BY NIALL SHERRY
All photos: INPHO
Down’s Clonduff too strong for James Stephens
AIB All-Ireland Intermediate Club Camogie Championship Final
James Stephens 1-6
There was to be no silver lining for James Stephens Camog’s as their All-Ireland Intermediate journey ended in defeat to a stronger and more experienced Clonduff side at Croke Park last Saturday.
John Scott’s young charges gave everything on a bitterly cold day at headquarters, and despite a terrific individual performance from All-Ireland winner Sophie O’Dwyer, The Village ladies came-up 3 points short in the final. Back-boned by the Carr sisters, Fionnuala and Sarah-Louise, Clonduff were worthy winners at the long whistle.
The game started a little scrappy with both sides failing to get the upper hand during some early nervous exchanges. The Down and Ulster champions opened the scoring in the 5th minute courtesy of corner-forward Paula O’Hagan who slotted over a free from about 46 metres out, following a foul by inter-county star, Michelle Teehan.
Semi-final star Sarah-Louise Graffin who notched 6-points in their extra-time win over Clanmaurice, got the first of 3 quality scores ten minutes into Saturday’s final, having taken a magnificent catch from a long puck-out, showing great strength to turn her marker before splitting the posts. Sarah’s sister, Fionnuala Carr was getting on lots of ball and sending in some quality deliveries to the James Stephens back-line and these were causing lots of panic and uncertainty in The Village defence.
James Stephens got the score board moving in the 15th minute after Michelle Teehan was fouled. Once the midfielder had received some treatment, Sophie O’Dwyer struck over the placed ball from right on half-way. A wonderful and much-needed score for the Kilkenny side.
The next three scores would come from Clonduff. The first, another quality effort from Graffin from way out on the left side, pure quality. The second came from Paula O’Hagan, steady and reliable from the placed ball. The final score of the Yella’s burst came from Ceallagh Byrne, a late inclusion to the starting line-up.
The Village needed something to kick-start their final before it was too late, and it came in the 25th minute. Another of the county-contingent, Niamh Deely sent in a searching delivery towards the Clonduff goal. The Down side’s goalkeeper, Katie McGilligan failed to take a clean catch and the sliotar spilled to the on-running Sophie O’Dwyer, who slid in and finished to the net to raise the cheers of the travelling James Stephens supporters. The Kilkenny and Leinster champions now trailed by the bare minimum, 0-5 to 1-1.
The raising of the green flag appeared to revitalise The Village as they looked far more competitive afterwards. John Scott’s team were causing Clonduff a few more problems with ball-in-hand and when Niamh Deely attempted to burst through the Yella’s defence, her run was halted illegally by veteran centre-back Fionnuala Carr, who required some treatment after her indiscretion. Sophie O’Dwyer stepped forward and sent over the equalising score from the free, as somehow her side reached the short whistle on level terms, 0-5 to 1-2.
There’s no doubt that John Scott would have been the happier of the two managers at the interval following his sides slow start to the game, and the fact that only one player had troubled the score board in the opening period. His opposite number, Kieran McGourty will have been scratching his head and wondering how his Clonduff side had allowed The Village to get back into the contest.
McGourty had clearly got his message across during the half-time break, as his side came out with a spring in their step for the second period. Just three minutes into the half, trusty free-take Paula O’Hagan popped over one from play and third of the game. Just a couple of minutes later the same player added a free following a surging run from wing-forward Cassie Fitzpatrick.
James Stephens scoring machine Sophie O’Dwyer continued her crusade with a cracking long range free, before Player of the Match, Sarah-Louise Graffin collected another accurate puck-out from Katie McGilligan and dispatched her shot between The Village posts. The Kilkenny side’s No.6, Emma Gaffney then saw yellow for pulling back Graffin as she tried to prevent the danger-woman breaking through The Village defence. Paula O’Hagan made no mistake from the resulting free as Clonduff opened up a 3-point lead with some 42 minutes on the clock.
