By Daragh Ó Conchúir
LORETO SECONDARY SCHOOL KILKENNY secured a remarkable sixth O’Neills All-Ireland Post Primary Schools Senior A title in nine seasons but they were given a huge fright before emerging from Darver with a 2-18 to 4-8 win over Cross & Passion College Ballycastle.
Loreto led by 14 points at half time, 2-10 to 0-2, having used the strong wind magnificently but were clinging on towards the end, as CPC, who were chasing their first crown, narrowed the margin to three.
The Noresiders had done enough in the opening period however, thanks to goals from Katie Brennan and Ruth Kent, and further significant scoring contributions by Rachel Kelly and Steffi Fitzgerald.
It was all Ballycastle after the resumption however and two goals in 85 seconds from Ciara Laverty and player of the match Róisín McCormack galvanised them.
The Antrim Minor placed Charley McCarry for another and then completed her hat-trick with a stunning strike but with just a score between the sides, Fitzgerald ended a strong run with the insurance point for the Kilkenny girls.
St Angela’s Waterford and St Mary’s New Ross could not be separated at the end of a rip-roaring hour of play in the O’Neills All-Ireland Post Primary Schools’ All-Ireland Junior A Final in Carriganore.
St Mary’s led by a goal with time running out but a fantastic dipping goal from a free by Aoife Fitzgerald that brought to mind Paul Flynn’s famous effort for Waterford against Cork in the 2004 Munster Hurling Final, secured a 1-9 to 3-3 draw for the home side.
Fitzgerald was the key contributor for St Angela’s in their Semi-Final defeat of Cross & Passion with seven points but the Gaill Tír teenager, who came to national prominence with a freestyle hurling video in 2015, bettered that contribution by providing all her side’s tally.
Katie Murphy put New Ross on the front foot with goals in the eighth and 22nd minutes and they led by 2-1 to 0-4 at half-time. Fitzgerald gradually chipped away at the deficit and shot five points to bring the sides level with six minutes remaining.
When Faye Codd goaled, it looked like the definitive score but Fitzgerald showed that her box of tricks were not just for freestyling with that late stunning strike to secure a replay for her side, which will take place at the same venue on Thursday.
Presentation Wexford and Castlecomer Community School will return to Tinryland, also on Thursday, as the Junior B decider ended in a draw too. Pres led by 3-5 to 0-4 at the change of ends but it was all Castlecomer in the second half and they pegged their opponents back to finish level, 2-10 to 3-7.
In the Junior C Final, St Mary’s Midleton beat St Cuan’s Ballinasloe by 3-17 to 2-9, while in the Junior D decider, the honours went the way of Coláiste Phobail Roscrea, who got the better of Clarin College Athenry by 7-7 to 1-3.
In the Senior D Final, Loreto Fermoy got the upper hand on Coláiste Naomh Cormac by 1-12 to 1-8.
O'Neills All-Ireland PP Schools' Senior A final Report
by Séamas McAleenan
Loreto Kilkenny 2-18
Cross and Passion Ballycastle 4-8
“That was one of the greatest second half turnarounds that I have ever witnessed. To take a team that was bound to be deflated at half-time and get them to produce that performance, it was superb. Thank God we had enough of a cushion to ride the storm.”
Loreto Kilkenny coach Brendan O’Sullivan couldn’t have summed up better what was a real rollercoaster of a game in Darver GAA Centre in Louth on Saturday.
His team were defending champions in search of a sixth senior title and they opened the Ulster champions with ease in the early stages of this game.
Ballycastle were caught napping with a quick free and Jane Cass nipped in to place Katie Brennan for a fifth minute goal. Three minutes later Brennan set Ruth Kent up for a second goal and a 2-3 to 0-0 lead.
Things got worse for the Ulster team with Loreto seeming to find their teammates effortlessly and the points flowing; by the 15th minute, the deficit had risen to 2-8 and still Ballycastle had not even made any impact at the other end.
