THERE was provincial glory for the Kilkenny under-16 ladies Gaelic footballers, but hard work was needed to see off Longford before they could toast their Leinster Shield success.
The Cats were composed in the opening half in Stradbally, playing well and bringing a five-point lead in with them at half-time. Their backs were to the wall after the restart, as Longford whittled that advantage down to a single point, forcing Kilkenny to dig deep.
Longford were quick off the mark from the throw-in, rattling off the opening three scores before Megan Walsh opened Kilkenny’s account in the 10th minute with a 40m point.
The Cats were beginning to find their feet, moving through the gears as the hard-working Ally O’Keeffe fed Aoife Cantwell to kick their side’s second point. While the breeze was in their favour Kilkenny didn’t make the most of all their chances - a number of shots went curling wide while Longford goalkeeper Jessica Steward was called into action to block attempts by Aoife Naddy and Jenny O’Keeffe.
Retraining their sights, Kilkenny upped their efforts and set about taking control of the game. They went into the lead for the first time midway through the opening half when Ria Lawson’s 20m free caught the Longford defence napping, the ball dropping into the corner of the net.
Determined to press home their advantage, Kilkenny retained possession in the Longford half. Aoife Naddy scored a superb point from a tight angle, followed by a similar effort from Jenny O’Keeffe, stretching the lead to four (1-4 to 0-3) by the 20th minute.
Longford found it impossible to bypass Kilkenny’s half back line of Aine Murphy, Jane Walker and Lucy Teehan. The trio swept up brilliantly and sent a good supply of ball to the forward line.
One such move led to Kilkenny’s second goal. A fine run out of defence from Walker found Ria Lawson, who shipped a heavy tackle before off-loading to Becky Walsh on the wing. A neat side-step took her around two players before she unleashed a powerful shot to the roof of the Longford net.
Clearly rattled, the Longford girls needed a score to stay in touch. Joanne White kept her side in the game with two fine points, but Kilkenny held the upper hand at half-time (2-4 to 0-5).
The Cats returned to the fray in determined mood, increasing their lead with Aoife Cantwell surging from midfield to kick the opening score of the half. However, Longford made good use of the strong breeze and kept possession close to the Kilkenny goal where the full-back line of Lauren Valentine, Enya Foley and Katelyn Skehan stemmed the Longford threat.
Longford, who were attacking in waves, came right back into the game when Joanne White converted a 40th minute penalty, halving Kilkenny’s advantage (2-5 to 1-5). An Aoife Naddy point gave the Cats some breathing space but again Longford upped the tempo again. Two well-taken points from distance, followed by a Catriona O’Hara free, left the bare minimum between the sides (2-6 to 1-8) with time beginning to run down.
Kilkenny were under the cosh, but two swift strikes helped flatten Longford’s hopes. Scoring chances were few and far between as they dropped back to defend their lead, but a Lucy Teehan clearance helped to lift the siege. Becky Walsh picked up play in the corner, flicking the ball to Michelle Teehan who planted a sweet shot in the corner of the net to boost Kilkenny’s hopes of success.
Four points down, Longford desperately needed a goal to stay in contention. They earned a shot when awarded a second penalty in the dying minutes, but Joanne White struck the post before Ailish O’Shea cleared to safety.
Kilkenny, who had one hand on the title by now, made sure of the spoils seconds before the final whistle when Sophie Dwyer charged down a Longford clearance. Michelle Teehan pounced on the ball, finding enough room to squeeze off the shot that sealed a famous win.
Team captain Ellie Barcoe was presented with the Provincial Shield by Leinster Ladies Football president Marie Hickey. There was more joy for Kilkenny as, after a hard-working display at corner-forward, Thomastown’s Becky Walsh was named as Player of the Match.
Kilkenny - Niamh Sheehy, Lauren Valentine, Enya Foley, Caitlin Skehan, Lucy Teehan, Jane Walker, Aoife Cantwell (0-2), Aine Murphy, Michelle Teehan (2-0), Jenny O’Keeffe (0-1), Aoife Naddy (0-2), Ria Lawson (1-0), Ally O’Keeffe, Megan Walsh (0-1), Becky Walsh (1-0), Ruby Harvey, Brianna Mallon, Ciara Cody, Ellie Barcoe, Frances Farrell, Lauren Dermody, Laura Walsh, Anita Brennan, Sophie Dwyer, Ailis O’Shea, Lucy Elvidge.
Longford - Jessica Steward, Rebecca Duffy, Maeve O’Reilly, Megan Cregan, Patricia O’Hara, Becky McLoughlin, Ruth Jones, Aisling Greene, Niamh Feney, Catriona O’Hara, Joanne White, Lisa Nolan, Zena Coyle, Emer Monaghan, Emer Rowley, Jenny Duncan, Orla Canning, Sara Smyth, Clodagh Coppinger, Laura Burke.
Referee - Martin Carty (Offaly).