By Kieran Murphy at Protection & Prosperity Louth GAA Training Centre
Is it really seven years ago since Carlow last won the All-Ireland premier junior camogie championship? It is hard to believe it. In 2016 they beat Armagh by 4-10 to 2-7 to take the title. Almost half of that team are in the current squad and the recent lack of success has been hurting them over the last number of years but they got back on the winner’s podium by chiselling out a 0-8 to 0-7 triumph over Armagh in the Very League Division 3A final in Darver on Saturday.
Playing a containment game in the opening half, they limited their rivals to a meagre three points. With the elements hardly favouring them, Carlow fired over 0-5 with four of those scores coming from play.
They looked all over winners when they led 0-6 to 0-3 in the third quarter. Armagh hit back to take the lead helped by Rachel Merry firing over a free and two points from play in quick succession. Carlow looked to be in trouble and their manager, Peter ‘Chap’ Cleere, felt he understood what was happening.
“We might have been a little bit nervous,” Cleere reflected. “It was the first final in a long time for the players. They are hard to win. Armagh have been in a few between Ulster and leagues (and All-Irelands). They were seasoned. They were ready. For us, after the last couple of years, it was a step-up.”
That they had to show real character made the victory all the sweeter.
“We didn’t play fantastically but it was all about the result. I cannot fault the effort of the girls. Every single one of them. They blocked, they hooked, they chased. They did everything for each other.”
Early in the game, Carlow were forced to make a change when Emma Cody had to be replaced by Eve Sinnott. The substitute scored two points in the second half. Her second, in the last moments of the game, proved to be the winner.
“I was delighted for Eve. It is always disappointing when you don’t start those big games. I said to them in training on Thursday night that this is the start to the season. Anything can happen in a match or in the warm-up. Emma Cody has been brilliant for us. A light tear in the hamstring. She is a class player. A huge loss for us but Eve came in and did the business for her.”
Both sides clearly yearned for the victory. Not far from where the respective management teams stood, both number nines, Armagh’s Leanne Donnelly and Carlow’s Tara Wilson met head-on. Neither of them pulled out and it was only after they got extensive treatment that they got back on their feet.
“It was such an attritional game. It was physical and dogged. Some games you play it just flows but today was a dogged day and you just had to grind it out. I knew the heart was in the girls. I knew the ability was there and it is so nice to get over the line. I am absolutely delighted for them. That was an unbelievable match. It was epic. It ebbed and flowed. We had a period of dominance. They had a period of dominance. It was a really tight affair and it is lovely to come out at the right end of it.”
Sean Hughes, the Armagh manager, was disappointed and clearly deflated.
“Probably our first half performance wasn’t good enough,” Hughes suggested.
His side had done tremendously well to turn a three-point deficit into a one-point advantage in the second period. With that slender lead, Armagh had to work hard against the elements, and a slight incline on the pitch. Winning just about eluded them.
“It could have gone any way but the first half was probably our downfall. We only scored three points. Our touch wasn’t as good as it could have been. Too much balls lost, given to Carlow players. These are things we are going to have to work on. That was the way it went today.
“We got into the game in the second half. There wouldn’t be too much between the sides. The game could have gone any way but it wasn’t one of our better performances of the year. That was probably down to Carlow as well.”
In the winner’s enclosure, the match winner was coming to terms with her achievement. It wasn’t an easy opportunity which she was presented with.
“It is amazing. It was a great pass from Eleanor (Tracey). An excellent pass. We were in the last few minutes of the game. I had to go for it,” reasoned SETU Carlow student, Sinnott.
After the ball flew over the crossbar, it was a case of contesting for every ball and not giving Armagh the opportunity to pinch another equaliser.
“Everyone worked really hard in the last 20 minutes. It is great to get the win. We have something to look forward to now in the Leinsters and the All-Ireland championship.”