McDonald the star as Arklow win thrilling tie
LADIES’ FOOTBALL LEINSTER I.F.C.
Arklow Geraldines Ballymoney 54, Garrycastle (Westmeath) 3-8: On what turned out to be atrocious conditions the ladies of Arklow travelled on Sunday last to the outskirts of Athlone to play the Westmeath county champions Garrycastle in their fine home venue.
The stand in Garrycastle was never more welcome for the spectators and the shelter it provided helped the enjoyment of what turned out to be a gripping encounter.
As one would expect the ground was very wet and with the continuing driving rain the ball was hard to handle. In the first five minutes Garrycastle, no doubt taking advantage of the Arklow girls long journey, led with a fine goal from Denise Murtagh together with two points from Sarah Dolan from frees which left the seasiders 1-2 to no score in arrears.
The Arklow defence reorganised itself and Helen Hurley, who played an inspirational part throughout the game, together with her marauding defenders excelled in cutting out the supply of ball to the dangerous Murtagh and Dolan. The result being that for the rest of the half Garrycastle were restricted to a single further point from the boot of Denise Murtagh.
At the other end Jessie McEleron and Tanya McDonald in particular were starting to get some fine ball delivered from the centre field by Ailbhe Carney and Catriona Byrne.
It was at the end of one of those probing deliveries that Tanya McDonald slipped her marker and having previously scored two points the Arklow Rocket buried the ball in the green and red net to bring Arklow within a point with half- time approaching.
The Garrycastle girls had barely recovered when McDonald took on the Garrycastle centre- back, Aoife McCormack, and yet again a threepointer resulted.
The referee, Ciarán Groom, from Offaly then signalled the half-time break with Arklow leading 2-2 to 1-3, a precarious lead which the girls would need to defend with vigour when Garrycastle turned with the wind and the rain at their backs.
The second-half started as did the first with Garrycastle pressing but the Arklow girls held firm with Sam Kelly and Naomi Ryder particularly to the fore.
After a fine run Murtagh equalised for Garrycastle. Then came what many anticipated would be the turning point on the game.
After 11 minutes Tanya McDonald received a ball from Aine Byrne and sprinted past a hapless Aoife McCormack who after unceremoniously hauling her to the ground received a yellow card and with it a sin bin of ten minutes.
McDonald then worked a very good opening following good work by Lorraine Byrne and took a goal to put the Arklow girls in front yet again.
However, as is so often the case when down a player, the green and red girls rose their game and in the ensuing ten minutes points from Alison Smith (an international basketball player), Murtagh with a goal (when the Arklow defence for once stopped following a quick kick- out from Dempsey) and two points and Dolan with a point left Garrycastle in front by 3-8 to 3-3. The Arklow goal was under siege at that time and tremendous work by Linda Dempsey in goal and Aisling and Rachel Byrne held the Arklow team together.
Under eight minutes to go and the sterling work by Catriona Byrne and Ailbhe Carney in the middle of the park started to pay off. The ball was worked forward to McDonald who yet again went on a mazy run before firing to the net.
The Wicklow champions had the bit between their teeth and when McDonald pointed a free the Arklow girls scented victory, although as yet a point behind at 4-4 to 3-8.
Then came the winning score. The ball was won at midfield and went though the hands of McEleron to McDonald and never one to shirk a chance she finished with her left foot to leave Arklow ahead by one point. The tale did not end there because in the last minute and with Arklow defending a free was awarded to Garrycastle. Up stepped Sarah Dolan, a cousin of Westmeath and International Rules star Dessie Dolan, to take the 20-metre free but unbelievably yet delightedly for the Garden County champions she pulled her shot to the left and wide – and with it Garrycastle’s chance of a replay.
A fantastic performance by all the Wicklow girls in such conditions. Indeed it was a tribute to both teams that at no stage was fitness an issue despite the heavy ground conditions and the fact that both teams had only won their respective championships the week previously.
It would be hard to single out a player on the Arklow team as playing well because everybody in the green, royal and white raised their game.
Obviously Tanya McDonald would get the plaudits having scored 5-4 (Arklow’s entire score) but that would be unfair on the work done throughout to get her the ball and the gutsy defending by all the Arklow backs and midfield.
Garrycastle were best served by Aoife Smith, Denise Murtagh and Sarah Dolan. Arklow now play in the quarter-final on Sunday, October 5, against the Carlow champions who had not yet been decided at time of writing.
The Arklow girls should be confident of their abilty and who knows how far this team can go in this competition now that they have the bit between their teeth.