No arguments as Martin's miss out
Camogie, AIB All-Ireland Club Senior Championship final in Croke Park: Slaughtneil (Derry) 1-9 St. Martin's 0-7
St. Martin's came up short in their bid for a maiden AIB All-Ireland Senior Club camogie championship crown, as reigning champions Slaughtneil claimed their third title in a row at Croke Park on Sunday.
The Piercestown/Murrintown club did battle all the way to the final whistle, and were a dominant force in the final 15 minutes, but they had left themselves too much to do after a nervy start had seen them fall eight points behind.
While it's going to hurt for a while, this squad is young enough to suggest that this is unlikely to be their last opportunity.
That disappointment must be used for fuel to push forward, as nothing is going to be handed to them, but hard work and renewed focus can make this just a blip in their grand plan.
Another thing that will bite hard is the fact that St. Martin's really didn't do themselves justice, especially in the first-half.
Apologists might use the wind disadvantage as an excuse, but a quick look back to the semi-final makes that kind of reasoning redundant.
They just looked jittery. There was hard work but not great unified teamwork, and there was closing down but not with a great deal of logic. The experienced players looked the most nervy and it seeped down into the rest of the women playing in Wexford purple.
And they let Tina Hannon run riot. The experienced Offaly star was always a lively performer, but never did the Slaneysiders this kind of damage at inter-county level. It simply shouldn't have been that easy.
The voice of the diminutive J.J. Doyle echoed around headquarters for a good 30 or 40 seconds, on repeat, around the 25th minute. 'Pick up number 11, number 11, number 11.' It was too late, as the damage was already done.
It's strange that things went wrong there, given that St. Martin's had Ciara O'Connor marking her and Katie O'Connor acting as a sweeper just yards away. No single player has done St. Martin's this much damage on this run, and they were shell-shocked.
And still, things could have been completely different without Hannon's fourth-minute goal. Nothing much had happened before it, as the game was scrappy, and the sides were feeling each other out, but then: bang.
It was a mis-hit strike for a point by Hannon, but it floated on the wind and deceived Mags D'Arcy in the St. Martin's goal. It was a bad time for an error from someone who seemed to have cut down on them in recent seasons.
The former county 'keeper batted a ball out a minute later, one she would normally catch in dry conditions and without the earlier goal. They were still looking unsettled when Josie McMullen made it 1-1 to nil.
Shortly after Chloe Foxe sent her opening free wide of the right upright, Amy Cardiff burst away from her marker, fed Emma Codd and the corner-forward flashed over the crossbar to give St. Martin's a little fillip.
Hannon added two points before the end of the first quarter, a free from close range and a classy finish from open play (1-3 to 0-1).
Cardiff, who was the most consistent threat of the St. Martin's attackers, was fouled in the 17th minute and Foxe converted to narrow the gap again.
Slaughtneil were spending more and more time in the St. Martin's half and the pressure was beginning to tell. Hannon and Shannon Graham pointed from open play before the former brought her tally to 1-4 in the half in the 29th minute.
After an Aisling Cronin wide, St. Martin's did nab a Linda Bolger point back after a poor Jolene Bradley puck-out was intercepted, but the Wexford and Leinster champions still had it all to do, trailing by 1-6 to 0-3 at the break.
What they needed was the classic after half-time response, but instead, Slaughtneil scored three of the first four points of the period.
Hannon and Aoife Ní Chaiside got the first two inside four minutes and, despite a Foxe free from distance, Hannon added another to make it 1-9 to 0-4.
That remained the scoreline for nine minutes, but St. Martin's were getting on top and had chances in that spell, none better than the penalty that Bolger won, but Foxe's low shot was stopped on the line.
If St. Martin's had taken all their chances in the last twelve minutes, they may well have done enough to force extra-time. That seemed a long way off when Bolger knocked over her second point after Codd had initially been denied by goalkeeper Bradley.
Lettie Whelan worked hard to win a '45 that Foxe converted in the 55th minute, but the goal they desperately needed wouldn't come. Whelan tapped over in added-time but it was hardly any use with her side six points down at that stage.
A small bright spot for St. Martin's came moments later when Whelan was replaced by Sarah O'Connor. Her appearance was bittersweet in the sense that it was great for her to be back after the ACL injury, but a stark reminder that she would likely have taken the job of marking Hannon had she been fit.
In the end St. Martin's could have no real arguments about the result, as they were beaten on the day by the better team. The only thing they can do is learn from it, have a little break and come back ready for another crack at it all in the coming weeks and months.
St. Martin's: Mags D'Arcy; Aisling O'Connor, Noeleen Lambert, Marie Claire Morrissey; Katie O'Connor (capt.); Áine Ennis, Ciara O'Connor, Mary Barrett; Ella O'Connor, Aisling Cronin; Amy Cardiff, Linda Bolger (0-2), Chloe Foxe (0-3, 2 frees, 1 '45); Emma Codd (0-1), Lettie Whelan (0-1). Subs. - Anna Hennessy for E. O'Connor (41), Lisa Firman for Ennis (41), Amy Ryan for K. O'Connor (53), Sarah O'Connor for Whelan (60+2), also Lauren Carty, Alannah Davis, Amy O'Leary, Aoife Dempsey, Ellen Barrett, Fiona Esmonde, Clare Barrett, Anna Mulligan, Ciara Bridges, Niamh Dunne.
Slaughtneil: Jolene Bradley; Ceát McEldowney, Brona Ní Chaiside, Gráinne O'Kane (joint capt.); Brídín McAllister, Aoife Ní Chaiside (0-1), Eilis Ní Chaiside; Shannon Graham (0-1), Faoiltiarna Burke; Louise Dougan, Tina Hannon (1-6, 0-4 frees), Siobhán Bradley (joint capt.); Therese Mellon, Josie McMullan (0-1), Sinéad Mellon. Subs. - Niamh Glass for T. Mellon (56), Eilis McGrath for McAllister (60+2), Cliodhna Ní Mhianáin for McMullen (60+2).
Referee: Liz Dempsey (Kilkenny).