By Kevin Egan, at Grant Heating St Brendan’s Park
Wicklow put their heartbreaking defeat in last year’s Nancy Murray Cup final behind them in emphatic style this afternoon in Birr, as they produced a wonderful all-round display to comprehensively outplay Mayo to win the All-Ireland junior A camogie championship for the first time in their history.
With just five of the starters from that 2022 final on the pitch when referee Shane Foley threw in the ball this afternoon, it was a new-look side that tried to make up for that disappointment in Inniskeen. However, it felt like the memory of Tyrone’s late three-goal surge to win by a point that day was fresh in their minds as Brendan Tobin’s side set about winning this game with more than a little to spare, ensuring that they wouldn’t run the risk of another tense finale.
Playing into the teeth of a strong breeze in the opening half, Mayo would have been the happier side with ten minutes played, level at 0-2 apiece. Wicklow still looked like the sharper, more coherent unit with ball in hand, but the contest was very scrappy at that stage with very few clearcut chances, and Lisa Scahill’s brace of frees kept the Westerners on terms, aided by three early wides for the Garden County.
However when it came to the battle for breaking ball in the middle third, there was no doubt as to which side was quicker to get to the pitch of the game. Team captain Jade Byrne at centre-back, Aoife Keddy and Sarah Lambe at midfield, and player of the match Katie Tyrrell at centre-forward controlled their individual battles, and as a result the bulk of the play happened in front of the Mayo goal.
The absence of key attacker Maebh Delaney further blunted the Connacht county’s offence and gave Wicklow the freedom to really attack the game without fear.
Tyrrell landed some excellent scores while Daisie Summer Cullen Dunne was a real threat on the edge of the Mayo square, grabbing one point and whipping over another from a very tight angle to help Wicklow to build a 0-10 to 0-3 lead at the interval.
Even at that, Mayo weren’t out of it, since the wind was a huge factor. In the All-Ireland U16 B Shield final that preceded this game, Westmeath had a wind-assisted seven-point lead at half-time against Carlow but were only able to add one point in the second half and ended up nine points short, 4-12 to 3-6.
That was never going to happen here though as Wicklow didn’t allow Mayo to get the possession they needed to use the elements, and instead the Leinster side kept their opponents at arm’s length, edging the third quarter by 0-2 to 0-1.
Sophie Birmingham’s point to open the scoring in the second half typified the difference between the sides, the Kiltegan player pouncing sharply on what looked like a 50/50 break off a long Tyrrell delivery before driving the sliotar over the bar before Mayo could close her down.
A fine catch and close-range finish from Emily Kelly appeared to give Mayo some cause for hope in the 46th minute as her route-one goal reduced the gap to five points but Wicklow’s response to that temporary setback was exemplary.
They tightened their stranglehold on proceedings at half-back, and while they had a couple of near misses with their next two attacks, they continued to crank up the pressure before two frees from Tyrrell put them right back on the front foot.
The contest was effective settled with five minutes to play when Cullen Dunne found the net to stretch the lead out to ten points. An explosive burst of pace from Hannah Doyle opened up the Mayo defence and when she played the ball into the hands of the full forward, a deft sidestep and a clever low finish was enough to seal the deal.
SCORERS FOR WICKLOW: K Tyrrell 0-8 (04fs, 2 45s); DS Cullen Dunne 1-3; S Birmingham 0-3 (0-1f); F Corrigan 0-1
SCORERS FOR MAYO: L Scahill 0-4 (3fs); E Kelly 1-0; L Keane 0-1
WICKLOW: C Hughes, A Mulhall, C Kelly, M Deegan, A Connolly, J Byrne, S O’Shea, A Keddy, S Lambe, A Birmingham, K Tyrrell, H Doyle; F Corrigan, DS Cullen Dunne, N Curran. Subs: E Bourke for Doyle (47), E Tyrrell for Corrigan (53), PR Cullen Dunne for DS Cullen Dunne (60+3)
MAYO: A Crawley, C Burke, A Doherty, G Delaney; B Joyce, C Delaney, N Greally, L Keane, R Lyons; E Tener, A Lambert, E Kelly, S Mooney, L Scahill, S Golden Subs: K Scahill for Keddy (37), GM Henry for Lyons (38), A Quinn for G Delaney (57), H O’Malley for Kelly (57)
REFEREE: Shane Foley (Carlow)