By Daragh Ó Conchúir
A gutsy second-half performance saw Clare chisel out a 0-9 to 1-5 victory over old rivals Antrim to win the Very Camogie League Division 3B final at Conneff Park in Clane but Cork and Kilkenny must face off again after more than an hour of action failed to separate them in the Division 2B decider at the Clonmel Commercial GAA grounds.
Cliona O’Leary displayed tremendous temperament and technique to slot an injury-time equaliser from a 70m free for the Leesiders to get a second bite of the cherry with it finishing 1-7 apiece, Trevor Coleman’s charges never having had their noses in front.
They got off to the worst possible start as Danielle Quigley pulled on a loose ball about 18m out for a goal with only a minute elapsed and Laura Greene extended Kilkenny’s advantage with a neat point.
Playing into the wind, Cork settled into the fray with a couple of points from O’Leary but Seamus Kelly’s Noresiders moved five clear thanks to a Danielle Morrissey trio, a pair of which came from play.
Fiona Nelligan replied for Cork and the Rebels were right back in it thanks to a terrific goal from Cliona Dooley in the 28th minute, roofing an unstoppable shot after gathering possession from skipper Rachel Harty’s sideline.
Kilkenny had the final say of the first half though, a Claire Doheny point making it 1-5 to 1-3 at the change of ends.
It was nip and tuck throughout the second half, with scores hard to come by. Nelligan and Emma Mulhall swapped scores but Cork had drawn level with Kilkenny by the 48th minute thanks to points from Homan and O’Leary.
Former senior player Morrissey split the posts for the fourth time to restore the Cats’ advantage but they could not extend it, and O’Leary’s nerve and striking held firm under the most intense of pressure to set up a mouth-watering replay.
Meanwhile, Clare trailed by two points at the interval in the Division 3B decider but a five-point scoring burst without reply, including three in two minutes, proved significant in a dogged affair dominated by defences.
A splendid Orlagh Laverty goal in the 47th minute brought Antrim back level but half-time sub Aisling Cooney slotted the third of her three points after coming off the bench from a free immediately after and that was to prove the winner, as the forward divisions failed to trouble the scoreboard again.
This was a rematch of the barnstorming All-Ireland premier junior semi-final last season, that finished with the Saffrons edging the verdict but only after two periods of extra time.
Clare had four points in hand in the group stages of the League, however, and it came as no surprise that the very minimum separated the teams at the final whistle.
The victors shot three wides early on before finally opening the scoring via player of the match, Laobhaise O’Donnell after a neat triangle of passes put her free. Grace Carmody and Kaci Twomey also raised white flags for John Carmody’s crew.
Dervla Cosgrave was the Saffrons’ four-goal hero in the Saffrons’ memorable All-Ireland final triumph, a tally that included a remarkable 84-second first-half hat-trick, and she was responsible for her team’s first four points as they edged into a one-point lead. Brid Magill raised another white flag and it was 0-5 to 0-3 at the change of ends.
But Clare did have the wind in the second half and they also had Aisling Cooney to bring off the bench at half-time. She started the fightback with a brilliant score from a free on the 45m line tight to the left sideline. O’Donnell struck with a stunning score straight after and Kate O’Gorman also followed up almost immediately and by 38 minutes Clare were in front.
An outstanding point from Twomey and Cooney’s second score made it a three-point game but Laverty’s goal, a fantastically executed double after Cosgrove’s free had been batted out, breathed life into the hopes of Brian Kearney and Mark McFadden’s charges.
But Cooney came up with the match winner and it was Clare celebrating success.