CRAOBH CIARAN CLAIM JUNIOR CROWN
CRAOBH CIARAN 1-14 ST PETER’S 3-7
Favourites Craobh Ciaran came through to claim victory in the closing stages of an absorbing Buttercrane Junior Championship final at Davitt Park after goals immediately either side of half-time had looked like earning St Peter’s the title.
Even when Craobh Ciaran eventually got their noses back in front and added a seemingly conclusive injury-time goal, the Lurgan girls kept going and raised their third green flag right at the death to leave just a point between the teams at Denise McDonald’s final whistle.
The highly impressive Maeve Lennon led the way with 1-7, more than half of her team’s tally, but unusually the Player of the Match came from the winning side with goal-scorer Kate Corvan being recognised for covering every blade of Clan na Gael’s grass.
Armagh LGFA’s well organised finals weekend got underway with history being made as Clann Eireann clubwoman McDonald became the first female to referee an adult championship showpiece, supported by two lineswomen in Grainne Sands and Ciara Gilroy.
There was always going to be another first at the end of the evening as neither of the competing teams had won a championship at adult level before and who would have that honour remained up for grabs until the final whistle in Lurgan.
Craobh Ciaran, an amalgamated team representing Derrynoose and Middletown, were widely tipped to take the third tier title from early in this shortened season, though they had to come through two tough enough games to take their expected place in the decider.
They registered the only away win of the 12 quarter-finals at all levels by beating third division outfit Eire Og 0-12 to 1-5 on their own Pinebank pitch and were pushed much harder by Tir na nOg at Abbey Park than the 7-13 to 4-4 scoreline suggests.
For their part, St Peter’s crushed newcomers Wolfe Tones 5-29 to 3-4 in the last eight but, because of a major coronavirus outbreak in the club, had to wait until four nights before the Friday final to play their semi.
In that Monday match they ended Clonmore’s hopes of making the Junior final for a third year in a row with a 1-14 to 0-8 victory in Derrymacash and, with the decider on their own doorstep, St Peter’s hit the ground running by scoring the opening point right away.
However, fancied Craobh Ciaran quickly got into their own stride, raising three white flags in the next three minutes, and were five points ahead at the water-break but St Peter’s chipped away in reducing the arrears to just two in injury-time.
They then got goals in the space of about a minute either side of the interval, one of them from Corvan and the other by Ciara Lennon, who played up front for Armagh in their 2012 All Ireland Intermediate final win over Waterford but has had a career plagued by injury.
Ciara Lennon won a Buttercrane Junior All Star last season but her injury jinx struck again in the second half here and losing their top-scorer was a big blow to the hopes of underdogs St Peter’s.
A point four minutes into the second half had put them four up and it took a long and anxious 25 minutes for Craobh Ciaran to get themselves back on even terms as the Lurgan girls fought for everything.
Their hearts seemed certain to be broken however when a Craobh Ciaran goal between the point which put them ahead and what would prove their last score of the evening suddenly left a daunting gap of five on the board.
It did indeed prove a decisive swing, though St Peter’s finished with a flourish, pulling back a point and also scoring that third goal through sub Michelle Wilson 41 minutes after the second half had started.
In spite of her evening being cut short, Ciara Lennon was her team’s top-scorer with 1-2, while Corvan, who also hit a point, and Wilson got the other goals and there were two points from the sinbinned Sarah Morgan.
Former county panellists Lauren Magee and Emer McCormick chipped in with a point each for a team featuring one current county player in Chloe Magill and captained from full back by Katie Headley.
For Craobh Ciaran, Lennon’s 1-7 was supplemented by two points apiece from co-captain Nicola Woods, wing forward Niamh Murphy and sub Aine Mallon with their other score coming from Orlaith Mallon.
Mallon’s dad Vincent from Middletown manages the winning team along with Derrynoose clubman Barry McGurgan, with former Armagh LGFA PRO and aspiring referee Conall McGinnity added to the ticket this season.
After Corvan got the game’s opening point for St Peter’s, Murphy equalised for Craobh Ciaran and then Maeve Lennon kicked two nice scores from the left in quick succession before claiming an opposition kick-out and linking with Murphy for Orlaith Mallon to point.
Maeve Lennon kicked a free and her namesake Ciara, who had just been denied a goal by a great save from Craobh Ciaran keeper Grainne Curry, replied in kind for St Peters before Maeve rounded off a lovely, drifting run with a left-footed point.
Curry made another great stop, with Magill pushing her follow-up shot wide and then, at the other end, the St Peter’s goalkeeper Kirsty Hatchell made a good save with her feet when Woods went low after a Lennon run down the flank.
Corvan slid a soccer-style shot narrowly wide but Sarah Morgan kicked two great long-range points ahead of the St Peter’s goal just before the break which came when Laura Casey caught the kickout and Lennon showed composure to finish with her right-foot from Magill’s pass.
There was still time for Maeve Lennon to knock over a left-footed free which meant the teams turned around with the scores level at 0-8 to 1-5 but Corvan netted with her right foot at the start of the second half and Magee added a towering left-footed point.
Craobh Ciaran gradually chipped away at the four-point deficit, firstly Maeve Lennon landing a free, then Woods showing her strength before kicking a right-footed score from out on the right.
A patient recycle led to Aine Mallon’s first score of the evening and she posted the equalising score after a good run before Maeve Lennon’s fourth free nudged Craobh Ciaran ahead again for the first time since the opening period.
A penalty was awarded when Woods was brought down in the St Peter’s goalmouth and, although Maeve Lennon’s spot-kick hit the crossbar, she caught the rebound and calmly sidestepped the keeper to slot the ball into the net.
Woods sent over a great left-footed point after Headley couldn’t catch Hatchell’s wayward kickout but McCormick replied with a close-range score and Wilson hacked home right at the end after Curry had spilled a dropping bomb in the Craobh Ciaran goalmouth.
The rather ludicrous sight of joint captains is rightly frowned upon in ladies gaelic football but an amalgamated team is a legitimate exception and, in this case, Middletown woman Woods and Derrynoose’s Laura McNally symbolically share the responsibility.
In addition to the two clubs officially represented by Craobh Ciaran, there is also a notable contribution from Keady, whose small but significant contingent includes recognisable names from Armagh camogie in Sarah Molloy and Catherine Beagan.
Woods has also played county camogie as well as having been a hard-working and helpful PRO for Armagh when injury forced her to miss their run to Croke Park for the 2016 Premier Junior Championship final.
One of several Middletown players whose Armagh Senior Championship hopes in camogie were ended by Granemore at the semi-final stage earlier this month, Woods spoke on behalf of the Craobh Ciaran side at the trophy presentation in Lurgan.
While Woods delivered the formal speech, the physically commanding McNally can be seen in the Kreative Collective’s brilliant highlights package really rallying the troops in the huddle and this side, like its two leaders, is a complementary mix.
Derrynoose, so successful at underage level in recent years, have so much talent coming through while some of the Middletown players bring big game experience from county camogie finals.
It all adds up to a successful formula and, as well as this Junior Championship success, Craobh Ciaran have marched to the Division Four title with a 100 percent record and can now looking forward to testing themselves a level higher in both competitions next season.
However, with an Ulster Junior Club Championship quarter-final away to Cavan counterparts Crosserlough this Saturday and a number of this squad set to feature in next month’s Armagh Minor Championship, this season is far from finished yet.