A heavyweight battle between two hard-working sides ended in a welter of excitement as former champions Clanmaurice fell just short of regaining their AIB All-Ireland Junior A Club Camogie title thanks to a fantastic first-half goal from Ireland hockey captain Katie Mullan against the run of play, a Megan Kerr-inspired takeover around the middle in the second half and the genius of Gráinne Holmes.
It was to be a second All-Ireland final defeat in a matter of months for Clanmaurice, but they went out on their shields, a late goal and point from the brilliant Jackie Horgan getting them to within a minimum but Eoghan Rua had done enough to take the silverware by 1-11 to 1-10 at O’Raghallaighs GAA in Drogheda.
Holmes, who won an All-Star in 2009 when known by her maiden name McGoldrick, and then recovered from a three-year absence after suffering a serious knee injury to win a Soaring Star a decade later, had clipped two neat points to help her side go in leading by one at the break but really opened up after the restart, and her seventh score and fifth from play from almost 45m out on the run and tight to the right touchline to put her team five ahead was as good as you could ever hope to see.
With sister, Méábh Duffy, captain when the Derry outfit won the All-Ireland intermediate titles in 2011 and 2012, and only back a short while after give birth last year, also producing a tremendous performance, it was a day Holmes ranks right up with the best.
“It’s so amazing to be back in a final again,” said Holmes. “It was a bit of a drought and it’s great to be back. Female sports and female sports teams are so changeable year on year. There’s a lot of girls went off and had babies and this year everybody seemed to be back from having babies and back from travelling. We gave it a final push this year to see how we’d get on. And it’s brilliant.
“We always seems to be a bit slow to get going. It’s nearly the second half before the wheels are in motion. We were quietly confident but we knew Clanmaurice have some of the best players in Ireland in Jackie Horgan and Patrice Diggin. They’re phenomenal players. And as a team, they play for the county and club, they know each other inside out so we knew to win we’d have to be on top of our game.
“We got the purple patch but being totally honest my nerves were gone when that goal went in. I wasn’t sure how long was left. I’m just at the age now, extra time, I couldn’t have dealt with it, my legs were giving up! So I’m so glad he blew the whistle at the end and we came out on the right side.”
Victorious manager Brendan McLernan ruefully admitted that he had thought he might be able to enjoy the closing stages after Holmes’ stunning score but was quickly disabused of that notion by gritty Kerry opponents.
“Very often you don’t get the chance to enjoy the end,” noted McLernan, “but when we were five points up with a couple of minutes to go and we had the momentum, I thought, ‘God, I’m going to be able to enjoy this,’ but then in a blink of the eye, it was four points, then a goal and a point and I thought, ‘I shouldn’t have thought it was going to be easy (at the end),’ and with Clanmaurice, you should have known it was never going to be easy. I thought they played superbly.
“Our mantra is it’s about hooking, blocking, tackling, and I thought we did that superbly, as did they. That’s what wins games. We’re just so glad we came out the right end of it.
“The first ten minutes, I don’t know why we started so slowly. We did the same in the first half of the semi-final, we weren’t at it. But once we settled into it, I always felt we’d get a bit of control and the crucial thing when we did get that bit of control about ten minutes into the second half, we made it count. And I think our fitness told.
“We have a couple of very experienced players in defence like Méabh Duffy and Maria Mooney. You’re never gonna play an All-Ireland final and say, ‘We hadn’t a care there.’ There’s no quitting in those girls.
“The goal came just when we needed it. It was 4-2 and I think that was the spark that set us going. Katie’s a wonderful player. She’s juggling so many balls in the air. Strong, physical. But Katie’s a competitor. If you were playing Katie at anything, scrabble or anything, Katie’s a competitor. She wants to win. She’s never going to do anything half-hearted.”
And Mullan was intent on soaking in the occasions before returning her focus on her hockey duties.
“I’m buzzing,” a beaming Mullan declared. “It wassuch a tight game, tooth and nail from first to last minute. They had patches they were on top, we had patches we were on top. We’ve been strong in the second half the last few games and I think that came out in the end.
“We took an ethos of one ball at the time. Every time their ‘keeper had the ball in her hand for the puckout was winning that first ball. That stood to us, to split the game up. We’d be disappointed to let it go so tight in the very end when we had a strong second half but the character at the end, that’s what our experience and those players like Gráinne and Grace (McMullan) and Méabh have, that’s what gets you over the line.
“There was a point there when they started chanting, ‘The Eo, the Eo, the Eoghan Rua,’ in the stand and it just takes me straight back to 2008 when our senior footballers were in Croke Park for the first time and then again, 2011, 12, when we were in Croke Park. It brings you straight back to your childhood which is such an incredible feeling. We’re a small club and such a close community and it’s fantastic to have days like this.”