LGFA Leinster Junior Championship Semifinal, Ferbane, Co. Offaly. 1 pm.
Suncroft 1:13(16) Naomh Ciaran 1:11(14)
There were a few showers before the game that made the ground a bit slippery for a time but it was a bright and without a breeze by the time throw in came around. Between buses and car’s a good contingent of the Suncroft faithful had made the journey to Ferbane. They were confident, but apprehensive, arriving in a traditional stronghold of Offaly ladies football. The pitch was in top order, Naomh Ciaran had food and beverages available before and after the game and all were made very welcome. Leinster were on hand to collect the few bob on the gate and this time had a programme available for the players and supporters. There was a clash of jerseys but as usual Sandra Johnson and the backroom team had everything in order and, after consulting with the referee, the Croft changed and played in Kildare Lilly White.
Des McEnery from Westmeath was officiating. Sophie Hobbs broke the ball down from the throw in, Trina Duggan collected and passed on to Ellen Dowling who ran through and stuck the ball in the back of the net. Chloe Foy broke the ball down from the kick out and Ellen picked it up on the run and pointed. Four points up, 1:01(4), to no score and only three minutes gone. The Croft supporters were starting to feel good but it didn’t last and the Croft spent the next twelve minutes in their own half and conceded an unanswered goal and three points in that period, Suncroft 1:01(4) to Naomh Ciaran 1:03(6).
The toll would have been much higher if it wasn’t for the tenacity and resilience shown by the Crofts back seven. Rebecca McGuirk put herself in harm’s way a few times to keep Naomh Ciaran out, Muireanne Fagan battled hard against a well organised and fast moving forward six and again Paula Browne on her right and Sarah Browne on her left were there every time to put themselves between the attack and the posts and to take a pass when Rebecca or Muireann had the ball on the way out. Eve Kehoe (back from injury with an array of wrappings on her leg) stepped into the right wing back position for the absent Anna O’Modhrain (who was unavoidable out of the country) and after a couple of rusty touches at the start she got up to speed and didn’t put a foot wrong for the rest of the game. Chloe Foy was there for the short kick out, and to make and take the pass, and had a stormer of a game at centre half back. Abbey Lea Poole didn’t get a chance to collect her usual number of kick-outs or make that many interceptions as she was kept very very busy by, and did a good marking job on, Naomh Ciaran’s fast wing forward Tara Dunican.
Naomh Ciaran’s half back’s and midfield had pushed up and made it very difficult for the Croft to get the ball out of the defence. The Croft’s persistence earned them a break, Chloe Foy laid a ball off to Nichole Dooley, she found Trina Duggan who burst past the midfield and half back line and pointed. After being parked in their own half for so long the Croft were determined to keep the ball up the field and again Sophie Hobbs broke down the ball and it was picked up by Rebecca Johnson who passed on to Carla Ennis and then Ellen Dowling who pointed. Eve Kehoe picked up the Naomh Ciaran kick out laid it on to Megan Troy, who ran another marathon in the game, and Trina Duggan was on hand to take the pass, make ground, and point. Trina challenged for the kick out and the ball broke for Rebecca Johnson who laid it on for Stephanie Hayes. Stephanie found Ellen and another point for the Croft 1:05(8) to 1:03(6). Stephanie was working really hard at corner forward, making runs into space, supporting the Croft attack, and frustrating the corner back.
Naomh Ciaran’s Roisin Ennis was on fire and the Crofts half back line had to take it in turns to chase her down. Roisin rounded the Crofts midfield, was forced back out by Abbey Lea Poole, and then played in an excellent long foot pass towards centre half forward Sinead Egan who was in an acre of space. Muireann Fagan spotted the danger of been left two on one developing and reached Naomh Ciaran Sinead Egan, more or less, at the same time as the ball. 50/50 but with Muireann travelling at speed and with Sinead coming off second best the ref concluded that Muireann deserved a ten-minute rest after her Usain Bolt like sprint. Naomh Ciaran pointed the free and tried to take advantage of their numerical advantage but the Crofts captain, Trina Duggan, wasn’t having any of it and went on a run, exchanged passes with Carla Ennis and pointed. Just on the half time whistle Naomh Ciarans Roisin Ennis got loose again and pointed to leave the Croft with a single point lead at the break, 1:06(9) to 1:05(8).
