Holders thwart young guns
Oulart-The Ballagh complete county title three-in-a-row
When this Talbot Collection Senior camogie championship final was in the balance at the start of the second-half it was, somewhat strangely, one of the lesser lights that stepped up and drove her side to glory in Bellefield on Saturday.
Oulart-The Ballagh 1-13 St. Martin's 0-10
At just 17, Katie Gallagher probably has a bundle of finals ahead of her. Yet, no matter what happens in her future camogie career, she won't produce many spells better than she did in the second-half, scoring a pair of points as well as winning frees and providing assists that led to others.
Oulart-The Ballagh don't seem to be going anywhere soon anyway, and with the likes of Gallagher coming through is it any surprise? Just when they show signs of cracks, like they did scraping past Rathnure in the last four, they produce something else, something different.
This was a lesson in efficiency. The defence was a little suspect in the opening quarter but knuckled down to concede just three points in the final 42 minutes. Effort wasn't wasted back there, as intelligence and experience mixed with youthful energy got it done.
The champs have so often lived and died by the productivity they get from their forwards not called Una and Ursula. Stacey Kehoe has been a great foil in recent times, Shelley from a deeper position too, so adding Katie Gallagher to that mix can only be a positive.
But if Oulart-The Ballagh are going to go on, beat the Kilkenny and Dublin champs, progress to another All-Ireland final and win it, it will probably be the goalscoring form of Una Leacy that will get them to that point.
Once again, like during the summer for her county, Leacy could have had a handful of goals. Only an inspired Mags D'Arcy prevented as much. Looking at her now, it seems incredible to think that some managers in the past have moved the best goal-getter of her generation into a deeper position.
It was actually a lively Brídín Redmond who opened the scoring for Oulart-The Ballagh inside 60 seconds from the right wing. St. Martin's needed a response and got it with four points in as many minutes from the sixth minute.
Sarah O'Connor, excellent in midfield and fresh off an All Star nomination, opened her side's account from just inside the '45. Noeleen Lambert fed Linda Bolger down the left and she made it 0-2 to 0-1 from long range.
Katie O'Connor provided the assist for the third St. Martin's point in the seventh minute, with youngster Emma Codd adding the tidy finish. Sarah O'Connor and Chloe Foxe combined on the left and found Bolger who in turn fed Aisling Cronin for their side's best score of the day.
Just when they were on top, flowing and looking good, Leacy struck. Again Redmond was involved, feeding the ball into the right corner. Leacy cut in until in a goalscoring position and she made no mistake with the finish, drilling past Mags D'Arcy.
Level at 1-1 to 0-4, the Piercestown-based club added another Bolger free in the twelfth minute. Oulart-The Ballagh hit back almost immediately when the slippery Gallagher was fouled and Ursula Jacob tapped over the resulting placed ball.
Again Katie O'Connor assisted a forward's score, this time Bolger's third in the 16th minute. When Chloe Foxe added a superb point from the right wing a few moments later, St. Martin's had a two-point lead (0-7 to 1-2). It didn't last long.
There were some question marks about the penalty Leacy won in the 20th minute but the defenders stepped into her run, impeding her, and Pat Kehoe, who let the game flow and had a good afternoon overall, had no hesitation.
Mags D'Arcy gets right out off her line for penalties and she did it again, saving Leacy's high shot. The ball bounced back out to the 'Bomber' and she made no mistake in tapping over from the right of the posts.
Jacob levelled the scores in the 23rd minute before she fed Leacy just before the break for the lead score. It was only the second time Oulart-The Ballagh had been ahead in the match and they wouldn't give it up (1-5 to 0-7 at half-time).
Gallagher found Leacy for the first point of the second-half before the youngster got her opening score from out on the right wing. Jacob added her third free after Gallagher was felled in the 37th minute to make it 1-8 to 0-7.
From fully 50 metres out Gallagher put five between the sides in the 39th minute. St. Martin's had their best chance to get back into the game when Bolger found Amy Cardiff, but her shot was well saved by a solid Sharon Kehoe.
Stacey Kehoe fed Leacy for her fourth point but Sarah O'Connor responded with a booming free. Two fouls on Gallagher resulted in Jacob picking off a pair of dead-balls to make the score 1-12 to 0-8 with twelve minutes left.
Bolger's final free and an Amy Cardiff score put five between the sides again, but Oulart-The Ballagh just kept chipping away. Jacob scored her final free after an over-carrying infringement.
St. Martin's did throw everything at their opponents in the final few minutes but the holders went closest to netting again when Leacy got in right on full-time and brought out a stunning save from D'Arcy.
The final whistle went as the runners-up cleared their lines, starting muted enough three-in-a-row celebrations from an Oulart-The Ballagh side which has winter targets on its mind. The Kilkenny champions are next up in the Leinster semi-final on October 30.
For St. Martin's, making this final and giving a great account of themselves is a stepping stone. The years of under-age success are starting to bear fruit for the Wexford District club whose sole previous final appearance was in 2005. They just need to keep plugging away, as they're not too far behind the champs.
Oulart-The Ballagh: Sharon Kehoe; Louise Sinnott, Karen Atkinson, Aideen Brennan; Katie Murphy, Mary Leacy, Ciara Storey; Shelley Kehoe, Aoife O'Connor; Katie Gallagher (0-2), Brídín Redmond (0-1), Stacey Kehoe; Ursula Jacob (0-6 frees), Una Leacy (capt., 1-4), Aoife Dunne. Subs. - Diane Ryan for Redmond (38), also Laura Sinnott, Shauna Redmond, Aine Sheridan, Katie Roche, Mairéad O'Brien, Rachel Sinnott, Saoirse Dunne, Shauna Sinnott, Emma Moran.
St. Martin's: Mags D'Arcy; Megan Carty, Marie Claire Morrissey, Lauren Carty; Katie O'Connor, Noeleen Lambert, Aine Ennis; Sarah O'Connor (0-2, 1 free), Aisling Cronin (0-1); Chloe Foxe (0-1), Linda Bolger (capt., 0-4, 2 frees), Mary Barrett; Amy Cardiff (0-1), Aisling O'Connor, Emma Codd (0-1). Subs. - Aoife Waters for A. O'Connor (38), Becky Hamilton for Barrett (46), also Tara Doyle, Ciara Howard, Ellen Barrett, Elsa McDermott, Tracy Browne, Gráinne Waters, Kate Frayne, Orlaith Barrett, Amy Ryan, Lisa Bolger.
Referee: Pat Kehoe (Rathgarogue-Cushinstown).