THE Kilkenny City girls’ under-14 footballers enjoyed the ultimate success as they roared their way to a Feile crown at the weekend.
The city side went on an all-conquering run, winning five matches over three days as they lifted the Division Three title at the international Feile Peil na nOg finals. The girls earned the right to represent Kilkenny when they beat Thomastown and Piltown in the county competition before setting their sights on the big prize.
A panel of 24 players, under the guidance of selectors Eoin Hennessy and Maria Twomey, left Kilkenny on Friday morning, flanked by a large group of parents and supporters.
The Kilkenny girls were hosted by the Carbury club in Kildare and had their first outing in the tournament against the home side. City quickly made their intentions clear, blitzing Carbury by 7-7 to 0-0. The Feile parade through Portlaoise on Friday evening, where almost 5,000 boys and girls proudly marched behind their club banners, was a welcome distraction before getting back to the task in hand.
On Saturday morning the team travelled to Rhode in Offaly for the second of their group games. Despite conceding an early score to the Offaly opposition, the Kilkenny girls got into their stride and cruised to a 1-8 to 1-0 win.
With two wins under their belt Kilkenny’s game against Clann Eireann of Armagh would prove crucial, with the Ulster girls also claiming victory in their opening games. A confident Armagh side were taken by surprise when Kilkenny raced into a 1-4 to 0-1 half-time lead, then pushed on for a 2-6 to 0-3 win to advance to the semi-final against St Pat’s of Wicklow in Timahoe.
With the competition now at knockout stage every hand-pass, shot and block was crucial. Despite relentless rain Kilkenny made good use of the breeze in the first half, with Caitlin Moore, Aoife Cantwell and Jenny O’Keeffe splitting the posts to give their side a good lead by half-time (0-4 to 0-0).
St Pat’s proved equally adept at using the conditions to their advantage, grabbing three quick points early in the second half to leave the bare minimum between the sides. With the Wicklow girls laying siege to their goal the city defence faced its strongest test yet. Lauren Valentine, Aobha O’Gorman and Michelle Teehan blocked and tackled like seasoned campaigners while Laura Tynan kept her goal intact.
With five minutes left Jenny O’Keeffe launched a 30-metre free into the Pat’s square. Her dropping shot caused havoc in front of goal, the ball breaking to the 14-metre line. As the ball bounced in front of Caitlin Moore the quick-thinking forward let fly with a half-volley, driving the ball over the bar to give her side a two point lead.
Time was against them now, but St Pat’s refused to give up. They went on the attack, pointing again to ensure a tense finish. The Kilkenny girls however worked the ball back upfield and when their path to goal was blocked they cleverly retained possession, counting down the clock until the final whistle sounded - they were now just one game away from All-Ireland glory.
On Sunday morning all roads led to Portlaoise where the six boys’ finals and four girls’ finals were held amidst great spectacle in O’Moore Park and Portlaoise GAA grounds. The Kilkenny camp arrived eager to get proceedings underway against The Downs club from Westmeath.
With The Downs club playing in black and amber many neutrals were confused at the outset, but it didn’t take long to recognise the steely determination of the Kilkenny side. The Downs looked a physically stronger outfit, but the City girls made a great start when Jenny O’Keeffe grabbed the opening point after three minutes. The Downs replied with a pointed free, but a foul on Sophie Dwyer was punished when Aoife Cantwell fired the free-kick over the bar to restore her side’s one lead.
The Kilkenny forward line was seeing plenty of action but the Westmeath club were strong in defence. A swift clearance upfield saw The Downs full-forward grab possession close to goal before unleashing an unstoppable shot to the net.
The goal was a setback, but the Kilkenny girls remained calm. A brilliant move saw Caitlin Moore, Ciara Delaney and Jenny O’Keeffe combine for their side’s third point, leaving the Westmeath outfit marginally ahead at the break (1-1 to 0-3).
Rallied by Hennessy and Twomey, the girls came out for the second half determined to show the huge crowd what they were made of. Within five minutes of the restart Aoife Cantwell took the game by the scruff of the neck, breaking from midfield to score a superb levelling point before giving Kilkenny a one-point lead with a sweetly-struck free five minutes later.
Kilkenny seemed to grow in stature after that. Michelle Teehan was a rock in defence, Jenny O’Keeffe and Niamh Deely kept City on the attack with some probing runs while Caitlin Moore and Ally O’Keeffe were proving to be a handful in front of goal.
With just a point between the sides a goal for either would prove crucial. With just five minutes left Sophie Dwyer grabbed possession and made no mistake with a rasping shot to The Downs net, giving City a 1-5 to 1-1 lead. Portlaoise erupted. Kilkenny had one hand on the title.
The goal set the scene for some tension-filled finale, but the Kilkenny girls were determined not to let this one slip. The Downs needed two scores and threw everything at their opponents, but the City girls showed maturity beyond their years to maintain the upper hand and win the title.
There were great scenes of jubilation as Ladies Gaelic Football President Pat Quill presented the Division Three Cup to joint Kilkenny captains Jenny and Ally O’Keeffe. Jenny thanked the team mentors for helping the team realise their dream, praising the opposition for a tough and sporting game. The Kilkenny cavalcade headed for the Marble City and an evening of celebration, a fitting end to their Feile weekend.
This was a well deserved victory for City, who were the better team in each encounter. The girls displayed the perfect all-round game, showed their scoring skills in their opening clashes while their tremendous defensive qualities shone through when their backs were to the wall in the semi-final and final.
While many of the girls have come through the Primary Schools leagues in recent years, the club was just formed in early 2011. Sheer hard work over the past 12 months by the City squad brought the success the girls deserve and will drive the club on to an even bigger stage in years to come.
Kilkenny City - Laura Tynan, Saoirse Comerford-Liston, Sophie Dwyer, Ciara Delaney, Caitlinn Moore, Tara Clifford, Brianna Mallon, Lauren Valentine, Nicole Carter, Shannon Holohan, Neasa Galwey, Ally O’Keeffe, Jenny O’Keeffe, Aobha O’Gorman, Eadaoin Murphy, Hannah Scott, Ciara Phelan, Shauna Valentine, Aoife Cantwell, Jennifer O’Keeffe, Ciara Deely, Niamh Deely, Michelle Burke, Michelle Teehan. Flag carriers were Lucy Teehan and Rebecca Roche.