Late Banner point sinks Garden dreams
It was horrible heartbreak for the Wicklow Minor footballers on Wednesday evening as they were pipped by a single point in the ZuCar All-Ireland Ladies Football Championship Minor ‘C’ final against Clare in Kinnegad.
In a game that had about everything you could possibly want in terms of footballing action, the Garden County side just couldn’t pull a win out of the fire at the end of a battle that seen them lose three key players to injury over the course of a superbly entertaining second half.
Dominic Leech’s charges recovered from a poor start that seen them fall 1-2 to 0-0 behind after 10 minutes to battle back to parity at the break before taking five-point leads on two separate occasions in the second half only to be reeled back in by an impressive Banner side both times before the outstanding Abby Downes grabbed the winner 39 minutes into a fraught second half.
The why’s and how’s of this defeat are many and multi-layered.
A missed free by the hugely talented Sadhbh Fisher might be suggested as a key moment but the Blessington footballer should rest assured that one moment in a game that saw her score eight points and put in a huge shift before being helped off after taking a fierce bang on the head is most certainly not the reason for this painful loss.
On a fairly simple level it would be fair to sum up this game by saying that a very talented Clare side were able to fall five points down on two occasions and battle back to within reach before eventually snatching the lead late on.
Wicklow’s poor start to the game was another factor. Wicklow looked flat and nervous, and it took them a while to settle but when they did, they were so impressive, with Emily Rose O’Toole, Aobha Harmon, Siofra Adams, Abby Magee, Sadhbh Fisher, Poppie Rose Cullen Dunne and Laci Jane Shannon taking the game to Clare in a massive way.
While Holly Wright’s kick-outs were outstanding for the most part, Wicklow had very little success under Clare’s restarts and this gave the Banner a platform to both lift the Garden siege at times but also to attack a defence that was having a serious issue with the threat of Abby Downes, Edel McNamara and Gráinne Burke despite the best efforts of Zara Fennell, Orlaith Ní Ghallchobhair, Alana Carroll, Ciara O’Brien and Grace Murphy.
Lizzie Bourke and Eimear O’Sullivan worked hard to combat a busy and creative Joanna Doohan and Eimer Clune in the middle of the field and held their own for much of this fiercely competitive encounter.
Missed opportunities over the course of the game and the injuries to Poppie Rose Cullen Dunne, Aobha Harmon and Sadhbh Fisher were also key.
Six wides were collected by Wicklow over the game while they also struck the post, dropped one shot short and drew a fine save out of Katie McMahon.
That save arrived from the boot of Poppie Rose Cullen Dunne in the 52nd minute where a goal would have pushed the Garden County four points clear. The loss of the Valleymount footballer was very significant. Her menacing presence in the inside line was badly missed when the game came down to those last few frantic moments.
A very decent crowd of Wicklow supporters made the journey to what is now to be regarded as a graveyard for Garden County teams in Kinnegad but they had little to cheer about as Clare surged ahead by 1-2 to 0-0, the goal from Downes after a ball was played across the face of Holly Wright’s goal after nine minutes.
Sadhbh Fisher drilled over Wicklow’s opening 60 seconds later, but it was 1-5 to 0-3 after 17 minutes with Fisher keeping Dominic Leech’s side in the game in between fine Clare points that were being coughed up far too easily.
Points from Fisher, Abby Magee and the electric Aobha Harmon made it 1-7 to 0-6 for Clare but they increased that by a point by Downes in what could easily have been a goal with 27 gone.
Then a super Holly Wright kick-out found the hard-working Orlaith Ní Ghallchobhair and away went Wicklow on an attack that ended with a 45. Fisher found Harmon from the placed ball and the Tinahely star lashed home a stunning goal to pull Wicklow back to within two points.
Fine work from Lizzie Bourke brought a turnover and Laci Jane Shannon fed Harmon who hoisted over a stunner.