Rachel Leahy then won a free which Sophie O’Dwyer pointed and after the latter’s next effort had dropped short, some good re-cycling saw the sliotar worked to Niamh Deely who fired over a nice point to somehow reduce the gap to just one point, despite what appeared to be the Ulster side’s dominance. The Village’s Aoife Cantwell was the adjudged to have over-carried when trying to break-out of defence and Paula O’Hagan punished this by popping over the free.
Clonduff midfielder Isabella O’Hare then struck over a lovely point to make it a 3-point game with some ten minutes remaining. The nerves began to kick-in for both sides as play became a little scrappier again, this clearly suited the Ulster side as they had built a lead that they appeared confident in defending.
Then in the 58th minute, James Stephens came so close to raising a second green flag of the day, in similar circumstances to their first. Another long ball into the Clonduff defence was batted away by keeper McGilligan, but Sophie O’Dwyer’s rebound shot went agonisingly wide of the post. Referee Cathal McAllister then awarded James Stephens a free just beyond the ‘D’ but in Sophie O’Dwyer’s desire to retrieve the sliotar quickly, she pushed a Clonduff player and the decision was over-turned and O’Dwyer saw yellow for her efforts.
O’Dwyer made amends with just 90 seconds remaining when she slotted over her 5th free of the game to reduce the deficit to 2 points. However, Clonduff wing-back Katie Morgan powered forward before striking over a fine point to leave a goal between the sides. The long whistle then sounded, it was agony for The Village, but ecstasy for Clonduff. Final score, Clonduff 0-12, James Stephens 1-6.
CLONDUFF SCORERS: P O’Hagan 0-6(5fs); SL Graffin 0-3; C Byrne, I O’Hare, K Morgan 0-1 each
JAMES STEPHENS SCORERS: S O’Dwyer 1-5 (0-5fs); N Deely 0-1
CLONDUFF: K McGilligan; E Rafferty, J Boden (captain), N Murray; C Kearney, F Carr, K Morgan; I O’Hare, C McGilligan; C Fitzpatrick, O Gribben, B Fitzpatrick; P O’Hagan (0-7, 5 frees), C Byrne, SL Graffin.
Subs: O McCusker for O Gribben (18-22), O McCusker for N Murray (36), C Cowan for O Gribben (46), A Morgan for O McCusker (60+2)
JAMES STEPHENS: L McGrath; M Burke, E Gafney, H Larkin; E Manogue, A Cantwell, H Scott; M Teehan, A Doheny; S O’Dwyer, N Deely (captain), N Butler; C Delaney, R Leahy, E Smith.
Subs: C Moran for N Butler (HT), T McGuire for C Moran (60)
REFEREE: C McAllister (Cork)
>> SHERRY SAYS…
John Scott’s youthful Village side bid for All-Ireland glory fell just short last weekend. Despite a wonderful 1-5 from the very talented Sophie O’Dwyer, James Stephens fell to a more experienced and cuter Clonduff outfit.
While the likes of Niamh Deely and Michelle Teehan tried to influence proceedings, The Down side were physically stronger and had a more even blend of youth and experience.
Kieran McGourty’s side possess leaders and aul heads in The Carr sister’s, Fionnuala and Sarah-Louise (Graffin) and Paula O’Hagan. These 3 talented camog’s all hail from sporting families, with big football backgrounds. The Carr’s are daughters of Down All-Ireland winner Ross, while Paula is the wife of Down defender and former captain Darren O’Hagan.
The ladies from Mourne were just better in all areas, and this comes from experience. In Graffin and O’Hagan, they have two real quality forwards.
For The Village, there’s no doubt that playing senior camogie in the county next season will only bring this talented bunch of players on.
These ladies can hold their heads high and look forward to next season knowing that they are very much on the right track. The future is certainly bright for this group of Village ladies. Congratulations to Clonduff, worthy champions.