By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Johnstownbridge (Kildare) 1-8
Athenry (Galway) 1-6
IT WAS a day to remember for Tanya Johnson, as the Johnstownbridge goalkeeper captained her side to a nailbiting two-point victory over Athenry in the AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Club Championship Final at St Tiernach’s Park.
Before being presented with the Agnes O’Farrelly Cup though, Johnson received the Player of the Match award.
It was an easy decision as the netminder made four brilliant saves, three in the first half from Noreen Coen and one at a crucial juncture in the second from Therese Donohue (Maher).
Her heroics in the opening period allowed the Kildare champions to lead at the break by 1-5 to 0-3 after a goal from Shauna Beattie.
Eimear Keane finally beat Johnson within seconds of the restart but Johnstownbridge kept Athenry at bay to claim their third All-Ireland in a row having annexed the last two Junior titles.
“We were busy enough in the second half” grinned Johnson. “Our girls defended, the forwards harassed like they never harassed before. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy coming out here but we dug deep and we got the win.
“Coming out in the second half we knew Athenry weren’t going to make it in any way easy for us. We got the scores in the first half. The goal that snuck in in the second half didn’t help with the pressure but we got there.
“We’re the same team nearly for the last seven years. It just shows when you come from Junior to Intermediate; now look at us. It’s a great day.
“I was just going for the ball. It’s just 15 on 15 out there and we just have to fight for one another.”
Manager Dick Flanagan has shepherded this panel through its remarkable winning run, and for a number of years before that too as they learned from a variety of near misses. His esteem for the players is obvious.
“I don’t know how they held out Athenry in the last half. It was all hands on deck. Conceding a goal straight from the throw-in wasn’t in the plan but we battled and we battled and we defended fierce well. We had great performances across the field.
“We came from Juniors to Intermediate. Job done now. They’re marvellous, they love it. The sun is shining on them today.”
His daughter Clodagh gave a typically dynamic performance at midfield and she hailed the team’s culture, as well as the support of the community.
“It’s unbelievable. I don’t think we fully understand or appreciate what we’ve done. We have an incredible following. Our supporters, our village is so generous, we’ve a huge background team and the girls themselves, our expectations of one another are huge.”
Flanagan’s midfield partner Aisling Holton played a key role in the defensive effort in the second half and still sped forward for a fabulous point.
Sheagreed that the winning habit bolstered belief on the biggest days but pointed to the resilience that enabled them to deal with whatever hurdles are placed in front of them as perhaps the most important strength.
“I was just thinking, I can’t remember really the last time we lost a Championship game (the 2014 Leinster Junior Final to Myshall) and you use that as a strength as well. There’s a certain amount of nerves that are there when you come into an All-Ireland Final. But we’d been there before, we’d the work done and that gives you extra confidence.
“If there’s one thing about this team, there’s been all sorts of obstacles been thrown at us in the last months and the year and the way we deal with it is take the positives from us and that’s what keeps you going in the end.”
SCORERS FOR JOHNSTOWNBRIDGE: S Hurley 0-4(2fs, 1 45); S Beattie 1-0; R O’Connell 0-2(1f); L Codd, A Holton 0-1 each
SCORERS FOR ATHENRY: E Keane 1-0; N Coen, D Higgins (fs) 0-2 each; T Donohue (f), E Mahon 0-1 each
JOHNSTOWNBRIDGE: T Johnson, E McEvoy, E Hurley, E Morgan, C Farrell, A Trant, J Murphy, A Holton, C Flanagan, L Codd, S Hurley, M Murphy, R O’Connell, C Moloney, S Beatty. Sub: J O’Donoghue for McEvoy (52)
ATHENRY: M McDonagh, R Glynn, N Keane, F Page, K Moran , J Gill, L Hannon, D Higgins, G Cahill, N Hannon, T Donohue, E Keane, N Donnellan, N Coen, E Mahon. Subs: N Keogh for N Hannon (26), N Hannon for Donnellan (36), C Cunniffe for Mahon blood (54-56)
REFEREE: A Larkin (Cork)