by Daragh Ó Conchúir at Croke Park
Just as in the Intermediate decider, it was an injury-time goal that decided the AIB All-Ireland Senior Club Camogie Championship Final, 1-8 to 0-10 in Sarsfields’ favour over Slaughtneil.
On this occasion, it was Sarsfields’ Siobhán McGrath who blasted to the Slaughtneil net, just 30 seconds after Louise Dougan had converted a free from right on the centre-field line to put the champions within touching distance of a fourth consecutive title.
McGrath’s goal, set up by her sister Orlaith, put two points between the teams and though Therese Mellon reduced the margin to the minimum after a brilliant run by Tina Bradley, time ran out on the Robert Emmet’s.
Sarsfields had been Slaughtneil’s victims in the 2017 and 2018 deciders but this was more about getting over the line than revenge.
“It’s a bit surreal to be honest” said Orlaith McGrath in the aftermath. “It doesn’t feel like I thought it would feel. Something you’ve always dreamed about and it actually comes to pass, it’s just wow! An unbelievable feeling.
“It’s a relief. Especially considering our second-half performance was nowhere near winnable. I don’t know what happened to us in the second half. They came at us all guns blazing and we didn’t’ react to that at all.
“Only for a few possessions we got and we capitalised on, that game was gone. They were making darting runs down the centre. Tina Hannon (Bradley) and Shannon Graham could easily have gotten goals there.
“So in that case, in Croke Park, we were lucky for a change.
“Of course your luck comes down to hard work and in the first half we worked immensely hard and maybe didn’t capitalise on that ourselves. We didn’t score as much as we should have.
“To be fair, the goal did come against the run of play. We weren’t in it but we kept within touching distance. We’re over the moon.
“It comes down to experience. We’ve pushed on as a team and we know each other inside out.”
The two McGraths – half of a four-strong representation of daughters provided by manager and former Galway and Sarsfields All-Ireland winner Michael ‘Hopper’ McGrath, completed by captain Niamh and midfield partner Clodagh – were magnificent.
So too was Maria Cooney, the daughter of another legendary club and county figure Joe Cooney, who excelled as a defensive screen for the westerners.
Sarsfields hounded Slaughtneil in the first half and were well worth a 0-6 to 0-3 half-time lead.
Orlaith McGrath in particular was always a threat, but Siobhán was not far behind and the duo’s desire to take on their markers at every turn caused mayhem in the normally assured Slaughtneil defence.
They were responsible for all six of their side’s first-half scores and all bar one point of the final tally.
Unsurprisingly, Slaughtneil responded like champions and could have had two goals early in the second half, but as referenced by Orlaith McGrath, Graham and Bradley took points when the goal was on.
Still, the Derry representatives hit the front in the 51st minute, when Aoife Ní Chaiside fed Siobhán Bradley, who made it 0-7 to 0-6.
It took Sarsfields 23 minutes to register their first score of the second half, and it was a vital one from Rachel Murray. Orlaith McGrath gave them the lead straight after but Sinéad Mellon levelled and then Dougan drove over from a different postcode.
It seemed as if Slaughtneil had effected one of their now famous rescue acts but the McGraths had the definitive say.
“When Slaughtneil came out of the other Semi-Final, we said ‘Great’” explained Orlaith.
“They beat us twice and they beat us fair and square. We were coming up against the best and what’s the point in playing if you’re not playing the best and Slaughtneil are an unbelievable team.
“It was just our turn today.”