Catherine McGourty calls time as Down see off Offaly to secure senior championship status

Down keeper Catherine McGourty has brought the curtain down on her 24-year senior county career
Down keeper Catherine McGourty has brought the curtain down on her 24-year senior county career

Glen Dimplex All-Ireland senior Camogie relegation play-off final: Down 1-12 Offaly 0-6

THERE was never any danger that Down would not come out on top in this Glen Dimplex senior championship relegation final in Abbottstown on Saturday afternoon to secure a fourth successive season in top flight camogie.

They put their mark on the game inside 12 seconds when Sara Louise Graffin ran off the shoulder of Lauren Clarke who had burst forward with possession from the throw-in, took the pass and nailed the opening point.

From then until the end they bullied the lighter Offaly players in one-on-one situations, supported each other well including changing the direction of the movement and generally dominated the game.

Their only problem was converting all that dominance into scores on the board; they ran up eight wides in the first half and a further six after the break and dropped a significant number of shots short into the grateful arms of Siobhán Flannery, the Offaly forward-turned-goalkeeper for the day.

At the end of the game however the focus was on the other forward-turned-goalkeeper, Catherine McGourty who has called time on her long inter-county career that began in 1999 when she was first called into the senior panel as an under 16 player. Down went out that season to eventual champions Tipperary at the semi-final stage, the best any Ulster side has done since Antrim won their sixth crown 44 years ago.

“I am very pleased that my inter-county career has ended as it begun with Down at the top table,” an emotional McGourty stated after she accepted congratulations from her team-mates and family at the final whistle.

“It has been a long journey, plenty of disappointments along the way including All-Ireland Junior final defeats. But I have loved every minute of it. It is just time to go. I know I retired before, a few years ago. This time I am definitely gone.”

It was perhaps fitting that she went out on a clean sheet and without having to pull off a worthwhile save in the game. However, she still commanded her back line with authority. Apart from a few fouls that delivered points for Leahy, that back-line was on top of everything that came their way.

Midfielders Lauren Clarke and Deirbhile Savage have forged a formidable partnership after their forced change into the area mid-season while up front Niamh Mallon and Sara Louise Graffin again pulled the strings. Graffin was my star player on Saturday, while Mallon had one of her quieter scoring days, but still hit seven points.

Offaly were much changed from earlier in the season, with a number of their more experienced players absent through injury and holidays and of course Flannery in nets.

The playing conditions deteriorated in the heavy rain as the game progressed and the second half was particularly testing for both sets of players.

After Graffin gave Down the early lead, they began to dominate and added two Niamh Mallon points before Clodagh Leahy had Offaly’s first score from a free in the 10th minute. But they were also guilty of poor shooting.

Mallon responded to the Leahy score with her third from play before she had a neat interchange of passes with Graffin in the 15th minute that ended with the Clonduff stalwart giving Siobhán Flannery no chance from 15 metres.

Although Faye Mulrooney responded with a good point, you just knew that the gap opened by the goal would never be closed, and it wasn’t.

Before the break, Mallon and Graffin tagged on points and Down went in with a healthy 1-7 to 0-2 advantage.

In fairness to Offaly they kept pace with the Ulster champions for the duration of the second half, responding to each of Down’s first four points. Frustratingly from a Down point of view they coughed up possession when goals looked on and their only real chance for a second major came when Lauren Clarke made the break through the centre and off-loaded for Ciara Fitzsimons. The corner-forward’s well-struck shot was turned out for a 45 by Flannery.

And so Down have drawn a line under their season, and it is a season in which they probably came close to achieving the targets they set at the beginning – Division 1 league and senior championship status maintained and the Ulster senior title regained from Antrim.

Down: SL Graffin (1-4), N Mallon (0-7, 0-2 frees), S Sands (0-1)

Offaly: C Leahy (0-4, 0-3 frees), L Glynn (0-1), F Mulroney (0-1)

Down: C McGourty, I O’Hare, A Mallon, Alannah Savage, C McGilligan, D Magee, R Smyth, D Savage, L Clarke, A McAleenan, SL Graffin, S Sands, C Fitzsimons, N Mallon capt, S McGrath

Subs: O Boyle for A McAleenan (45), B Savage for Alannah Savage (52), Aoife Savage for I O’Hare (54), C O’Connell for S McGrath (54), D Coleman for R Smyth (54)

Offaly: S Flannery; L Mannion, A Liffey, S Moore; S Walsh, S Killeen, H Feenane; C Leahy, G Dolan capt; A McLoughlin, C Maher, N Killeen; L Glynn, R Brennan, F Mulrooney.

Subs. A Feeney, A O’Donovan

Subs: K Guilfoyle for N Killeen (57), C O ‘Donovan for F Mulrooney (57), R Ryan for A Liffey (58).

Referee: P McDonald (Cavan)