GAA: Queens of Croke Park

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HISTORY was going to be made either way last Sunday afternoon in Croke Park as the inaugural All-Ireland Intermediate club camogie title was up for grabs.

After a pulsating final Coleraine club Eoghan Rua got their hands on the cup and their name into the history books as All-Ireland champions with their 3-8 to 2-3 victory over Laois Harps.

A first ever All-Ireland title for the Eoghan Rua camogs after just over a decade in existence. It was a tremendous achievement for the Coleraine club witnessed by over 4,000 in Croke Park, a huge contingent of which was clad in the maroon and green of Eoghan Rua.

When the final whistle went there were jubilant celebrations on the pitch as the players and management celebrated victory. Then when Eoghan Rua captain Meabh McGoldrick raised the cup in the Hogan Stand there was a deafening roar from the hundreds of Eoghan Rua supporters as they savoured an historic All-Ireland title.

The opening twenty minutes or so proved to be a nervy battle as both defences were on top as the sides shared four points equally. Harps took a two points lead by the seventh minute as Aine Mahony, from a free and Joanne Prior, from an acute angle, scored.

By that stage Harps had a couple of wides and drew a goal line save by midfielder Jane Carey as they enjoyed most of the possession. Eoghan Rua got onto the scoresheet in the ninth minute following good work from Maria Mooney in defence and Meabh Dillon through midfield before a foul gave Grainne McGoldrick the chance to point from a 20 metre free.

Harps continued to pile on the pressure but solid defending from Kelly Maybin, Meabh McGldrick and Jane Carey, again with a last ditch clearance, kept the Leinster side at bay. Eoghan Rua then had a couple of chances, Grainne McGoldrick dropping a free short before shooting wide from distance.

In the 15th minute Grainne McGoldrick leveled matters from a free. Kelly Maybin again did well to quell a Harps attack before they made the breakthrough with a fortuitous goal in the 20th minute. Eoghan Rua failed to clear from a free as a clash for the ball resulted in full forward Aishling Phelan striking to the Coleraine net.

It was all Harps at this stage as Aine Mahony burst through but her shot was blocked for a ‘45’ which was sent wide, the same player then missed a glorious chance from close range.

Eoghan Rua really needed a score at this stage but after Grace McMullan forced a ‘45’ Grainne McGoldrick’s effort went just wide. Moments later they did get back onto the scoreshet as Grace McMullan collected a long pass from Meabh McGoldrick to turn and fire over the bar.

Jane Carey then burst forward from midfield before being fouled on the 20m line, grainne McGoldrick sending over the free to leave just a point between the sides.

The key moments and turning of the tide came in the first and fourth minutes of added time with a double goal strike from Grace McMullan on her way to a hat-trick. The first goal was a stunning piece of team work as Meabh McGoldrick won possession deep in her own half.

She found Maria Mooney who in turn sent a sublime pass to Grainne McGoldrick through the middle. A pin point pass found Grace McMullan who still had some work to do, she gathered then rounded her marker before blasting to the roof of the Harps net.

Eoghan Rua had taken the lead for the first time but it was to get better moments later. Meabh McGoldrick swept the ball into the corner where Rossanna McAleese did well to find Grainne McGoldrick with a neat ground pass, the All-Star did the rest sweeping the ball over the Harps bar.

Then in the last minute of added time Eoghan Rua broke Harps hearts with a second goal. Again it was Meabh McGoldrick driving the ball forward, it fell behind full back Denise Quigley, Grace McMullan raced forward to gather onto her stick and drill low to the net. A brilliant last five minutes een Eoghan Rua turn the game on its head as they went into the break with a healthy six points lead, 2-5 to 1-2.

That lead was extended early in the second half as Maria Mooney drove the ball forward to Rossanna McAleese who was fouled leaving Grainne McGoldrick the point from the close-n free.

Harps then had a couple of chances to reduce the gap but sent wide before Grainne McGoldrick increased Eoghan Rua’s lead with another point from a free nine minutes in.

Midway through the half Harps were thrown a lifeline following hesitancy in the Coleraine defence, three players failed to clear a ground shot before Joan Dollard darted in to fire the loose ball to the net. Harps tails were up after that as the gap was reduced to four when Elaine Mahony sent over a 20 metre free.

The Laois side continued to put the pressure on but they simply were not clinical enough in front of goal as they seen a couple of good chances go abegging. It was all beginning to get a bit tetchy as Maria Mooney for Eoghan Rua and Elaine Mahony for Harps went into the referees notebook for fouls.

