyne whose starting line-up read like a who's who of ladies' football.
The only hope for Shelmalier at the break was that they might at least win the second-half and restore some pride with the elements behind them, as they were never going to pare down that deficit fully against such an accomplished team. And while they were still outscored by 1-6 to 0-6, at least they were a good deal more competitive despite the staggering odds against them.
Cathríona McConnell added another two points, one from play, before Shelly Doyle came back on and the home side enjoyed their best spell with three unanswered points between the 37th and 41st minutes. Aine Lacey sent over two frees after fouls on substitute Róisín Murphy and Kate Kelly, and sandwiched in between she was involved in a one-two with Maeve Quill who split the posts.
The rain fell briefly and Donaghmoyne weathered that too with a couple of points from Niamh McCarthy and a brilliant effort by McConnell when it looked as though her space to get a kick away had been closed down.
Shelly Doyle was moved to corner-forward in a last throw of the dice and won a free which Aine Lacey converted (0-19 to 0-5), but the final nail in the coffin was administered by Niamh McCarthy when she slammed home the game's only goal in the 52nd minute after a McConnell point attempt came back off the post.
The latter added two more points before Shelly Doyle and Lacey (free) closed the scoring for the Shels whose three second-half wides came from Kate Kelly, Bridget Curran and another late Lacey free, while Donaghmoyne only missed another two shots after the break in this memorable display.
This outcome shouldn't take the gloss off the lift given to ladies' football in Wexford by the run enjoyed by the Shels.
The next task for all involved in the game must be to come together and do everything that is required to drag the county out of the Junior doldrums in the AllIreland series.