Saturday, November 05, 2016

Kilkenny man leads Kilcullen Ladies to Minor Title

Dublin v Kerry, Kilkenny v Tipp, Liverpool v United and Ali v Frazier. Great rivalries because of the passion, the glory and the relentless battle for victory. And now we can add Kilcullen v St Laurence’s to the list, writes Conor O’Toole, because after several years of great contests between the clubs through all age groups their ladies’ minor teams served up a classic in Hawkfield in the recent county final.

The throw-in was delayed by half an hour as the Larries’ jerseys were “as láthair” and finally when they did emerge onto the pitch in the spectral glare of the floodlights they were sporting Kildare jerseys. It wasn’t quite yet Halloween but the temperature rose a notch.

From the start both teams went hard at it and St. Laurences registered a well worked point to open the scoring. Kilcullen replied after a few sorties forward to equalise and the game continued in that vein like a shootout. Nanci Murphy and the ever dangerous Avril Glendon at full forward pointed early for Kilcullen. A Larries point was countered with an express train run by Ellie O’Toole and when the ball made it to Glendon her quick hands and deadly foot shook the onion bag for a sweeping Kilcullen goal. Fuel was added to the fire when a heated exchange on the sideline broke out between opposing mentors and the game only a pup after 15 minutes. This was all duck or no dinner or whatever cliché you prefer as neighbours, schoolmates and, dare it be said with the LGFA Rules, fellow parishioners tore into each other on and off the pitch. Unfazed St. Laurences carved an opening but Kilcullen goalie Jane O’Toole raced off her line to block a certain goal. At this stage the game shifted in Kilcullen’s favour. Corner forward Abby Smith and Ellie O’Toole toiled to set up the lethal Nanci Murphy, speedy Ruth Birchall and skilful Sydney Sheridan for white flags.

Meanwhile all along the watchtower a tenacious Kilcullen backline held back the raiders. Captain Fantastic Laura McMahon at fullback hoovered up ball and was ably supported by a buzzing Bróna Dooley and a battling Kate Timmons at cornerback. They never let up all evening. In the halfback line, waspish Amy Barker, Duracell bunny Molly Aspell and galloping Grace O’Toole repeatedly broke up attacks and launched counters to redirect the match flow. In midfield Sally Murphy gave a performance to belie her 14 years and Lisa Aspell, ever the warrior, tormented Larries’ dynamo Ciara Wheeler and lead the charge from the centre. And when the halftime whistle gave us all pause to breathe Kilcullen were good value for their 1-6 to 0-4 lead.

Both teams remained on the pitch as the mentors reinforced their charges. It was time for manager and Kilkenny man John Glendon, County Junior champions Amy Moran and Karen Bell and the man for all GAA seasons Trevor Howard to reset and revive their charges. Perhaps there was a shortage of Jaffa cakes in the Rags camp. Whatever it was St Laurence’s put a marker down on the restart with a goal within 30 seconds of the throw-in when a Jane O’Toole save was followed up to the net by Nessa Dooley. But not even the partisan roar of the Larries supporters could deflate Kilcullen who replied immediately with a point from Nanci Murphy. Both sides exchanged points and a booming kick from Ellie O’Toole put snow on the ball and another point on the board for the Rags. A decisive break from Lisa Aspel found O’Toole again and her mazy run opened up the Laurence’s defence. The ball was offloaded to Sydney Sheridan who gratefully buried it in the bottom corner. Kilcullen had their opponents on the canvas with a 7 point lead and for the next 5 minutes attacked relentlessly but did not score. St Laurences rallied and hit the crossbar for the second time. And they were thrown a lifeline after a controversial “What me Ref?!” moment led to a penalty for a dubious off the ball incident. Nessa Dooley slipped the ball past a diving Jane O’Toole and 3 more points cut the lead to 1 point with injury time looming.

At this stage it felt like everyone on the sideline was roaring. Kilcullen tightened up at the back with the introduction of Tara Murphy and Katie Brereton but they didn’t sit back. They dug deep and kept going and a brave Ruth Birchall kicked a beauty with the outside of her boot to open a 2 point lead. At the other end Laura McMahon and her backs defended like demons and forced a turnover which swept the ball upfield for Nanci Murphy to point from a tight angle. She then struck over the insurance point and the Kilcullen support edged ever closer to the pitch. And when the final whistle blew there was pandemonium. Kilcullen had won the Ladies Minor Football Championship in their 1st year in Division 1 with half of their team 15 years of age or under.

And all of it achieved with the astute management of a Kilkenny man. A hurling man. In the GAA it doesn’t get any better than that.