West Clare Gaels 3-9 St Conleth’s (Laois) 0-8
BUOYED by huge support in Nenagh, West Clare Gaels swept to a clinically comprehensive win over St Conleth’s in the All-Ireland intermediate club final on Sunday.
Seven points up at half-time, the Clare senior champions effectively tied up the result two minutes into the second half, when Katie Geoghegan bulleted to the net after Maria Kelly had been impeded in the square. Geoghegan’s goal from the penalty spot was followed a couple of minutes later by Niamh Lardener’s third point from play, leaving West Clare Gaels 2-7 to 0-3 up and cruising in sun-splashed McDonagh Park.
Most of the preparatory work, for what was an era-defining win, was honed in the opening half, when full-back Sineád Kelly and Lardener were particularly outstanding.
Although St Conleth’s Claire Fox engineered a sniff of a goal chance in the opening 10 seconds, Deirdre Troy, Geoghegan and Lardener smoothly combined a minute later, allowing the latter to clip over a class-fuelled point. That score set the tone for the masterly Gaels and for their impassioned support, who travelled to North Tipperary from throughout West Clare and not merely from the club’s heartland. With the wind behind them, the Gaels tore into the Leinster champions as Geoghegan forced a ’45 after Caoimhe Egan diverted her effort around the post.
Majella Griffin notched the winners’ second point, from a free won by Geoghegan, before Claire O’Connell tapped over St Conleth’s first score.
Successive Griffin points, one from a free after a foul on Lardener, left West Clare Gaels 0-4 to 0-1 ahead. Her point from play was set up by Sineád Kelly’s inspirational run upfield from the full-back line.
Eight minutes before half-time, Lardener lethally stuck her side’s first goal after she had initially tried to play in Leanne Lynch. The break fell back to Lardener and the adroit attacker nearly burst the net.
St Conleth’s were further destabilised when Claire O’Connell was sin-binned for 10 minutes, six minutes before half-time. The St Conleth’s captain late tackled Sinéad Kelly in front of the stand. Michelle Allen pointed the Laois team’s second point three minutes before half-time but Maria Kelly, from an acute angle, and Lardner pointed the Clare champions 1-6 to 0-2 ahead at the interval.
In fact, Lardener was unlucky to have a second goal disallowed when she pulled on a loose ball a minute before half-time, after Egan had saved from Geoghegan.
Clearly the better team, all West Clare Gaels had to do was maintain their work rate and avoid making needless mistakes during the second half. Geoghegan’s early second-half penalty and Lardener’s point left the Gaels 10 points up and St Conleth’s bereft of hope, clinging to an outside chance of an unlikely miracle to rescue them.
O’Connell pointed twice for the Laois girls, sandwiched between a Griffin pointed free, won by Maria Kelly.
Six minutes from time, Geoghegan caught, held and finished a Griffin free. A minute later, the young Gaels corner-forward was freed by Griffin again and shot over the bar, when another goal was on. Now 3-9 to 0-5 in front, the game was up as the West Clare Gaels hordes clustered at the pitch side gates, readying themselves for an ecstatic invasion.
O’Connell and Fox tagged on three late points for St Conleth’s but there was never any real chance that they could rescue the result at that stage.
PJ Rabbitte’s game and season-ending whistle was met with hundreds of West Clare Gaels supporters hurtling, with impressive speed, onto the field.
The winners’ manifest superiority took some of the excitement from the game, as it was evident well before the end that they were going to win. However, those girls who played in the 2007 All-Ireland junior final defeat to Foxrock-Cabinteely were hardly going to allow St Conleth’s back into it, just to create a bit of commotion.
A feature of West Clare Gaels’ display was their ability to support the player on the ball, break from defence and let it into their inside forwards at the right time.
Collectively they looked cohesive and balanced but some players left an indelible impression on the All-Ireland club final stage. Sineád Kelly’s display at full-back must have put her in contention to win player of the match. Her flawless reading of the play wasn’t matched by anyone on the field, while she repeatedly burst forward from full-back. St Conleth’s just couldn’t handle her. Shauna Harvey, who was selected as player of the match, played very well at wing-back, while Michelle Downes and Maria Kelly ruled the middle of the field. Like her twin sister, Maria Kelly’s runs from deep were pivotal to West Clare Gaels’ win. Up front, all six forwards contributed and their movement was excellent. However, Niamh Lardener and Katie Geoghegan, who scored 3-4 between them, were especially magnificent, while Denise Geaney also worked ceaselessly at centre-forward.
This win wasn’t just forged last Sunday though. It has been fermenting since 2007, when they were beaten in the All-Ireland junior final. Three years ago, West Clare Gaels kicked just seven points. The three goals they netted last Sunday indicates how much they have improved offensively in the interim.
Enough to add an All-Ireland medal to those already collected in Clare and Munster.
West Clare Gaels: Megan McGrath; Rita Boland, Sineád Kelly, Kathleen Foley; Ciara Harvey, Deirdre Troy, Shauna Harvey; Michelle Downes (captain), Maria Kelly; Leanne Lynch, Denise Geaney, Bríd Troy; Niamh Lardener, Majella Griffin, Katie Geoghegan.
Subs: Lauren McMahon for Denise Geaney (55), Lisa Harte for Rita Boland (58) and Fiona Troy for Bríd Troy (60).
Scorers: Katie Geoghegan (2-1), Niamh Lardener (1-3), Majella Griffin (0-4, 3f) and Maria Kelly (0-1).
Wides: 2; frees won: 25; 45s: 4
St Conleth’s: Caoimhe Egan; Aimee Kelly, Tracey Fallon, Siobhán O’Connor; Caoimhe Donoher, Linda-Gene Finn, Rachel Gorman; Michelle Allen, Leanne Fallon; Claire Fox, Claire O’Connell (captain), Katie Haberlin; Aoife Kirrane, Laura Dunne, Niamh Cullen.
Subs: Sarah Johnson for Siobhán O’Connor (half-time), Ruanne Hunt for Katie Haberlin (38), Lizzie Emerson for Niamh Cullen (47), Sineád Ward for Caoimhe Donoher (51) and Áine Haberlin for Leanne Fallon.
Scorers: Claire O’Connell (0-6, 5f), Michelle Allen and Claire Fox (0-1) each.
Wides: 11; frees won: 39; 45s: 4
Sin bin: Claire O’Connell (24).
Referee: PJ Rabbitte (Galway).