Sunday 22 September 2019

Super Shels in different class

Ladies' football: county championship finals - Shelmalier 4-12, St Anne's 1-8

Dean Goodison - Senior final in Taghmon

Shelmalier claimed back-to-back Senior ladies' football county titles with a comprehensive victory over St. Anne's in Taghmon on Saturday.

The Hollymount side never looked in trouble, using their pace through the heart of the St. Anne's defence.

Time and again they were able to prise the Rathangan club apart and, in truth, they probably should have won by more.

While Shelmalier boast an array of riches, it would be remiss to look any further than Sarah Harding-Kenny as the best player on the pitch. The teenager had a hand in almost everything that ended in a score for her side and certainly lived up to the billing.

The job of marking her is almost impossible right now, but credit to Katie Hannigan, as the St. Anne's half-back stuck to her guns and disrupted her opponent on a few occasions.

However, like pounding a ball against a wall, Harding-Kenny came bouncing back every time.

There is a bit of a misnomer that this Shelmalier team is getting on in years. There is a smattering of players who have been around the block alright, but unlike in seasons gone by their most important players have plenty of years in the tank.

They simply have an embarrassment of riches. The Shels were able to play without Ailis Neville, whom it emerged finished the county game against Clare with a fractured foot. There was no Siobhán Doolan, no Michelle Harding and no Siobhán Cloake either, but they didn't blink.

Instead those on the field knuckled down and fed off the unstoppable Harding-Kenny. They defended really well, were able to keep the lightning Rachel Bennett in front of them, and gave up very few clear goal chances.

Even when Fiona Bennett did make the late major breakthrough, it came from a moment of individual genius rather than any breakdown in the Shelmalier defence, and that's a testament to the six protecting Deirdre Fox's goal.

In midfield the power of Róisín Murphy, mixed with the directness of an injury hampered Kellie Kearney, got the job done in a real battleground.

Unlike at county level, Harding-Kenny and Clara Donnelly operated in the half-forward line and that's a lot of pace to have to curtail.

It also says a lot that all six starting forwards, plus the two midfielders, scored from play. They might not have the natural point-taking ability of Rachel Bennett of St. Anne's, but they all knew where the posts were and took enough of their chances to never feel under pressure.

St. Anne's actually started on the front foot and opened a three-point lead. Fiona Rochford kicked the first two before Rachel Bennett showed what Wexford has been missing in 2019 with the first of four cracking scores.

However, a short Leona Tector free to Harding-Kenny set her away on the right of goal, slaloming through the defence before she forced her shot past Leanne Moore to level the contest.

Kelda Cullen put St. Anne's back in front with a nice right foot effort, but soon Shelmalier were attacking in waves.

Harding-Kenny should have had a penalty in the 14th minute when she was held close to goal but, after Tector pointed from her feed, she did get a spot kick a minute later when floored by Moore when in on goal again.

Moore was sin-binned and Róisín Murphy stepped up to the penalty but it was tame, easily saved by stand-in stopper Kelda Cullen.

Donnelly made it 1-2 to 0-4, yet only momentailty as from the next kick-out Harding-Kenny powered through, passed to Jessie Harding, and she found the net.

Harding missed the chance of a second major when her shot fizzed across goal in the 20th minute, while Donnelly was denied moments later by Cullen.

Tector popped over a free but the Bennett twins hit back with a point each to make it 2-3 to 0-6.

Harding-Kenny assisted a Deirdre McMahon score, but Rachel Bennett responded. Fiona Kinsella swept up a misplaced Shauna Murphy pass and knocked it over before McMahon tapped over from close range.

Rachel Bennett cut the deficit at the break to four (2-6 to 0-8), but even at that it was hard to see St. Anne's coming out on top.

Sure enough the Shelmalier dominance largely continued. The Rathangan side didn't help themselves with some sloppy wides, but in reality it was academic.

Kearney and Murphy pointed before Harding-Kenny released Donnelly into the clear for the third Shelmalier goal (3-8 to 0-8). Kearney registered again to start the final quarter, and Donnelly followed with her second point.

Harding-Kenny and Murphy combined to set McMahon away in the 50th minute. Marica Cullen - who, apart from Rachel Bennett, was St. Anne's best - stopped her initial shot but she fired home the rebound.

Fiona Bennett jinked inside and drilled home a consolation goal in the 55th minute, St. Anne's only score of the second half.

Deirdre Byrne hit the crossbar with two minutes left before Tector knocked over a couple of singles.

A perfect way to finish would probably have been with another Harding-Kenny goal, but it wasn't to be. When she cut inside deep into added time, she shot past the cover but her effort clanked the post as the game ended in a 13-point win for the league and championship winners.

Shelmalier must now wait for their Leinster last four clash which is scheduled for the weekend of October 13, where they will take on the winners of the quarter-final between the Meath and Laois champions.

Shelmalier: Deirdre Fox; Lisa Quill, Sadbh McCarthy, Eadaoin Fitzgerald; Maeve Quill, Shauna Murphy, Eleanor Neville; Róisín Murphy (0-1), Kellie Kearney (0-2); Clara Donnelly (1-2), Sarah Harding-Kenny (1-0), Fiona Kinsella (0-1); Leona Tector (0-4, 2 frees), Deirdre McMahon (1-2), Jessie Harding (1-0). Subs. - Ciara Banville for Fitzgerald, Deirdre Byrne for Kearney (57), also Ceara O'Brien, Róisín Tobin, Caroline Curran, Aoife Newman-Doyle, Enya Byrne, Aoibhe Murphy, Anne Marie Hearne, Lauren Murphy, Mikaela Lanigan, Aobhe Manley, Katie Carroll, Siobhán Doolan, Áine Fitzgerald, Michelle Harding, Siobhán Cloake, Ailis Neville.

St. Anne's: Leanne Moore (capt.); Annie Breen, Marica Cullen, Anna O'Driscoll; Niamh Hannigan, Katie Hannigan, Clara Rochford; Julie Rochford, Deirdre Sheil; Ann Marie Bennett (0-1), Fiona Rochford (0-2, 1 free), Kelda Cullen (0-1); Rachel Bennett (0-4), Fiona Bennett (1-0), Nicola Cullen. Subs. - Niamh Crosbie for N. Hannigan (46), Joanne Jordan for O'Driscoll (53), also Sadhbh Dearle, Kathlynn Gabbett, Sabrina Cloney, Clara Ryan, Ciara Walsh, Louise Walsh, Cliona Power, Emily Rochford, Becky O'Neill, Mairéad White.

Referee: Kevin Kehoe (Our Lady's Island).

Gorey Guardian