By Daragh Ó Conchúir at St Brendan’s Park, Birr
Johnstownbridge (Kildare) 1-10
Scariff/Ogonnelloe (Clare) 1-9
JOHNSTOWNBRIDGE held off a late surge from Scariff/Ogonnelloe to retain their AIB All-Ireland junior camogie title at St Brendan’s Park, Birr.
It was heartbreak for the Clare girls, who also fell at the last hurdle three years ago and made a bold bid for honours this time, taking it to the very last moments of a pulsating encounter.
A goal 30 seconds from the end of regulation time by Mairéad Scanlan brought them to within a point but despite applying fierce pressure in five minutes of injury time, they could not source the equalising score, midfielder Róisín O’Brien going agonisingly close with a shot off her left.
It would have been difficult to begrudge them a second bite of the cherry next Sunday but Johnstownbridge were deserving victors, having utilise their experience, nous and physicality in expert fashion during the second half especially.
Ironically, Pat Minogue’s outfit played their best Camogie in the first half and crucially went in a goal in arrears.
With Marian O’Brien and Amy Barrett excelling in the spine of their defence, they sent ball after ball raining down on the Johnstownbridge full-back line, where they hoped that Aoife Power, Rachel Minogue and Sarah O’Donnell would make hay as they did in their semi-final against Tullysaran.
This was a different calibre of opposition though and they found Eimear Hurley in particular in unyielding mood under the high ball, as she repelled the opposition time and time again, in a performance that earned her the player-of-the-match honours.
She had ample support too. Clodagh Flanagan, who drifted back in sweeping mode to make numerous clearances, must have challenged Hurley very closely for the individual honours with a thunderous second-half display and a possession count that would have tested the most up-to-date software.
Siobhán Hurley and Aoife Trant also came into it, and Hurley came up with some huge plays to go along with her prodigious free-taking that were to be significant in the final analysis.
The opening quarter was quite cagey, and though Aisling Corbett had to make an excellent save from Aisling Holton early on, the Munster champions were 0-4 to 0-3 ahead at the end of it, with three points from Scanlan and a lovely score from Sarah O’Donnell.
It was probably scant reward for their efforts, with a couple of points from Siobhán Hurley after O’Connell’s opener keeping Dick Flanagan’s side in touch.
Those two combined for the key score in the 22nd minute, with the centre-forward launching a long delivery that was batted out by Aisling Corbett. O’Connell displayed her predatory instincts as she was already on the move and in position to strike first time off the sod in the corner of the net.
Hurley and Scanlan exchanged scores and it was 1-6 to 0-6 at the change of ends.
Johnstownbridge were much stronger after the resumption but they never put their gritty opponents away, although they did go five clear early in the second half when Claire Hurley took a pass from Siobhán to make it 1-9 to 0-7.
Flanagan was doing her best impression of a hoover crossed with a magnet and emerged from countless rucks with the ball, while generally supplying astutely.
Scanlan kept Scariff/Ogonnelloe in contention with two successful placed-ball shots but when Siobhán Hurley finished after a wonderful pass by Flanagan, who had come out of another tussle with possession, it looked like Johnstownbridge had done enough.
Their goalkeeper Tanya Johnson had had to be alert to deny the opposition on a couple of occasions however but there was nothing she could do when Scanlan drove low and hard beyond her from 20m, after Aoife Power had struck the crossbar.
And so the game ended in a welter of excitement. Eimear Hurley got in a critical block when it looked like Marian O’Brien would restore parity, and Róisín O’Brien had her opportunity too.
In the end, some heroic defending kept Scariff/Ogonnelloe at bay and the silverware was headed for Kildare.
SCORERS FOR JOHNSTOWNBRIDGE: S Hurley 0-8(5fs); R O’Connell 1-1; C Hurley 0-1
SCORERS FOR SCARIFF/OGONNELLOE: M Scanlan 01-8(6fs); S O’Donnell 0-1
JOHNSTOWNBRIDGE: T Johnston, E McEvoy, E Hurley, J O’Donoghue, E Farrell, A Trant, C Farrell, L Codd, C Flanagan, J Murphy, S Hurley, C Hurley, R O’Connell, A Holton, M Murphy. Subs: E Morgan (45), S Morrin (55)
SCARIFF/OGONNELLOE: A Corbett, S Skelly, M O’Brien, A Madden, L Horan, A Barrett, S McNamara, H McGee, R O’Brien, R Moloney, M Scanlan, D Sheedy, A Power, R Minogue, S O’Donnell. Subs: C Madden (ht), E Slattery (55)
REFEREE: John Dermody (Westmeath)