The pain of losing the AIB All-Ireland Junior B Camogie Championship Final just before Christmas was the driver as Knockananna gave Wicklow camogie a real shot in the arm by surviving a slow start and then a resolute fightback by Derrylaughan to claim the honours at the second time of asking by 1-12 to 1-7 at O’Raghallaighs GAA in Drogheda.
Tom Byrne and his management team also had to shuffle the deck after losing full-back Áine Byrne to a hamstring injury but the changes worked, among them that of Shannagh Goeteleen, who turned in a player-of-the-match performance from centre-back, having been selected to play at wing-forward.
And speaking afterwards, Goeteleen gave an insight into the mindset going out onto the pitch.
“Tom told us to go out and be mad women so that’s what we wanted to do for him,” said Goeteleen. “You’d run through a wall for him. We never let up. Derrylaughan never let us get away but our workrate really showed.”
She pointed some magnificent last-ditch defending in the closing minutes as Derrylaughan threw everything at them. But in the end, they were worthy winners, recovering from the concession of an early goal to Oonagh O’Neill to move eight points clear before seeing it out.
Rachel Byrne scored a goal and three points in a vital contribution.
“That’s unreal,” said the full-forward. “I don’t have the words for it. We’ve trained all year. We’ve been training since the start of 2021. We took no break. We had last year’s Leinster, last year’s All-Ireland that we missed out by a point. Went straight through. We were training on Stephen’s Day. We put the work in and it showed on the pitch.
“It was easier to go again after losing the All-Ireland. We wanted it more. We put the work in and we made it to where we wanted to be and done the job.”
She admitted to wondering if the final whistle would ever come.
“They were shouting in from the sideline, saying, ‘We’ve two minutes left,’ and sure it felt like ten minutes! What’s going on? We were ready for the final whistle to go but look, we fought it out. Things were getting a bit iffy there but thank God the final whistle blew.
“Derrylaughan were a great team. They never let go at any stage and we knew from their last match, they won it in the second half so we were prepared for that. They had their homework done on us as well but look, we done the job.”
Tom Byrne considered Rachel’s scorching goal, just after half-time to be crucial.
“When you see Rachel winding up, you know it’s going to be a bullet,” said the manager. “If it goes on target, it generally goes in. I’ve been in goals when she strikes a ball like that and she gets great power into them. Lucky enough for us, it went in and that gave us the platform to go on and win.
“We talked about getting a good start and the opposite happened but it just shows the character of the girls. They didn’t put the heads down, they knuckled down, got a few scores on the board, kept ticking the points over. They’re a super bunch of girls.
“Our defence was unbelievable. The girls were throwing themselves in front of shots to block it down. They weren’t thinking about their safety, they were just thinking of bringing the cup back to Knockananna. Our backline was superb and in that last five minutes when the pressure was on, they were unbelievable.”
Rachel Byrne tried to put into words the magnitude of the achievement.
“Unbelievable. Knockananna, a small little village. Camogie in Wicklow is not a massive thing. There’s a few teams. The teams we’re playing, we know the names of everyone on it. We go on the pitch and we’re talking. Everyone knows everyone. It’s a different ball game out of Wicklow.”
The home of the All-Ireland champions.