Hurling and camogie

Saffrons secure senior status with All-Ireland win

Antrim players celebrate after the game with the trophy after their All-Ireland Intermediate Championship final win over Kilkenny at Croke Park

Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

All-Ireland Intermediate Championship final: Antrim 2-21 Kilkenny 2-13

THIS ANTRIM team thought that their semi-final performance against Galway was their best of the season. It wasn’t!

They topped it yesterday in a skilful display of attacking camogie that really lit up Croke Park.

Maeve Kelly and Róisín McCormick were on fire throughout and Kilkenny tried to close the two 20-year-olds down only for the fire to break out elsewhere, with Caitrín Dobbin torturing the Cats’ defence through the second half.

Dobbin finished to the net for one of the best team goals you will ever see in response to a Kilkenny goal direct from a 20-metre free just a couple of minutes earlier, but all over the field the players in saffron and white stood up to the occasion and joint-manager Paul McKillen wore a broad smile as he met the press afterwards. “Every single one of them was brilliant.

"Our defence got in some brilliant interceptions and blocks throughout – but our forwards also worked just as hard on the defensive side of their game and it was a very satisfying performance for everyone in the group.

“You want to get off to a good start. But we didn’t and we were 4-1 down after just five minutes. But that maybe tells you just what sort of group of players we have. What a response.

“The work-rate, the scores they took. The shooting from distance. We had very few wides over the hour. “My only regret is that we could not put on more substitutions and my heart goes out to the nine or 10 girls that didn’t get a chance out there today. Their contribution has been immense in bringing the whole group to the level we played at today.”

As McKillen pointed out, Kilkenny responded to an early point from Maeve Kelly with their half-forwards hitting four points in a row from open play. Apart from Kelly, Antrim had still to tune in.

Róisín McCormick then hit three points in response, one from a free, and Antrim were level after 10 minutes and by the water-break they had edged ahead 0-6 to 0-5, with captain Lucia McNaughton celebrating her 26th birthday with an excellent long-range point. She added another point on the restart, but Sophie O’Dwyer and Eva Hynes let the Saffrons know that Kilkenny were still alive by levelling the game at 0-7 each.

The turning point came in the next attack as Maeve Kelly picked up possession 40 metres out and ran straight at the heart of the defence. She looked to have lost possession, but regained control and shot to the net. In fairness O’Dwyer and Hynes responded with Kilkenny points, but Antrim finished the half strongly with McCormick shooting three points in a row and, in injurytime, Amy Boyle created the space for Caitrín Dobbin to open her account.

That left it 1-11 to 0-9 at the change of ends and Antrim pushed on from the re-start with excellent points from Kelly and Magill within minutes. Although O’Dwyer responded with two frees, McCormick and Dobbin finished good approach work with two more points to bring the Saffrons into a 1-15 to 0-11 lead.

Kilkenny were still creating openings and some nifty stickwork from Niamh Donnelly and then a fine save from Caitríona Graham kept them at bay until the 42nd minute when O’Dwyer caught a 20 metre free just right to bulge the net. Antrim’s response was impressive. McCormick and Kelly fired home excellent longrange points and then sub Anna Connolly, just on the field seven minutes, broke clear. Connolly drew the defender and off-loaded to McCormick who found Dobbin at the other side of the goals and the fleet-footed corner-forward fired across the goalie into the corner of the net.

With McCormick adding a free from an acute angle near the Cusack Stand, Antrim were champions in waiting by the second water-break with a 2-18 to 1-11 lead. Kelly and McCormick added to that lead bringing their respective totals to 1-5 and 0-9. Kilkenny fought on for a late goal and a point – but it was fitting that the final score went to Antrim, another long-range score from Nicole O’Neill. Maeve Kelly was determined not to leave Croke Park without the Jack McGrath Cup. “It has been frustrating for us over the last year, getting to three finals and losing each of them to Down. We were really determined to change that today.

“The early Kilkenny scores got us focussed. You want a good start. When they got it, we knew that we were in a game and had to step up to the plate.

“The big pitch really suited us, we are a fast team and we were in really good shape coming into this championship.

“I am really looking forward to playing senior championship now. We are going up with a young team and we will only get better.”

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Hurling and camogie