By Daire Walsh
Extra-time was required at Conneff Park, Clane on Sunday afternoon, before Dublin eventually claimed the Leinster Ladies Minor ‘A’ Football Championship title at the expense of Westmeath.
The Metropolitans were on course to secure the silverware on offer when they led by nine points (1-15 to 1-6) with just eight minutes of normal remaining, but a late goal-scoring burst by the Lake County ensured that the sides were on level terms (1-17 to 4-8) when regulation time came to a halt.
However, with substitutes Clara O’Sullivan and Ciara McDunphy making a telling impact, it was the Sky Blues who ultimately emerged victorious – with all of 19 points to spare. On a warm day in the north Kildare venue, it was Dublin who broke the deadlock with early scores by the attacking duo of Mia Jennings and Danielle Lawless.
Westmeath were using skipper Lucy McCarton as a sweeper at the heart of their defence (Dublin corner-back Sinead Moran playing a free role as a result), and they opened their account courtesy of a fourth-minute point from play by centre-forward Ruth O’Connor of Killucan.
Hannah O’Neill and Westmeath’s Aoife Connolly (free) also traded points during a lively start to the proceedings, and even though Dublin were threatening to pull away with fine efforts from Rachel Douglas (two) and Jennings, their opponents remained in contention with the help of points by the excellent Connolly and Ashley Ruane.
Yet, a stunning solo goal by Dublin full-forward Julia Buckley created some daylight between the teams on 23 minutes, and Westmeath received a further blow when Tyrellspass’ Louise Earley was sent to the sin-bin from the subsequent passage of play.
Dublin were aiming to utilise their numerical supremacy in the latter stages of the half, and unanswered points from the increasingly-prominent Douglas (two) and Lawless meant that they brought a 1-9 to 0-4 cushion into the second period.
The outcome of this contest wasn’t quite a foregone conclusion yet, though, and despite conceding another score to Douglas two minutes after the restart, Westmeath centre-back Katie Heffernan registered a terrific point after cutting through the heart of the Dublin rearguard.
Dublin’s nerves were settled significantly when Jennings, Jade Sweeney Knott and Lawless all found the target at the end of enterprising moves, but after cutting inside from the right-wing, Aoife Connolly finished clinically to the opposition net at the end of the third-quarter.
This helped Westmeath to reduce their deficit to eight points, but Dublin quickly restored order with another free by the dependable Douglas. Indeed, Dublin remained in the driving seat when an Amy Alford point was cancelled out by another O’Neill point 52 minutes in, but when Lake County centre-forward O’Connor’s speculative effort drifted over the head of netminder Katie Ronan, the intensity of the play began to increase once more.
A majestic three-pointer by Connolly narrowed the gap even further (after Hannah O’Dea had split the posts for Dublin), while O’Connor subsequently grabbed her second major of the tie to reduce Dublin’s lead to a single point.
This was incredibly followed by an equalising score from Connolly two minutes into time added on, and even though substitute Clara O’Sullivan of Naomh Olaf looked like being the match-winner, the indomitable spirit of Westmeath produced another score from O’Connor.
With the sides proving to be inseparable in normal time, 20 additional minutes were needed to decide the overall winner of this absorbing encounter.
Yet, Westmeath understandably found it difficult to replicate their outstanding fightback in the face of adversity, and a five-minute blitz from Dublin at the start of extra-time ultimately left them with too much of a mountain to climb.
A routine free from Douglas edged them back in front, and this was supplemented by another Buckley goal – via excellent approach work by O’Neill. The lively Clara O’Sullivan fired past Grainne Byrne in spectacular fashion in the 64th-minute, and after Douglas caught the eye with a sharp 1-1 salvo, O’Neill’s third point moved Dublin into a 12-point ascendancy (4-20 to 4-8) with just ten minutes remaining in the action.
Clara O’Sullivan continued to stake her claim for a place in the starting line-up by recording a second goal after the play resumed, before Westmeath responded with their first and only score of additional time – a close-range point by the tireless Alford.
Dublin were not prepared to rest on their laurels, however, and a late 1-1 haul by Raheny’s McDunphy, as well as a final Clara O’Sullivan’s contribution, meant that Martin McDonnell’s charges eased over the line.
Scorers – Dublin: Rachel Douglas 1-8 (0-4f), Clara O’Sullivan 2-2, Julia Buckley 2-0, Ciara McDunphy 1-1, Mia Jennings, Hannah O’Neill, Danielle Lawless 0-3 each, Jade Sweeney Knott, Hannah O’Dea 0-1 each. Westmeath: Aoife Connolly 2-3 (0-3f), Ruth O’Connor 2-2, Amy Alford 0-2, Katie Heffernan, Ashley Ruane 0-1 each.
DUBLIN: Katie Ronan; Siabh Hannigan, Tarah O’Sullivan, Sinead Moran; Emily Flannagan, Laura McGinley, Shannon Murtagh; Jade Sweeney Knott, Erica Byrne; Mia Jennings, Hannah O’Dea, Hannah O’Neill; Danielle Lawless, Julia Buckley, Rachel Douglas.
Subs: Muireann O’Gorman for O’Sullivan (42), Grace O’Shea for Jennings (47), Clara O’Sullivan for O’Dea (55), Jennifer Dunne for Knott (57), O’Sullivan for Flannagan (61), Aoife McGrath for Buckley (75), Ciara McDunphy for Lawless (77), Heather Bolger for Moran (81).
WESTMEATH: Grainne Byrne; Rachel Halligan, Aoife Moran, Louise Earley; Megan Ennis, Katie Heffernan, Ciara Heavin; Ellen Cronin, Niamh Nolan; Katie Egan, Ruth O’Connor, Ashley Ruane; Lucy McCarton, Amy Alford, Aoife Connolly.
Subs: Ellie Conway for Ruane (38), Melek Fagan for Heavin (40), Ruane for Ennis (70), Ailish Greene for O’Connor (74), Niamh Rowan for Alford (80), Michelle Morris for Egan (83).
Referee: Niall McCormack (Laois).