Loreto then hit their first wide, and more wides followed as a combination of poor finishing and a tighter effort from Ballycastle slowed things a little before the break.
Eventually Cross and Passion won a penalty that Róisín McCormick tapped over to get them going. Anna Connolly added another point soon after, those late points resulting in a half-time score of 2-10 to 0-2.
But what a transformation for the second half! A long ball straight from the throw-in wasn’t dealt with properly by the Loreto goal-keeper and Ciara Laverty nipped in to put the sliotar in the net.
And before 85 seconds had been played, McCormick sped in from the right corner to crash home a second goal.
However Kilkenny managed to get a point or two to relieve the pressure over the next 15 minutes – three frees from Rachel Kelly and one each from Tara Clifford and Ciara O’Keefe kept them going when the momentum was with Ballycastle and the score-line stood at 2-15 to 2-7 with 50 minutes gone.
Then Charley McCarry took a pass from McCormick for a third Ballycastle goal. Kilkenny came back with points from Caoimhe Dowling and Kent, before McCormick soloed in for another goal for Ballycastle- and that was followed by a Kirsty McKendry point as the game slipped into five minutes of injury time.
Only a score separated the teams at that point, but Steffi Fitzgerald decided to take matters into her own hands and she had three solo runs in the time remaining. Two resulted in wides, but the third produced the insurance point.
O’Sullivan noted after the game. “We may have fallen apart during that second half, but we didn’t fall asunder – and there is a difference. We were really under the cosh, but still able to get a few scores to relieve the pressure.”
Meanwhile, disappointed Ballycastle coach, Barry Kelly praised his charges, while ruing what happened in the first 15 minutes.
“They drove through us during that period, seemed to be a stick ahead in everything they were doing. They have serious runners and they really hurt us.
“But we did the same to them in the second half – and that is why the girls can hold their heads high.”
The brilliance of Ballycastle during the second half certainly eclipsed the inadequacies of the opening 30 minutes, but it is scant consolation for a team that proved they were as good as their opponents.
McCormick picked up the Player of the Match award. Indeed no-one was off the pace during that second half, but for the full hour Katie Lynn was probably her team’s most consistent performer.
Loreto looked so brilliant during the opening 15-20 minutes in almost every position, but it was the experience and ability of the likes of SteffiFitzgerald, Clifford and the Kellys that eventually saw them over the line in a game that delivered 32 scores from 14 players, only seven scores from frees, some superb long-range Loreto points, two absolutely brilliant McCormick goals and one of the greatest fightbacks in a final at this level, even if it did fall narrowly short.
LORETO: Hannah Brennan, Issy Caroll, Ciara O’Shea, Nicole Carter, Eimear Leahy, Tara Clifford 0-1, Sinead Keoghasn, Caoimhe Dowling 0-1, Ciara O’Keefe 0-1, Hannah Kelly 0-3, Steffi Fitzgerald 0-4, Rachel Kelly 0-4, 0-3 frees, Jane Cass, Katie Brennan 1-1, Ruth Kent 1-3.
SUB: Eibhlin Phelan for I Caroll (35).
CROSS & PASSION: Aoife McGowan, Catie McCaughan, Katie Lynn, Aoife O’Mullan, Méabh O’Neill, Catherine McShane, Finvola McVeigh, Bronagh McKeague, Maeve Kelly, Anna Connolly 0-1, Kirsty McKendry 0-1, Dearbhail Magill 0-1, Ciara Laverty 1-0, Roisin McCormick 2-5, 0-4 frees, Charley McCarry 1-0.
SUBS: Katie Laverty for C McCaughan (50), Carla McGarry for C Laverty (54)
REFEREE : Gavin Donegan (Dublin)
O'Neills All-Ireland PP Schools' Junior A final Report
by Colin Breheny
St Angela’s Ursuline 1-9
St Mary’s New Ross 3-3
ST ANGELA'S URSULAJunior team lived to fight another day after a late Aoife Fitzgerald goal from a free salvaged a draw against a tough and tenacious St Mary’s of New Ross at a sunny Carriganore Arena last Saturday afternoon.
