by Kevin Egan, at O’Connor Park
(after double extra-time)
At the end of two and half hours of tension and drama at O’Connor Park in Tullamore, Antrim confirmed their place in the final of the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Premier Junior Camogie Championship alongside Armagh, with Megan McGarry’s free in the second period of added time proving to be the decisive score that settled a remarkable contest.
The Saffrons were the stronger side in the opening 20 minutes and held a four-point lead thanks to Dearvla Cosgrove’s early goal, but a string of scores from Clare in the closing minutes before half-time levelled the tie, and the teams were effectively inseparable after that.
Cosgrove found the net with eight minutes gone after she capitalised on a defensive error to pounce from close range, and Antrim were the most impressive side in the opening quarter, picking off some very impressive scores from Bríd Magill and Ellen Leech.
Clare, for their part, were busy and physical in the middle third, but they were dependent on the accuracy for Shauna Canny for a lot of their scores. At half-time it was 1-4 to 0-7, with all seven Clare points coming from dead ball chances.
Rachel Kelly was Clare’s first scorer from play early in the second half, but Antrim still moved two points clear by the 42nd minute, though that was to be as big a lead as there was at any stage for the remainder of the game. Aoife Anderson roused the Clare support with a glorious point, Orlaith Laverty came off the bench to reply in kind for Antrim, and the temperature was rising with every tension-filled moment.
Canny’s first point from play gave Clare their first lead of the game after 52 minutes, Fionnuala Kelly and Cosgrove swung the advantage back to Antrim, then a point in the 60th minute from Anderson looked like it might be the winner, even after Canny missed a difficult chance with just 30 seconds of stoppage time remaining.
That was all Antrim needed as they won the puckout, sent the sliotar forward and it fell to Nuala Devlin to set up Claire Kearney for the equaliser.
Antrim carried that momentum into extra time and moved two clear again, but Clare hung in there, and with tiredness becoming the key factor in the game as it moved into the second period of overtime, they earned a 45 that Sarah Loughnane pointed to prolong the incredible drama for two more spells of five minutes each, which went closer to ten by the time all the stoppage time was played.
McGarry overcame her aching limbs to send a long range free over the bar in the first of the two moieties, and that ended up carrying the day – not without more heart-stopping moments however, particularly when Aisling Cooney’s shot from 40 metres dropped short and was parried by Áine Grahan, but then swept clear just as the two umpires looked at each other to confirm that the ball hadn’t crossed the plane of the goal-line.
The very last Clare attack, in the ninth minute out of the last five, fell to Róisín Powell and she mustered up the energy to drive at the Antrim defence. However, her attempt to find a colleague was anticipated and blocked by Elis Kearns, and that final intervention saw Antrim through to an All-Ireland final in a fortnight against Armagh.
SCORERS FOR ANTRIM: D Cosgrove 1-5 (3f, 1 45); Bríd Magill 0-3; E Laverty 0-2; C McNaughton, E Leech, C Kearney, O Laverty, F Kelly, M McGarry (f) 0-1 each
SCORERS FOR CLARE: S Canny 0-11(9fs) A Anderson 0-3; K O’Gorman (f), R Kelly, A Walsh, S Loughnane 45. (0-1 each)
ANTRIM: Á Grahan, M McLarnon, E Kearns, E McShane, S Cosgrove, M McGarry, C Crawford, C Kearney, E Laverty, T O’Neill, Bríd Magill, C McNaughton, A McNeill, E Leech, D Cosgrove. Subs: F Kelly for O’Neill (22); O Laverty for McNeill (41); N Devlin for Leech (41); E Trainor for Laverty (60); Bronagh Magill for S Cosgrove (60+2); A McNeill for Kearney (68); Lally for Trainor (HT ET); O’Neill for Bríd Magill (74), C Hegarty for Crawford (75), Bríd Magill for Kelly (84); Crawford for Hegarty (87); Mulqueen for Casey (88).
CLARE: L Solon, R Crowe, M Powell, S Hogg, R Powell, K O’Gorman, S O’Keeffe, R Kelly, A Walsh, G Carmody, E Casey, A Anderson, S Canny, N Mulqueen, O Phelan. Subs: A Hickey for Mulqueen (37); S Lenihan for Carmody (45); F O’Brien for Phelan (51); S Loughnane for O’Gorman (59); C Lally for Crowe (FT); Carmody for Anderson (HT ET); O’Gorman for O’Brien (75); A Cooney for Canny (End 1st ET); R Conway for Carmody (84); Canny for Hickey (90+2).
REFEREE: Bernard Heaney (Meath)