Ballyhale Shamrocks enjoyed luck and then produced brilliance when thundering to victory in the Leinster club intermediate camogie final.
The Kilkenny champions had luck on their side when Camross (Laois) wasted a number of chances from frees during the first half of this Nowlan Park showdown on Sunday. However, when Shamrocks hit full stride after the turn, especially their defence that was simply superb, they looked a class act as they claimed their first Leinster title.
And the prize for victory is a place in the All-Ireland semi-finals in February against the Connact champions.
Thrilled team manager John Kenneally said Shamrocks knew they had the talent to be there or thereabouts in Kilkenny this season. After that, the approach was to take Leinster “game by game.”
“Camross was the hardest game,” he felt, and reminded that Shamrocks played their first match in the Leinster campaign the day after they won the county final (Oylgate of Wexford). A week later they beat Dublin champions, Lucan Sarsfields. They had a tough three game schedule in eight days.
On top of that they lost Leona Kinahan and Emma Nolan with cruciate ligament injuries, and Jacqui Frisby picked up a shoulder injury which sidelined her until Sunday.
“I am delighted for the girls,” John continued. “They worked really hard for this. They are believing in themsleves now. They train two and three nights a week. It is amazing the effort they put in. We haven’t to teach them anything about commitment. They know they have to work hard. The do!
“They are a very skilful bunch of players. We didn’t expect to get this far. We rode our luck during the opening 20 minutes, but when we got stuck in we showed our class. Who knows, we could end up going until March, and all from virtually nothing. But the girls, through their efforts, have made all things possible.
“They shouldn’t fear anyone now. They are growingt in confidence the whole time. They were slow to start, like in the county final, but we got there in the end.”
Powerful full-back, Roisin Fennelly said: “That was a great win. We worked hard for it. We felt that we could do it if we had belief in ourselves. Today was all about belief. Camross put us under real pressure in the first half, but we came through in the end.
“It was in our heads all the time that we could make history, and now that we have the feeling is great. Now we must drive on for the All-Ireland series. We wouldn’t have huge numbers available to us. We depend on everyone to do their bit. We have a great bunch of girls, who are all very committed.
“The men in our club are great role models, and they are very supportives. We have seen them enjoy plenty of success, so we are getting a taste of that now. It is great.
A smiling, laughing Roisin added: “We were joking that maybe we might end up training in the snow this season before the All-Ireland series. All we need now is the snow.”
Camross looked very capable early on as centre-back and free taker, Sara Ann Fitzgerald blasted over two points without reply. While Shamrocks hit back for a minor from Keeva Fennelly, with an assist by Lorna Fennelly, they were bossed for the best part of 20 minutes.
The losers missed three handy enough frees during this time, which left the door open for the winners. Shamrocks had a lovely goal from Keeva Fennelly in the 11th minute. A cross from the left by Margaret Mary Fennelly dropped nicely for her on the right edge of the square at the city end before a smashing drive made the net dance (1-1 to 0-2).
The winners led all the way home from there, but getting to the break with a 1-2 to 0-3 lead necessitated a bit of luck; Camross missing chances.
After the turn Shamrocks were a different team, much more positive in their approach. Roisin Fennelly, a mighty full-back, Jacqui Frisby, a great hurling centre-back, Margaret Mary Fennelly, a direct running attacker, and wonderful strikers Kelly Ann Cottrell and Keeva Fennelly continued to be the leaders, but this time all emptied the tank into the team effort.
The entire defence was magnificent; with hurley or body put on the line to protect the goal. Some of the blocking and hooking was of the highest order. A point was conceded to Niamh Dollard in the 38th minute (2-2 to 0-4) and a goal from a free in injury-time, but nothing besides despite strong pressure by the losers.
Of course, Shamrocks enjoyed an uplifting start to the second half. Kelly Ann Cottrell put here name on a goal in the 37th minute after getting to the end of a clearance from Frisby. Their next score, a goal, was out of this world.
It arrived in the 42nd minute. Kelly Ann Cottrell launched a free from the left wing. With her back to the goal, and about 15 metres out, Margaret Mary Fennelly met the arriving sliotar perfectly with an over-head swipe. The goalie had no hope. The divide jumped to 3-2 to 0-4.
Camross pushed their best player, Sara Ann Fitzgerald into attack in a bid to save the game, and with strong support from Deirdre Moore, Dawn Mortimer and Niamh Doillard she launched a strong rescue bid. The last point was from Kelly Ann Cottrell (45). The Camross goal arrived in the 66th minute from a free by Fitzgerald. The contest was well decided!
Player of the match - Margaret Mary Fennelly.
Scorers: Ballyhale Shamrocks - Keeva Fennelly (1-2); Kelly Ann Cottrell (1-1, point 45); Margaret Mary Fennelly (1-0). Camross - Sara Ann Fitzgerald (1-2, 1-1 frees, point 45); Niamh Dollard, Therese Keenan (0-1 each).
Ballyhale Shamrocks - Ciara Fennelly, Clodagh Corcoran, Roisin Fennelly, Orna Fennelly, Emily O’Dwyer, Jacqui Frisby, Brena Fennelly, Catherine Connolly, Edel Frisby, Margaret Marhy Fennelly, Kelly Ann Cottrell, Keeva Fennelly, Eimear Fitzpatrick, Emilie Darmody, Lorna Fennelly. Subs - Lucy Elvidge, Jenny O’Brien (used), Belita Fennelly, Jillian O’Dwyer, Deborah Walsh, Grace Fennelly, Tara Cody, Leona Kinahan, Emma Nolan.
Camross - J. Moore, F. Ni Chonrai, B. Cuddy Meade, A. Burke, D. Moore, S. A. Fitzgerald, M. Burke, D. Mortimer, C. Fitzpatrick, M. Holmes, N. Dollard, L. Ryan, S. Burke, T. Keenan, O. Parkinson. Subs - M. Collier, A. Burke, C. Delaney, S. Carroll (used).
Referee - Jenny Byrne (Dublin).