Harps continued to batter the Eoghan Rua defence but twice Eoghan Rua goalkeeper Aileen Moore rescued matters while Jane Carey, who battled through a severe injury taken into the game and which flared up again late in the first half, showed all her will to win by clearing out all in front of her in a goalmouth scramble.

As the seconds ticked down Grainne McGoldrick raised the siege with a long range point from a free to put five points between the sides going into added time.

Then, fittingly, one minute into injury time Eoghan Rua’s game changers Meabh McGoldrick and Grace McMullan combined for the latter to complete her hat-trick of goals and end all doubts about where the inaugural Agnes O’Farrelly Cup was going. It was heading north to Ulster, Derry and in a blaze of colour and noise from hundreds of supporters to Pairc Eoghain Rua. All-Ireland champions.

Eoghan Rua: Aileen Moore; Aishling Carey, Kelly Maybin, Maureen Heneghan; Éilis McNamee, Méabh McGoldrick, (capt), Maria Mooney; Megan Kerr, Jane Carey; Maeve Dillon, Grainne McGoldrick, Sineád Boyle; Hannah Eastwood, Grace McMullan, Rosanna McAleese.

Subs used: Katie Mullan for H Eastwood (38), Adelle Archibald for E McNamee (52),.

Eoghan Rua scorers: Grace McMullan (3-1), Grainne McGoldrick (0-7, 0-6 frees),

Laois Harps: Teresa Bennett; Elaine Cuddy, Denise Quigley, Patricia Dunphy; Claire Walsh, Caitriona Phelan, Michelle Fitzpatrick; Louise Mahony, Joanne Prior; Aine Mahony, Angela Hanlon, Elaine Mahony; Joan Dollard, Ashling Phelan, Laura Saunders.

Subs used: Rosemarie Phelan for L Saunders (41), Helen Keane for J Prior (49), Bronagh Dunne for L Mahony (57).

Harps scorers: Louise Saunders (1-0), Ashling Phelan (1-0), Aine Mahony (0-2 frees), Joanne Prior (0-1),

Passmore hails a great team performance

EOGHAN Rua manager Joe Passmore was under no illusions about how tough the All-Ireland final was going to be as he was only too delighted to explain from the satisfying position of the winning teams enclosure.

“We knew Harps were a good team having watched them in the semi-final and were expecting a tough game, that’s exactly what we got”, Joe told Times Sport.

“It would be fair to say we did get off to a slow start. We were telling the girls that Harps were going to have periods of pressure and attack us but we were going to have to absorb it and try not to concede scores, I think we did that.

“Harps came at us with all guns blazing in the opening 20 minutes or so, I suppose they were feeling us out to see how we would go. But I thought we absorbed that early pressure well and we had a few good moments ourselves.

“The game is played over sixty plus minutes not ten or twenty minutes and we came back well from that start. Both defences were very tight I thought in the opening quarter. Even though they probably had the upper hand in the early stages we managed to keep them to a couple of points although they did miss a few chances to be fair.”

Goals win games is the old well worn cliché but it is inevitably true. The right person in the right place ready to deliver when the chance presents itself was very evident last Sunday.

As Passmore explained, he was more than delighted that the experienced Grace McMulan delivered a masterclass in finishing.

“The two goals from Grace just before half-time clearly had a big impact on the game; they came at just the right time for us. Just before our first goal I think they had a free in but we defended it very well and broke down the pitch to get the first goal.

“It’s all a bit of a haze right now but I think Meabh McGoldrick won the ball at the back and there were a couple of good passes before Grace got it and stuck it in the net, it really was a goal worthy of an All-Ireland final.

“I was at a coaching course last week and Eamon O’Shea was talking about Lar Corbertt scoring three goals in an All-Ireland final for Tipp, now Grace McMullan is just after scoring three goals in an All-Ireland final. On both occasions the common denominating factor was that class tells in the end,” said Joe.

He was also effusive in praise of his skipper.

“Meabh McGoldrick is a very positive person, everyone who comes into her company quickly finds that out, she has a great influence on the team and really is a great captain.

“I think it says a lot about Meabh’s contribution to this game when a player who scores three goals and a point doesn’t get player of the match and Meabh did. She really was magnificent today.

“Her reading of the game was first class; she covered every blade of grass across the half-back line. Her runs out and accurate delivery of the ball from defence always definitely took the pressure off our defence.’

In the end it was all about the team and indeed the whole panel of players as Joe explained.

“While we got the big performances from our big players I thought it was a great team performance out there today, from the ones that started and the players that came in. I also have to pay tribute to the whole panel, we have 29 girls and every one of them has worked hard for this.

