Croke Park beckons once again for the Eoghan Rua camogs as they came through their All-Ireland Intermediate championship semi-final with a 1-8 to 1-5 victory over Laois Harps in Killyclogher last Sunday afternoon.
The defending champions were made to battle all the way in this tough encounter which seen defences dominating for long periods. Scores from open play were difficult to come by, in fact both teams could only manage two scores each from play, an indication of how tight this was.
Crucially for the eventual winners one of those scores was their opening goal which not only helped Eoghan Rua to settle early on but gave them a lead they would not relinquish. The Harps goal came deep into added time, reducing the gap to three and giving the champions a few anxious seconds as the time ticked down to the final whistle. However that score was just too late to change the course of events as Eoghan Rua are now back in Croke Park on Sunday 4 March to defend their Intermediate championship title.
This was a far from polished performance by the Eoghan Rua outfit but that their captain Meabh McGoldrick was delighted to have ground out a win.
“Well I suppose both teams were familiar with each other after last year and we were not really expecting an open free flowing game. Maybe the camogie was’nt great but the most important thing was to get a win and that’s what we did,” she said.
“There were a lot of stoppages for frees and that probably did not make for great viewing for the spectators but I suppose our supporters will be happy enough anyway as we are back in the final again.”
Indeed they are but the Coleraine side were made to work hard for it all the way to the final whistle. Indeed it was that workrate that the Coleraine captain flagged up as being a key ingredient for Sunday’s semi win.
“The girls worked really hard out there. The Harps crowded out our forward line quite well with the extra player back and it was difficult to break them down. We rely on our workrate a lot and I think our fitness levels stood to us as we had to keep going. They were maybe a bit more physical than we expected, they certainly upped the physicality stakes from the All-Ireland final last year,” added Meabh.
The opening exchanges were very cagey but The Harps took the lead in the fourth minute with a point from a ‘45’ through midfielder Louise Mahony. Eoghan Rua’s first score was probably the most crucial in the game. In the fifth minute Meabh McGoldrick broke up a Harps attack, her long ball out finding Grainne McGoldrick who strode forward to fire to the Laois net, just the sort of start every team dreams of in a semi-final.
A minute later Coleraine increased their lead when Grainne McGoldrick pointed a long range free some 45m out. It could have been even better for Eoghan Rua seconds later when Grace McMullan placed Claire Tracey in a good position but her shot hit the side netting. The Harps then came back with a point from a free, Louise Mahoney scoring, the same player then missed a chance from virtually the same position moments after and another opportunity went abegging before the first quarter was out.
The sides then exchanged points from frees, Grainne McGoldrick for Eoghan Rua with Aine Mahoney replying for Harps. Full forward Theresa Bennett was causing problems inside for Harps and she shot just wide of the Eoghan Rua posts in the 20th minute. It was then Eoghan Rua’s turn to exert the pressure as Harps goalkeeper Grace Murphy saved well from Clare Tracey.
The pressure told in the 23rd minute when Jane Carey was fouled near the sideline with Grainne McGoldrick sweeping the sliothar over the bar from a tight angle. In the last five minutes of the half both sides missed a couple of chances each. In injury time Grainne McGoldrick put Eoghan Rua into a four point interval lead 1-4 to 0-3 with yet another pointed free.
Harps opened the second half with a wide inside 20 seconds but they were soon on the scoreboard again when Louise Mahoney and Laura Mahoney combined to put a third Mahoney, Aine in for a good point. The Eoghan Rua reply was quick as Grainne McGoldrick took advantage of yet another piece of Harps indiscipline to punish a foul on Grace McMullan with a point from a free. The Laois side then went on to enjoy a monopoly of possession for most of the third quarter.
However they failed signally to turn that into scores as they shot three bad wides while the Eoghan Rua defence, superbly marshalled by Meabh McGoldrick, were able to contain their raids. The Eoghan Rua captain agreed that the third quarter was not a good period for her side.
“They did put us under a lot of pressure around the third quarter but the thing was they only managed to get a point in that spell, they were getting frustrated themselves not turning that possession into scores and with the wides they were hitting. We could hear them saying they needed to make the possession count. I think we absorbed that well, we worked hard at the back, and then when we got a point back after that I think maybe their heads dropped a wee bit as we were able to build a lead again,” she said.
Indeed the siege was lifted when Meabh McGoldrick pulled off an important interception to launch an Eoghan Rua attack that ended with yet another pointed free from Grainne McGoldrick, this time from over 50 meters out. Harps pulled a point back but as the game moved into the last five minutes the champions eased six clear, 1-8 to 0-5, with two points in as many minutes.
The second of those points was a superbly crafted and finished score, Maria Mooney broke up an attack, found Graine McGoldrick out on her left side, the sliothar was then sent forty meters along the same side to Grace McMullan who swept over the bar from a tight angle.
That seemed to be that as the game moved deep into added time but The Harps were just not quite finished yet. Midfielder Lousie Mahoney, Harps best player by a mile, sent a long speculative free into the heart of the Coleraine defence and after a bit of ground striking the ball fell kindly to Aisling Phelan who blasted an unstoppable shot high to the roof of the Eoghan Rua net.
Now there was only three points separating the sides, just the puck of a ball. With the added minutes now ticking on beyond the fourth and The Harps in possession of the ball in midfield once again the nerves were beginning to really fray as the Eoghan Rua ranks were shouting for the final whistle. However when the sliothar was pucked into midfield a combination of Eilis McNamee and Maureen Heneghan managed to break up the attack and clear the ball with the sound of the final whistle bringing joy to the Coleraine camp while The Harps players were left to reflect on a lost opportunity once again.
Eoghan Rua team: Aileen Moore; Adele Archibald, Maria Mooney, Aisling Carey; Eilis McNamee, Meabh McGoldrick, Maureen Heneghan; Kelly Maybin, Jane Carey; Maeve Dillon, Grainne McGoldrick, Megan Kerr; Rosanna McAleese, Grace McMullan, Claire Tracey.
Substitutes used; Amy Holmes for `R McAleese (48).
Eoghan Rua scorers: Grainne McGoldrick (1-7, 0-7 frees), Grace McMullan (0-1)