By Daragh Ó Conchúir
CHAMPIONS Slaughtneil are back in the AIB All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final but not for the first time in the past two campaigns, the Derry girls had to do it the hard way, needing extra time before getting the better of Kilkenny side Thomastown by 0-14 to 0-11 at Inniskeen Grattans.
And they will meet familiar opposition at Croke Park on March 4, as Sarsfields of Galways just edged out Tipperary’s Burgess-Duharra 0-10 to 0-9 in Banagher to set up a repeat of last year’s decider.
In the Intermediate Championship, another Galway side Athenry advanced to the decider by virtue of a 0-8 to 0-2 win over former champions Lismore (Waterford) in Coralstown Kinnegad and they will play reigning Junior champions Johnstownbridge, after the Kildare crew held off Eglish of Tyrone in Donaghmore Ashbourne by 2-5 to 0-9.
Unusually, the same four teams that participated in last year’s Senior Semi-Finals made it through to the penultimate stages this time around although on this occasion, the pairings were different.
Slaughtneil had the benefit of a strong wind in the opening period and made good use of it, leading by 0-9 to 0-2 as they returned to the dressing rooms. Offaly star Tina Hannon has been a wonderful addition to the Derry club since moving up north, and her prowess was very much in evidence as she fired over five points.
Thomastown, inspired by the Farrell sisters, came on strongly in the second half with the elements in their favour and they took over completely, chipping away at the deficit and drawing level at 0-10 apiece.
They could not carry that momentum forward into extra time however, and with Siobhán McKaigue among the scorers, they used all their big game know-how to chisel out the win.
Sarsfields will hope to make it second time lucky in the All-Ireland Final after their narrow win in a tight-fought affair in which scores from play came at an absolute premium.
The teams were level at half time on 0-5 apiece and all those scores came from placed balls. Niamh McGrath had two within three minutes for Sarsfields but Burgess took over and scored the next five on the trot via the stick of Jenny Grace. Two points from Niamh McGrath and another from her sister Siobhán restored parity at the break.
Siobhán McGrath hit the first score from play three minutes after the restart and added a free, while Grace landed two frees for Burgess but two brilliant points from play by Siobhán McGrath edged the victors clear.
Burgess were not without their goal chances and Laura Ward saved a penalty from Jenny Grace, while it took some last-ditch defending to keep them out on a couple of other occasions. Tara Kennedy hit their first score from play in the 59th minute but they could not peg Sarsfields back.
Johnstownbridge are looking to complete an All-Ireland three-in-a-row in their first season at Intermediate level, having annexed the Junior title for the past two campaigns. They accounted for the All-Ireland champions Myshall in the Leinster Final and they have now overcome the team Myshall beat by just a point, Eglish to book their spot at HQ.
They laid the foundation for their win in the first half, at the end of which they led by 2-5 to 0-3, with the goals coming from Róisín O’Connell and Siobhán Hurley and Hurley adding four points.
Ciara Donnelly had Eglish’s three points from placed balls and doubled that tally from similar opportunities, while Brenda Horesfield, Maria Haughey and Leanne Donnelly added points from play for the dominant Tyrone girls. Johnstownbridge had done enough however and they prevailed despite failing to score in the latter period.
The conditions were very difficult in Coralstown Kinnegad and it was an Athenry team propelled by the vastly experienced trio of Therese Maher, Jessica Gill and Rebecca Glynn that adapted best. They led by 0-5 to 0-2 at half time, Maher scoring four points (three from frees) and Gill the other.
Nicola Morrissey got Lismore off the mark at the end of the first quarter and Caitriona McGlone doubled their tally six minutes later but they failed to score again, while Niamh Hannon (two) and Noreen Coen pointed to ensure Athenry the prized victory.