Wonderful Wicklow’s Leinster joy!
‘WICKLOW is rising, definitely,’ was the reaction of joint captain of the new Leinster Junior champions Aisling Shannon after herself and Laura Manley had lifted the cup in the stand of O’Moore Park in Portlaoise on Sunday afternoon last.
There was nothing easy about winning this provincial title, just like there is nothing easy about pulling on the jersey to go out and do your best for the county when there are so many obstacles placed in your way, but credit to the management and players of this tight-knit panel for sticking at it and coming through a dark and testing league campaign to emerge into the warm sunlight of O’Moore Park and claim a Leinster crown with the promise of a productive All-Ireland campaign to come later in the year.
Annacurra’s Aisling Shannon and Glenealy’s Laura Manley both lifted the cup and said a few well-chosen words after the final whistle and both were very much to the fore in this wonderful victory with Shannon battling through injury and producing a quality display while the effortless Manley chipped in with five points, one a majestic effort into the teeth of a very strong wind from out on the stand sideline in the opening half.
Both agreed that opting to play against the wind in the first half was vital in terms of cutting loose in the second.
‘The girls really stepped up, they went for every ball and they were first to every ball and I think that really helped today,’ said Aisling Shannon. ‘The wind in the first half was really hard for us. We won the toss and we said we’d play against the wind to help us in the second half if we were tired so we wouldn’t have to run as much, and just fire it into the forwards,’ she added.
‘I think that worked very well because we were getting the ball into Kelly and she had all the space and she was amazing,’ added Laura Manley.
It says plenty about the courage and commitment of this team that they soldiered through a nightmarish league campaign against Intermediate level sides and never once waivered in their dedication to the cause. Laura Manley says that coming through that campaign certainly stood to them in this Leinster Junior decider.
‘We were struggling to get a team to be honest and it was hard work, but the few girls who are out there today are the girls who are at every training session. We’re just hoping that we can get a few more, there are e xcellent players in Wicklow,’ she said.
‘The league, you know, we were playing teams that are basically intermediate standard and it was tough going, but it did stand to us. We went out there today and we said we weren’t going to lose this. We knew we had the capability of winning it,’ she added.
Aisling Shannon says that the approaching All-Ireland campaign promises better days.
‘We know that the championship is going to go a hundred times better for us because we won’t be playing at that standard,’ she said.
Laura Manley said that this Wicklow group are tight and committed and that winning the provincial medal means the world to both herself and the entire squad.
‘We’re the girls who are at training every week and we want to get Wicklow camogie back up and it’s a tight-knit group and we drive each other on.
‘That was my dream, to get a Leinster medal. Two years ago, we got to the Leinster final and that was devastating that day and it kind of fell apart after that and this means the world,’ she said.
This was very much a game of two halves in O’Moore Park Portlaoise, dictated so by the blustery wind that was very strong down at pitch level.
After opting to play against that wind in the opening half, Wicklow had it all to do to stay in touch with a Louth side who had several capable hurlers in their ranks and an accurate free-taker in Jane McKeon.
Louth started very brightly and shot out into a two-point lead courtesy of the aforementioned McKeon (one 45, one free) as Wicklow showed some nerves in the opening exchanges.
A sweet move between Laura Manley, Sheenagh Byrne and Kelly O’Neill saw the Donard-The Glen woman split the posts to get Wicklow off the mark after seven minutes and three minutes later the Garden County side were 1-2 to 0-2 up after a point from Ciara Kelly from Kilcoole and a goal from Éire Óg’s Grainne Megannety who showed fine poacher instincts to trouble Louth keeper Cliodhna Duffy and finish to the back of the net from close range.
Two wonderful Laura Manley scores answered a Louth single, but the Wee County would finish the half strong with some fine scores and a horrible goal after a long ball took a nasty bounce in front of Sara Davis and skip into the back of the Wicklow net. 1-7 to 1-4 for Louth at the break.
The second half is all about Kelly O’Neill and the Wicklow fullback line. Obviously, O’Neill had to be supplied with ball and she can thank Shannagh Goetelen, Niamh Shannon, Emily Rose Byrne, Laura Manley and others for that supply but the Donard-The Glen woman was simply unstoppable despite playing with an injury.
With regard to the full-back line of Suzanne Behan, Katie Daynes and Amy Barrett, they were relentless in the face of several Louth surges that had they been successful would have completely altered the complexion of the game. Time and time again Daynes, Barrett and Behan thwarted attack after attack and helped launch incisions up through the field of play.
Leah Carroll and Laura Manley (two, one 45, one free) pulled Wicklow back level within Louth within six minutes of the restart and then Kelly O’Neill announced herself to the world with 2-3 in 18 minutes of pure attacking devastation, her second goal coming mere seconds after Louth had finally got the major they so richly deserved to close to within two of Wicklow.
Further points from Sheenagh Byrne and Manley (free) were added to by O’Neill whose touch and turn were exceptional and Wicklow were just not going to be caught. Marvelous stuff!
Scorers - Wicklow: Kelly O’Neill 2-5, Laura Manley 0-5 (2f, 1 45), Grainne McGannety 1-0, Ciara Kelly 0-1, Leah Carroll 0-1, Sheenagh Byrne 0-1.
Louth: Jane McKeon 0-4 (3f, 1 45), Aoife Gregory 2-1, Alanna Dowling 0-1, Rita Mullen 0-1, Linda Fagan 0-1.
Joint captain Laura Manley and Aisling Shannon lift the cup.
The Wicklow management team of Kevin Byrne, Breda Donnelly and Ger Redmond.