By Daire Walsh
Dublin held off a late surge from Meath to claim the U14 Leinster ‘A’ Ladies Football Championship title at a sun-drenched Conneff Park, Clane on Saturday afternoon.
Courtesy of goals by Lauren Caffrey, Shannon Russell and the excellent Grace Smith, the Sky Blues were five points in front (3-5 to 1-6) at the end of the third-quarter.
Skryne wing-forward Ciara Smyth inspired a spirited fightback by their Royal County opponents, but Shay O’Reilly’s charges ultimately squeezed through by the slenderest of margins.
With 12 individual clubs represented in the starting line-up, Beann Eadair, St Oliver Plunkett Eoghan Ruadh and Fingallians had two players each, Dublin were in a confident mood for this provincial showdown in the north Kildare venue.
Kilmacud Crokes’ Erica Fields captained the side from midfield, where she was joined by Oliver Plunkett’s star Leah Pidgeon.
Charlie Murray was a late withdrawal in this sector for Meath, her place taken by Amy O’Leary of Blackhall Gaels.
In spite of this 11th hour disruption to their side, it was Shane Farrelly’s side who enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges.
After Dublin netminder Molly O’Brien turned away Katie Twomey’s early goal chance, Meath broke the deadlock with pointed free from full-forward Orlaith Mallon.
A missed opportunity by Ava Lambe at the opposite end let them off the hook, and they consequently doubled their lead via the industrious Smyth.
Facing into a slight breeze during the opening period, Dublin struggled to find the target with some early efforts on goal.
However, their persistence eventually paid off on 15 minutes. Lambe was proving to be the most dangerous attacker on show and she split the posts to cut the gap to the bare minimum.
Indeed, following a routine Twomey free for Meath, the St Vincent’s centre-forward evaded a series of defensive challenges to register her second point of the proceedings.
Six minutes from the end of the half, Dublin found themselves staring into a four-point deficit.
After linking up effectively with Twomey, Amber Cosgrove fired powerfully beyond the reach of O’Brien.
The momentum appeared to be with the Royals as a result of this major only for their Metropolitan counterparts to suddenly kick into gear.
When Wicklow referee John Bermingham awarded a penalty to Dublin on 28 minutes, Caffrey ventured forward from centre-back to dispatch the subsequent spot-kick past Robyn Murray. With their tails now up, O’Reilly’s girls raised another green flag off a subsequent attack.
Despite seeing her initial path to goal blocked, Russell’s clinical strike found the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Though a shell-shocked Meath soon replied with an O’Leary single, Dublin ultimately brought a 2-02 to 1-04 advantage into the interval.
While Lambe and Russell led by example throughout the first-half, it was the turn of Clontarf’s Smith to step up to the plate on the resumption.
After cutting in-field for a magnificent 33rd-minute point, the pacy Smith registered an additional point to give her team a three-point buffer.
Meath were perhaps unfortunate to be on the wrong side of the scoreline, but they responded with unanswered scores by Cosgrove and O’Leary.
Dublin’s radar was slightly off in this juncture and they also had to contend with a temporary numerical disadvantage.
Caffrey was sent to the sin-bin for a foul in the lead-up to O’Leary’s successful free, which prompted the introduction of Hannah Byrne in place of Ella Curtin.
Nevertheless, Dublin’s continued pursuit of scores paid dividends in the form of a placed-effort by Russell.
This preceded a majestic three-pointer from Smith, who fired to the roof of the net at a tight right-hand angle. Now that the finishing line was in sight, Dublin found themselves in the driving seat.
Traded scores between O’Leary and the impressive Lambe ensured they remained five points to the good before Meath discovered a potential route back into contention.
On the hour mark, Smyth’s lung-bursting run through the heart of the Dublin defence produced a stunning major. This set up a tension-filled conclusion, with several minutes of stoppage-time still to come.
The tireless Smyth raised a white flag to make it a one-point game, but thanks to strong defensive organisation by Jane McGurrin and Alice Rudden (a recent Division One Feile winner with Ballyboden St Enda’s), Dublin triumphed in dramatic fashion.
Dublin Scorers: Grace Smith 1-02, Shannon Russell 1-01 (0-1f), Lauren Caffrey 1-00 (pen), Ava Lambe 0-03.
Meath Scorers: Ciara Smyth 1-02, Amber Cosgrove 1-01, Amy O’Leary 0-03 (2f), Katie Twomey (f), Orlaith Mallon (f) 0-01 each.
Dublin Team: Molly O’Brien (Fingallians); Amber Taylor (Na Fianna), Jane McGurrin (Beann Eadair), Alice Rudden (Ballyboden St Enda’s); Rachel Callery (St Anne’s), Lauren Caffrey (St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh), Ellen O’Shea (Beann Eadair); Erica Fields (Kilmacud Crokes), Leah Pidgeon (St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh); Grace Smith (Clontarf), Ava Lambe (St Vincent’s), Niamh Crowley (Fingallians); Shannon Russell (Erin’s Isle), Ella Curtin (St Brigid’s), Sophie McIntyre (Lucan Sarsfields).
Dublin Substitutions: Hannah Byrne (Ballyboden St Enda’s) for Curtin (43), Kate Donaghy (Ballyboden St Enda’s) for McIntyre (56), Annabelle Timothy (St Finian’s, Swords) for Smith (59).
Meath Team: Robyn Murray (Seneschalstown); Hannah Moran (Summerhill), Nikki Ennis (St Ultan’s), Kirsten Massey (Clonard); Catriona Flynn (Moylagh), Megan Clarke (Seneschalstown), Jennifer Lynch (Walterstown); Ciara Lawlor (Donaghmore/Ashbourne), Amy O’Leary (Blackhall Gaels); Ciara Smyth (Skryne), Amber Cosgrove (Navan O’Mahonys), Tori Foster Carroll (St Patrick’s); Katie Twomey (Donaghmore/Ashbourne), Orlaith Mallon (Navan O’Mahonys), Roisin McManus (Skryne).
Meath Substitutions: Abby McHugh (Royal Gaels) for M Clarke (41), Sophia O’Reilly (Dunboyne) for Mallon, Nora Clarke (Clonard) for Moran (both 48), Louise Pearl (Blackhall Gaels) for McManus, Rebecca Harney (St Patrick’s) for Cosgrove (both 61).
Referee: John Birmingham (Wicklow).