“You can’t run the sort of training sessions we do without a full panel and that’s what was brilliant about our victory today. Some of them maybe didn’t get a whole lot of game time but they still worked as hard as those that did and that says a lot about the character of this group of players.

“We’re very grateful to every single one of the panel for the endless hours they put in over the Derry, Ulster and now All-Ireland campaign, they got their reward out there today and no better place to do it than in this magnificent stadium here in Croke Park.”

Captain Meabh plays commanding role

MEABH McGoldrick really did play a captain’s role in the final as her commanding performance at centre back sa her pick up the ‘Player of the match’ award.

When you consider that she was chosen ahead of Grace McMullan who scored a hat-trick of goals it speaks volumes about her contribution to Eoghan Rua’s historic victory.

She was a rock at centre back, her calmness under pressure seen her win an ocean of possession and deliver long accurate ball forward time and time again.

Meabh was the instigator of Eoghan Rua’s crucial first goal when she won possession deep in her own defence before setting in train the series of passes that ended with Grace McMullan flashing the ball to the Harps net. Amid the celebrations after the game Meabh summed did her best to sum up what had just happened.

‘I don’t think it has sunk in yet, I don’t even think it will for a few days yet. I suppose it was only when I was walking up the steps in the Hogan Stand and seeing and hearing the Eoghan Rua fans cheering that it was beginning to hit me at what we had just done.

“Going up there was just unreal; it’s something you dream about so we’re very lucky to have done this. I was trying my best to keep the emotions in check because I knew I was going to have to speak and you don’t dare prepare a winning speech as you don’t want to put a hex on the whole thing.

“It was just brilliant standing up there looking around seeing all the supporters, our family and friends enjoying the whole thing. We’re a bunch of friends playing camogie, we all have the craic together and we’re really going to enjoy this tonight.”

In a number of games leading up to the final Eoghan Rua have found it difficult to get their game plan up and running in the early stages.

“I suppose we did get off to a slow start and we only really got going after they got the goal to go into the lead, I think it was level two each at that time. In the last ten minutes or so we began to push forward more and were beginning to find a bit of space, their defence was very tight in the early stages.

“We got a couple of points back and then the two goals that Grace got were crucial, they came at the right time just before the break and that was great for us going in with a lead at half-time.

When it was suggested that the experience of Grace McMullan was absolutely crucial to Eoghan Rua’s victory the Eoghan Rua captain was only too happy to concur.

“It was great having Grace in their at full forward, we knew if we could expose their full back line a bit and get Grace one on one in space she has the experience to do the business. She certainly did that; you couldn’t ask for any more a hat-trick of goals, just brilliant!”

Hat-trick heroine Grace takes centre stage

TO re-word an old cliché or saying, ‘cometh the hour, cometh the woman’ that was the case on Sunday when Grace McMullan delivered a stunning performance to smash in a hat-trick of goals in the All-Ireland Intermediate camogie final for Eoghan Rua.

It really doesn’t get much better than to produce such a match winning feat on the biggest of days for your club but that’s just what Grace did.

“This was a fabulous day with a great group of people”, was the first reaction of Grace when I caught up with her after the game.

“This means everything to me I’m absolutely delighted, it really is the icing on the cake. It’s my first All-Ireland club medal and it has been a long time coming. And I had to come to Coleraine to get it,” she said with a big smile.

The former Antrim star had played most of her camogie with Loughgiel before joining Eoghan Rua just three years ago and she has played a huge role in the club’s significant successes in that short period culminating with Sunday’s historic victory.

“Yeah it took us a while to get into our stride but when we did things began to flow nicely for us. We were looking for goals and I think we had a couple of chances a bit like the semi-final against Lismore but thank god when we got going this time we took our chances.

“Our second goal was well worked out from defence I think it was Grainne (McGoldrick) who sent in a long ball which I caught in the sunlight and turned and shot and thankfully it went in. I thought the whole team battled away to the bitter end, it was just fabulous at the final whistle,” Grace added.

Meanwhile the Eoghan Rua chairman and part of the camogie management team, Brendan McLernon had nothing but praise for the history makers.

“Well sometimes when you work so hard for something you don’t often reap the rewards but on a day like this when you do it is absolutely brilliant, a great day for club.

“It was just great to see the huge number of Eoghan Rua fans in Croke Park today and then to come home to the club house and see hundreds of supporters waiting to cheer the girls off the coach, I think they were overwhelmed by the reception.

“The girls have put an enormous amount of work in and for it all to come to fruition with this victory today it really is brilliant. The whole club has been behind the camogs all the way on this journey and its one of those days that everyone connected with Eoghan Rua will never ever forget.”