Rathnure so close to beating All-Ireland champs
Camogie Premier Senior Championship Final
Oulart-The Ballagh barely managed to shake themselves off the Rathnure hook, right at the last moment, as Ursula Jacob's free a minute into added time sent this Premier Senior camogie championship final to a replay.
Rathnure 3-7 Oulart-Ballagh 1-13
If a random G.A.A. fan walked into Bellefield on Saturday afternoon, that person might have marvelled at how the All-Ireland champions came back from seven points down with 16 minutes remaining to claim a share of the spoils.
However, somewhere in the back of that person's mind, they would have strayed to thinking about how a side that steamrollered all-comers last season could have gotten themselves into such a predicament.
First though the positives, and for Rathnure the performance as a whole was massively encouraging. There were question marks over their form after scraping by St. Martin's in the semi-final after extra-time, but the doubts were answered in a showing full of heart, quality and, above all, intensity.
Rathnure wanted this win, they desperately wanted this county title and a crack at a Leinster final in a few weeks' time. They so nearly did enough to get that chance too in a blistering first 42 minutes filled with an energy their opponents didn't come close to matching.
The problem was that level of effort over 60 minutes is impossible to sustain. Rathnure knew their hopes lay with getting out in front and hanging on for their lives, and with 'player of the game' Louise O'Leary putting in one of the performances of her career, that gameplan was so close to fruition.
Then Oulart-The Ballagh played like champions for the final quarter. They actually scored nine points in the first-half but take a bow the Kehoe twins, Stacey and Shelley. The duo were without doubt the only reason the comeback was possible after sharing six of those points between them - their side's only scores from play in the 30 minutes.
By and large the rest of the Oulart-The Ballagh side were slumbering through the period, like they were in an alternative universe where doing things in slow motion somehow equalled the furious intensity that their opponents brought to the table.
Yes, there are teething problems in the team, as old heads and injured legs have been replaced by fledgling brains in some spots, and those youngsters will now understand what the rivalry between Rathnure and Oulart-The Ballagh is about, but some of their experienced team-mates don't have that excuse.
Stacey Kehoe had Oulart-The Ballagh 0-2 to 0-1 to the good when the excellent Ciara O'Connor was fouled by Karen Atkinson for a penalty that Jackie Quigley blasted to the net past Mary Leacy on the right of goalkeeper Sharon Kehoe.
Seconds later Kehoe was reaching behind her for the ball again after Olivia Hearn nipped in to force the sliothar away from the fumbling Oulart-The Ballagh shot-stopper to the rigging from close range (2-1 to 0-2).
Ciara O'Connor's point increased the lead to six but back came the Kehoes, with both pointing. Jacob added a pair of frees before Shelley Kehoe grabbed her second point as Oulart-The Ballagh narrowed the gap to just one.
Rathnure responded with three of the next four points, two from O'Connor and the other from Oonagh Doyle. It was enough to give the Blackstairs girls a 2-5 to 0-9 interval lead.
When Ciara O'Connor's long ball in was eventually worked out as far as Marie Morrissey, the young attacker made no mistake when driving past Sharon Kehoe for her side's third major five minutes into the second-half.
Another brace by O'Connor made it 3-7 to 0-9 in the 42nd minute, but Rathnure failed to score again as legs became leaden. Again it was Stacey Kehoe who brought Oulart-The Ballagh back into the game with a close-range goal in the 44th minute, but four points still separated the sides with six minutes left.
A Jacob free, '45 and point from play - the only one that didn't come from a Kehoe twin - quickly closed the gap to a point as Oulart-The Ballagh pushed Rathnure back deep into their own half. The decisive moment came when Shauna Sinnott, the best Oulart-The Ballagh player on the afternoon not called Kehoe, was fouled bursting through and Jacob tapped over an easy 20-metre free to force a replay.
Popular opinion is that Rathnure have missed their chance but they have the forwards to get at a very shaky Oulart-The Ballagh full-back line. If the All-Ireland champions play for 60 minutes they will win the replay, but if they don't their opponents might not let a second chance slip away.
Oulart-The Ballagh: Sharon Kehoe; Ciara Storey (capt.), Karen Atkinson, Shauna Redmond; Katie Murphy, Mary Leacy, Stacey Redmond; Louise Sinnott, Shelley Kehoe (0-2); Aoife Dunne, Shauna Sinnott, Aideen Brennan; Stacey Kehoe (1-4), Ursula Jacob (0-7, 5 frees, 1 '45), Diane Ryan. Subs. - Katie Gallagher for Dunne (38), Brídín Redmond for Storey (44), also Niamh Sinnott, Aishling Moran, Laura Sinnott, Leanne Nolan, Rachel Sinnott, Mairéad O'Brien, Orlaith Prendergast, Una Leacy, Aine Sheridan, Aoife O'Connor.
Rathnure: Laura Brennan; Bernie Holohan, Louise O'Leary, Farren Byrne; Laura Redmond, Evelyn Quigley (capt.), Leanne Foley; Michelle Martin, Jackie Quigley (1-0 pen.); Oonagh Doyle (0-1), Aoife O'Connor, Eimear O'Connor; Olivia Hearn (1-0), Ciara O'Connor (0-6, 3 frees), Marie Morrissey (1-0). Subs. - Elizabeth Whiteley for Hearn (57), Jean Hayden for Byrne (58), also Niamh O'Connor, Fiona Donnellan, Emma O'Connor, Shauna O'Connor, Brudge Roche.
Referee: Mick Lanigan (St. Ibar's/Shelmalier).