It could have been the excitement, nerves, or tiredness from the exertions of last week’s games, but the forwards on both teams had missed some very scoreable chances in the first half that could have put their team well on top.
The second half got off to an odd start. Both teams were keen to get back at it and had taken up their positions on the pitch and then waited for the match officials to return. The teams, the supporters and the ref then waited patiently for the two umpires to mosey their way along to the far goal before the ball could be thrown in. Despite being down a player for the next five or so minutes the Croft started the second half brighter, the half time pep talk and change was working. Aislinn Dooley, who came on at half time, won a ball, laid off a pass, was there to take the return and scored a cracking point. Megan Troy won another ball, sidestepped her marker, and found Nicole Dooley. Nicole was surrounded but found Trina and bang, another point for Trina. Naomh Ciaran again responded and got the next point, won the kick out and pointed again to bring the Crofts lead back to a single point again. The Croft supporters were concerned as Ellen Dowling had ended up on the ground five or six times in a row at the start of the second half and the fear was that, after having to be carried off last week, her injury had returned. Thankfully it wasn’t the injury it was hearty attention from a number of Naomh Ciaran players after her 1:03(6) in the first half and it took Ellen a little while to get to grips with her newfound popularity. The Croft were working harder and moving the ball much better than they did in the first half. Ciara Fennelly came on and with fresh legs took on her marker a number of times and carried the ball up the wing and out of the back lines. Dowling and Duggan, with good support from the forwards put over five unanswered points to push the Croft out to a six point lead ten minutes from the end of normal time, 1:13(16) to 1:07(10).
The last ten minutes was dogged with Naomh Ciaran piling on the pressure and at one point 27 of the 30 players on the field were inside the Crofts 45m line. Rebecca McGuirk pulled off more brave saves and with resolute defending from the backs they forced Naomh Ciaran to try for points. The Croft were winning ball but time and time again the play broke down under pressure as the got out as far as the midfield and it enabled Naomh Ciaran to come back at them again and again. Suncroft did create, but didn’t execute, a few scoring chances and Naomh Ciaran put four unanswered points on the scoreboard to bring it back to a dangerous two point game. After five or six minutes of nail biting stuff, four minutes into injury time, a very tired Suncroft team were happy and relieved to hear Des McEnery blow the final whistle while they still had a two point lead on the scoreboard. Suncroft 1:13(16), Naomh Ciaran 1:11(14).
An on form Ellen Dowling put in a player of the match performance, working all over the field, and scoring 1:07(10). Sophie Hobbs had a good handle on the middle of the field and when it came to work rate, running into space to create options, and off the ball support play captain Trina Duggan led by example and was closely followed by Megan Troy. There are no easy games at this level and the whole team put in a very tough shift, and a great effort, in the last fifteen minutes to grind out a well deserved win.
Panel: Rebecca McGuirk, Paula Browne, Muireann Fagan, Sarah Browne, Eve Kehoe, Chloe Foy, Abbie Lea Pool, Trina Duggan(C)(0:05), Sophie Hobbs, Megan Troy, Ellen Dowling(1:07), Rebecca Johnson, Nicole Dooley, Carla Ennis, Stephanie Hayse, Ciara Fennelly, Aislinn Dooley (0:01), Lorraine Foy, Ellen Enright, Caoimhe Doyle, Kate O'Donnell, Anna O'Modhrain. Mentors: Noel Poole, Owen Fagan, Alan Phelan, Sandra Johnson.
Next up for the Croft ladies are Dublin champions St Maurs on Sunday 23 October in the Leinster Junior Championship Final and it will be a step up again. Against Naomh Ciaran every player worked when they had possession but, with some exceptions, the off the ball support play, which can be thankless, was not up to its usual standard at times and players with the ball were left with no outlet, were caught in possession, or had to try a difficult pass too often. The hard game against Kilkenny, including the extra time, the previous week and some injuries had probably sapped some of the energy from the players but with a two week break before the next game they should be fully recovered, on top form, and well up for the challenge.