Ciara O’Brien won a free in the next passage of play and the ball was worked through Poppie Rose Cullen Dunne and Siofra Adams before ending with Harmon and another white flag leaving Wicklow level at 1-8 to 1-8 at the break and having the breeze behind them in the second half.
Two Fisher frees and a cracking Poppie Rose Cullen Dunne goal had Wicklow five clear after 35 but a lost possession five minutes later saw Clare rampage up the field and fire home past Holly Wright to pull them back to within two.
Wright had a super game and was called into action when Sophie Daly fired a rocket towards the Wicklow goal while Alana Carroll thwarted the Banner women in the next move after another Wicklow move had broken down at the far end.
The lead was back to five when substitute Charlotte Nagle collected a Sadhbh Fisher that came back off the Clare post in the perfect finish before finishing home to the back of the net just as the Kilcoole footballer did against Leitrim in the semi-final.
A Wicklow wide and a stray free that ended with Clare pointing off the boot of Edel McNamara were followed by another superb save from Holly Wright, this time from eventual player of the match Abby Downes.
But the pressure was growing. Another stray Wicklow free was picked up by Amelie Malice and two passes later the ball was in the hands of McNamara who finished past Wright who had no hope.
Hard to capture the frenetic pace of the second half in words but these Wicklow players never once stopped working, never once were found wanting for effort or bravery and that proved costly in the very next attack when Poppie Rose Cullen Dunne was set through on goal by Sadhbh Fisher only for her shot to be saved and the talented attacker to crash to the ground and suffer a suspected broken collar bone.
A McNamara point left it 3-10 apiece and Clare pushed on with points from Downes (free) and Eimer Clune but credit this outstanding Wicklow side they clawed their way back through two Fisher frees, won by Lia Arnold O’Reilly and Lizzie Bourke.
Sadhbh would have a chance after 37 minutes of the second half to push Wicklow ahead after Aobha Harmon was fouled but her effort flew agonisingly wide.
At the other end, Downes pushed Clare ahead after being picked out by Clune and despite the best efforts of Alana Carroll but you felt there was still another score in this Wicklow side.
And then disaster struck. Pure bravery saw Aobha Harmon sustain a nasty looking shoulder injury and moments later as Sadhbh Fisher was blocked when she went for a late equalising point, she picked up a bad bang on the head and was forced to withdraw.
Wicklow would have one last attack, starting with Laci Jane Shannon winning a turnover she had no right to, but the ball was lost to Caoimhe Cahill in the Clare defence and the ghastly sound of the final whistle pierced the late evening air in Kinnegad.
Heartbreak for Wicklow but what a game of football, and what a journey these players have brought us all on.
No disgrace in losing to a quality side, and the winning and losing of this game was right in the mix until the very end.
Clare: Katie McMahon; Katie Callaghan, Caoimhe Cahill, Sadbh Blood; Emer Hynes, Hannah Doyle, Amelie Malice; Joanna Doohan, Eimer Clune (0-1); Abby Downes (2-6, 2f), Edel McNamara (1-4), Sophie Daly; Lauren Conway, Gráinne Burke (0-2), Keelin Fitzgerald. Subs: Jenna Murphy for K McMahon (35, inj), Caitlyn O’Connor for G Burke (36), Elisha Twomey for S Daly (60+7).
Wicklow: Holly Wright; Zara Fennell, Orlaith Ní Ghallchobhair, Alana Carroll; Grace Murphy, ER O’Toole, Ciara O’Brien; Lizzie Bourke, Eimear O’Sullivan; Aobha Harmon (1-3), Laci Jane Shannon, Siofra Adams; Poppie Rose Cullen Dunne (1-0), Sadhbh Fisher (0-8, 5f), Abby Magee (0-1). Subs: Charlotte Nagle (1-0) for A Magee (44), Lia Arnold O’Reilly for PR Cullen Dunne (54, inj), Emer Cullen for C O’Brien (55), Molly Sweeney for A Harmon (60+13, inj), Gráinne Flynn for S Fisher (60+15, inj).
Referee: Paul Burke (Louth)