Slaughtneil camogs deliver All-Ireland title with victory over Sarsfields of Galway
AIB All-Ireland Club Camogie Championship final: Robert Emmet's, Slaughtneil (Derry) 1-10 Sarsfields (Galway) 0-11
A RECORD attendance witnessed an Ulster team winning the AIB All-Ireland Camogie Senior Club Championship for only the second time as Slaughtneil proved strongest on the home straight after a ding-dong battle with Sarsfields.
It is a first success for a Derry side but just further torment for Galway, as it represented a fifth consecutive final defeat for the county’s representatives.
An aggregate of 6,123 came through the Croke Park turnstiles, and for the finals to attract a highest attendance ever while the games were also being streamed bore testimony to an increasing appeal.
Slaughtneil’s presence undoubtedly had a lot to do with that, the club having secured an historic three-timer at senior level in Ulster, while the footballers are also in an All-Ireland final on St Patrick’s Day.
This was had extra resonance though, as joint-manager Thomas Cassidy had passed away just before the drawn Ulster final, having been the leading light in the development of camogie and hurling in the club.
It was Cassidy who enticed Antrim legend Dominic McKinley to join him and Damian McEldowney and the latter duo steered the ship magnificently through an emotionally testing period.
Cassidy’s three daughters, Aoife, Brona and Eilís, played two days after burying their father and were magnificent on the biggest stage of all.
As captain, Aoife had the honour of lifting the Bill & Agnes Carroll Cup before delivering a memorable speech, entirely as Gaeilge, in what was probably the ultimate tribute to her father, who fostered a love of the native tongue and culture in all his children. Eilis must have gone very close to being named player-of-the-match, as must sweeper and ace free-taker Louise Dougan but there could be few arguments either against the award to Shannon Graham, who covered every blade of grass.
Slaughtneil started well with points from Graham and Dougan, but Sarsfields settled and with Niamh McGrath slotting four points from frees, they led entering the second quarter. The hero of the replayed provincial decider, Mary Kelly, gave a reminder of her threat when hitting the upright in the 19th minute and Eilís Ní Chaiside’s follow-up was smothered on the line by Yvonne Lyons.
Orlaith McGrath slotted two excellent points on the run but Dougan landed a pair of massive frees from around 55m out and tight to the Hogan Stand sideline to give the women in maroon and white a marginal interval advantage, 0-7 to 0-6.
Slaughtneil wasted a number of good opportunities early in the second half, but the vital goal came five minutes in when Éilis Ní Chaiside showed tremendous vision to hit a reverse pass off the sod while running away from goal, back towards Kelly and the corner-forward made no mistake.
‘Hopper’ McGrath’s crew dug deep though and the switch of the manager’s youngest daughter (there were four on the pitch), 16-year-old Siobhán to the half-forward line, had a significant impact as she flourished in the space and shot three points.
The Galwegians drew level, but crucially they could not edge ahead despite having the upper hand. It was in this period that Dougan and Graham really showed their worth, repelling attack after attack.
Slaughtneil’s large support grew more vocal on the back of each clearance and the players lifted the bar once more.
They found the likes of Erica Leslie and Laura Ward in the Sarsfields’ rearguard in equally unyielding mood. But after Graham was fouled, Dougan restored Slaughtneil’s lead in the 59th minute, ending a lengthy period for her side without a score from the time Eilís Ní Chaiside had pointed deftly towards the end of the third quarter.
And it was the centre-forward who had the last say, driving over spectacularly while on the move and wide on the left.
Slaughtneil: J Bradley; J McMullan, B Ní Chaiside, Dervlagh McGuigan; G O’Kane, A Ní Chaiside; C McGrath, L Dougan (0-6 frees), S Graham (0-1); S McKaigue, E Ní Chaiside (0-3), Denise McGuigan; M Kelly (1-0), S Mellon, T Mellon.
Subs: B McAister for Denise McGuigan (48), F Burke for S Mellon (58), C Mulholland for T Mellon (63)
Sarsfields: Y Lyons; R Murphy, L Ward, A Spellman; T Kenny, C McGrath, E Leslie; N McGrath (04, 0-3 frees, 0-1 45), K Gallagher; S Spellman (0-1), O McGrath (0-3); K Donohue; S Cannon, M Cooney, S McGrath (0-3).
Referee: R Kelly (Kildare)
Mary Kelly the Slaughtneil hero in final with decisive goal
SOME players have a knack for scoring goals and Mary Kelly fits into that category. It has ever been thus. Take, for example, the Ulster final replay, when Slaughtneil had drawn level having been three points down to Loughgiel Shamrocks with five minutes remaining.
Kelly scored a goal but it was disallowed. Undeterred, she lobbed the goalkeeper soon afterwards, sealing the deal with a goal when 99 per cent of players would have opted for a point that might well have been sufficient.
Yesterday, she was denied only by the upright in the first half but patience is perhaps the most important virtue when you’re an inside forward that trades on the green flag. And when the next chance came, in the 36th minute, there was only one result.
“I don’t know, maybe I’m just a moocher, just waiting for that goal,” she smiled afterwards.
“I prefer a goal to a point I have to say, but sure it’s worth three isn’t it? Luckily I got it and it was a crucial moment when we needed that boost and thankfully we held onto it to the end.”
This is just after Shannon Graham has ventured over to ask the interviewer what he thinks of Kelly’s white boots. When you do what she does, you can wear whatever colour boots you want.
But of course Kelly was just doing her job, just as others had done in all sectors of the field. And that’s what it took to prevail.
“I don’t really know how to put it into words. It’s everything you dreamt of as a child. Not even playing in Croke Park, it’s winning that All-Ireland final regardless of where it was; it was just winning that All-Ireland final.”
“We were playing championship four or five years ago and getting beat in the first round in Derry. When you compare that to where we’re at now it’s just remarkable and it just shows the hard work that’s done behind the scenes.
“You learn everything from the defeats you have in the past and thankfully we were able to put the drawbacks into positives going forward and that’s why we were winners here today and we’re thankful.”
There was “no better bunch to win an All-Ireland final than with your friends so it’s some feeling” she added, because the sacrifices were significant.
“You never see your (other) friends and maybe you’ve lost friends over it. But it’s all worth it in the end.”