A stoppage-time point from Martha Byrne secured the Dublin Intermediate Ladies Football Championship title for Cuala
By Daire Walsh
Martha Byrne landed a superb stoppage-time point at Lawless Memorial Park on Saturday to give Cuala a dramatic win in a nail-biting Dublin Intermediate Ladies Football Championship final showdown with Castleknock.
Having lost narrowly to Clanna Gael Fontenoy in the 2019 decider, the Dalkey side looked set for similar heartache when an Aoife Whelan goal edged Castleknock in front with just three minutes of normal time remaining. However, there was a steely determination in the Cuala ranks and they rose to the occasion in a nail-biting conclusion.
After Jennifer Dunne had brought them back on level terms, her inter-county colleague Byrne stepped forward to split the posts in clinical fashion. Castleknock had played their part in an enthralling spectacle and were desperately unfortunate to finish on the wrong side of the result.
Nevertheless, considering they were junior county champions as recently as 2018, the westside club have reason to be positive about the road ahead. Whelan and Hannah Hanlon impressed throughout in attack, while centre-back Sinead Comerford also led by example in a powerful Castleknock effort.
This wasn’t the first meeting of these two sides in this year’s competition. Having already confirmed their respective spots in the knockout phase with previous successes against Skerries Harps and Man-O-War, they subsequently clashed in the final round of Group One on August 12.
In a compelling contest at Hyde Road, Cuala had three points (4-11 to 3-11) to spare over Castleknock. This was only a minor speed bump for the latter and following an 0-16 to 1-5 triumph at the expense of 2017 champions Naomh Maur seven days later, the Somerton Park outfit advanced to this showpiece encounter.
On the same evening, Cuala overcame Parnell’s on a final scoreline of 6-8 to 1-7. John McKeown’s charges were agonisingly close to securing senior status last year and were hell-bent on avoiding a second straight final defeat at the home of Fingallians.
They couldn’t have dreamt of a better start to the action as Molly Basquille – first cousin to Byrne – had the ball in the Castleknock net with just 40 seconds gone on the clock. The corner-forward fired home at the end of a surging run by Dunne and this was a feature of Cuala’s play in the opening quarter.
The two-time All-Ireland winner put through Dublin camogie star Sinead Wylde in the sixth-minute, only for Castleknock netminder Amy Mahony to turn away her resulting strike. Jess Tobin operated as a sweeper for the duration of the proceedings, offering vital protection to Byrne and her defensive team-mates.
A sister of Dublin men’s senior footballer Michael, Gráinne Fitzsimons lined out in the full-back line alongside Anna Moran – daughter of Irish Times GAA correspondent Sean Moran. Dunne and Wylde were developing a telepathic understanding at the opposite end, with the latter kicking a fine point on the stroke of 10 minutes.
Directly preceding the first water break of the game, Hanlon converted a free to open the Castleknock account. Molly Lewis later responded with a point of her own for Cuala, before ‘Knock came roaring back into contention
On 20 minutes, Eimear Griffin picked up possession deep inside the opposition ’45’. Clodagh Sheehan got her fingertips to the inside forward’s high shot, but it ultimately trickled over the line.
Despite seeing their advantage reduced to the bare minimum, Cuala quickly reinforced their authority. The tireless Wylde discovered a gap through the heart of the Castleknock rearguard and unleashed a left-footed drive into the bottom right-hand corner.
Though Cuala were once again in a commanding position, they were placed under sustained pressure for the remainder of the half. Hanlon (free), Caitlin Coffey and midfielder Lauren O’Neill raised white flags in quick succession to leave Castleknock a single point adrift (2-2 to 1-4) at the interval.
While Cuala remained in the ascendancy, there was no doubt that the challenge of their opponents (jointly managed by Ciaran Barry and Kevin Finney) was beginning to rise. A Hanlon free brought Castleknock back on level terms and the same player was on hand to move her side in front for the very first time seven minutes after the restart.
The longer the tie wore on, the more comfortable they were becoming in defence. After generating a series of goal chances in the opening period, Cuala were now finding space was at a premium in attack.
The Caitriona Murphy-led side didn’t panic, though, and substitute Jennifer Sheeran halted their lengthy scoring drought with a point on 40 minutes. Cuala had benefited from Dunne’s excellent approach work up to this juncture and the dynamic centre-fielder finally added her name to the scoresheet with a routine close-range free.
A daughter of team selector Derek Dunne, she went on to contribute two frees in the space of 60 seconds at the tail end of the third-quarter. Cuala were back in the driving seat but, with Aisling O’Donnell and Hanlon posting points either side of the second half water break, Castleknock were firmly in the reckoning heading towards the home stretch.
Mahony came to the rescue of her side once more in the 52nd-minute, tipping over Dunne’s goal bound shot. A goal here could well have placed the outcome beyond all doubt.
Instead, Castleknock turned the tables on their southside counterparts with a second goal five minutes later. A camogie compatriot of Wylde at inter-county level, Whelan rattled the opposing net with a low finish at a right-hand angle.
The gauntlet had been thrown down to Cuala, but they delivered in spades during a frantic finale. Dunne wiped out their deficit with a trademark score and after Wylde’s effort rebounded off the woodwork, Castleknock had substitute Jess Comerford sin-binned on the hour mark.
Cuala fully utilised their numerical supremacy in the remaining minutes and when the opportunity arose for Byrne to dissect the uprights, she did so with both style and aplomb. Castleknock fought until the end, but Cuala held firm to secure their maiden Dublin Intermediate Ladies Football title.
Scorers – Cuala: Jennifer Dunne 0-5 (3f), Sinead Wylde 1-1, Molly Basquille 1-0, Martha Byrne, Molly Lewis, Jennifer Sheeran 0-1 each. Castleknock: Hannah Hanlon 0-5 (5f), Aoife Whelan, Eimear Griffin 1-0 each, Lauren O’Neill, Caitlin Coffey, Aisling O’Donnell 0-1 each.
CUALA: Clodagh Sheehan; Gráinne Fitzsimons, Sinead Murphy, Anna Moran; Cliodhna Kelly, Martha Byrne, Emma Ryan; Jennifer Dunne, Caitriona Murphy; Cathy Brock, Grainne O’Driscoll, Molly Lewis; Jess Tobin, Sinead Wylde, Molly Basquille.
Subs: Ellen Deegan, Blaithin Lane, Roisin O’Toole, Rena Mullally, Ciara McKeown, Jennifer Sheeran, Ciara O’Shea, Ciara Byrne, Kate Kirkwood, Rachael Hartnett, Orlaith O’Sullivan, Cara Sullivan, Alison Hickey, Laura Dunne, Leanne Doyle.
CASTLEKNOCK: Amy Mahony; Laura O’Hare, Jenny Hickey, Louise Mahony; Nicola Fagan, Sinead Comerford, Denise Convery; Lauren O’Neill, Laura Carolan; Aoife Whelan, Aisling O’Connor, Caitlin Coffey; Hannah Hanlon, Aisling O’Donnell, Eimear Griffin.
Subs: Ciara Murray, Orlaith Higgins, Jess Comerford, Aoife Douglas, Emma Finney, Sinead Cremin, Sophie King, Cara Feeney, Lelia Ryan, Mired Griffin, Tara King, Claire Nulty.
Referee: Gavin Donegan (Trinity Gaels)