By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Johnstownbridge (Kildare) 1-8
Athenry (Galway) 1-6
A STUPENDOUS display of shot-stopping by goalkeeper and captain, Tanya Johnson denied Athenry and ensured that Johnstownbridge were celebrating a third consecutive AIB All-Ireland Club Championship title at St Tiernach’s Park.
The Junior champions of the past two campaigns made light of the step up to Intermediate level by garnering ultimate honours once more, having beaten last year’s champions Myshall and the runners-up Eglish on the way to the decider, but they needed their skipper to be at her inspirational best to defy the odds one more time.
Johnson made three saves in the first half from Noreen Coen, one of the stunning variety and another that showcased her complete lack of interest in self-preservation as she launched herself in the path of the Athenry full-forward’s hurley from close range.
She was finally beaten by Eimear Keane early in the second half but when Athenry legend Therese Donohue (formerly Maher) bore down on goal and shot for the corner, the netminder stood firm once more.
In stark contrast to the weather that caused two postponements, the sun shone in Clones though Johnstownbridge were playing with a wind in the first half.
And they got off to a fabulous start that laid the foundation for the victory with a wondrous point from tight on the right wing and just inside the 45 by Siobhán Hurley within a minute of the throw-in by Andrew Larkin.
Coen was a threat throughout the first half and she benefited from a quick delivery to fire the equaliser but Johnstownbridge were the superior outfit in the initial exchanges.
They had a goal from Shauna Beattie in the seventh minute and it was a wonderful piece of opportunism by the corner-forward who only had a baby last May, latching onto a break after Megan McDonogh had blocked a shot by Hurley.
Louise Codd was making her first start of the campaign after having a baby in August but the pace and scoring power that have been a feature of her play for many years with her native Wexford and Johnstownbridge have clearly not waned and she launched a brilliant point later, at the end of a strong run when she fielded a Johnson puckout.
That came in the wake of exchanged points by Róisín O’Connell and a brace for Athenry via Coen and Donohue (from a free).
The Galwegians were establishing a greater foothold in proceedings thanks to Jessica Gill, Donohue and Coen but the latter’s second point was the only return from four goal-scoring opportunities, thanks largely to Johnson.
In fact it was Johnstownbridge that stretched their advantage to five points at the interval (1-5 to 0-3) with a pointed free from her own 65 and then a 45 by Hurley.
Athenry had shown enough into the wind to suggest that they could make hay with it but they never created the same opportunities, with Coen’s influence reduced by moving away from the edge of the square.
Having said that, the new full-forward Keane had a goal straight from the restart after good work by the excellent Derval Higgins and Niamh Keogh, who was introduced as a first-half sub.
At that juncture, Athenry were favourites to get their hands on the Agnes O’Farrelly Cup but just as they had done in the second half of the Semi-Final win over Eglish, JTB displayed considerable resilience and with Aisling Holton, Clodagh Flanagan and Aoife Trant prominent, made themselves very difficult to break down.
Holton sped forward for a vital point before Johnson somehow repelled Donohue but a couple of converted frees by Higgins left the minimum between the sides.
O’Connell (free) and Mahon swapped points to leave the game on a knife edge before Hurley was calmness personified to leave Johnstownbridge with that dangerous-looking two-point advantage.
It was to be enough though as they kept Athenry at bay to spark riotous scenes of joy at the final whistle.
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)