Fitzgerald, who converted all of The Ursuline’s scores (1-6 from placed balls), was unerring in her freetaking duties all afternoon and her immaculately lasered dead ball striking has kept the dreams of All-Ireland Glory within reach.
Despite outscoring their opposition by 10 scores to six, the majority of the large crowd present were in agreement that The Ursuline played their “get-out-of-jail card” and were mightily relieved to get another crack of the whip at the Leinster Champions in a replay at the same venue on Thursday.
Full-forward Kate Foley opened the scoring for New Ross with a 21-yard free early in the game before The Ursuline struck back with two quick points from Fitzgerald.
The Wexford champions began to dominate exchanges out around the middle third thereafter and corner-forward Katie Murphy soon began to make hay, when she converted a fantastic solo goal in the eighth minute to put her side two points clear.
Murphy raised another green flag 10 minutes later when her effort at a point dropped short and crept in over the head of Elena Gallagher in the Ursuline goal.
The Ursuline management acted quickly to stem the tide. The readjustments soon paid off as the home side gained momentum and Fitzgerald converted another two frees before the break to close the gap to 2-1 to 0-4 at the half-way juncture.
Fitzgerald picked up where she left off early in the second half with another duo of converted frees shortly after the resumption.
Hurricane Katie began to shake The Ursuline last line of defence once again soon after. Murphy’s exquisite point from out under the stands in the 45th minute was followed , moments later, by an exquisite mazy run through the defence before she whistled a shot millimetres wide of The Ursuline goal.
Fitzgerald reduced the deficit to the minimum in the 51st minute with a pointed free, before adding another, two minutes later, from play to tie up the score at 2-3 to 0-9.
With four minutes remaining, New Ross’s corner forward Faye Codd scored what looked to be the match clincher, when she showed a clean pair of heels to the Waterford side’s defence and rattled the ball past Gallagher for their third major of the game.
There was still time for another twist in this thrilling afternoon of sporting theatre when The Ursuline won a free 30 yards from the New Ross goal. Calls from the sideline for the ever-reliable Fitzgerald to take the point went unheeded when she produced a Paul Flynn-esqe moment of genius to rattle the New Ross net with a rasping shot. Whether it was a miscue or an instinctive moment of divinity is a question that only Fitzgerald herself can answer, but it was ultimately the score that rescued the game from the jaws of defeat for the Waterford side.
Speaking after the match, manager Conor O’Toole was in an upbeat mood.
“Look, at the end of the day, there’s nothing lost here today. We are in a positive position and know that there are many things that we can improve on for the replay.”
Pushed on where his side can gain the inches that will get them over the line in the replay, O’Toole highlighted aspects of the game that need to be improved on.
“I’d be disappointed with some of the decision-making that we had today when we were on the ball. We have to show a little more composure, slow things down a bit and make that final delivery count more often. We’ve a fantastic group of girls in the squad here and still have every chance of winning the All-Ireland title.”
ST ANGELA'S URSULINE: Elena Gallagher; Hannah Leamy, Lucy Hogan, Sorcha Cantwell; Shauna Farrell, Sarah Maher, Jodie Tuohy; Clodagh Carroll, Holly Ryan; Rachael Walsh, Abby Flynn, Clodagh Hoctor; Alisha Flynn, Aoife Fitzgerald 1-9, Clodagh Curham. Sub: Laoise McLoughlin for Hannah Leamy (16)
ST MARY'S NEW ROSS: Hannah Dunphy; Niamh Oglely, Katie Kehoe, Bríd Walsh; Áine Galavan, Amy Cahill, Elaine Quigley; Aishling Prendergast, Tara Doyle; Niamh O’Shea, Ciara Walsh, Cria Langton; Katie Murphy 2-1, Kate Foley 0-2f, Faye Codd 1-0.
REFEREE: Cathal Egan (Cork).