WHEN the Kilkenny ladies Gaelic football under-14 football team was assembled in February the target was a simple one - to win a Leinster title.
On Sunday, their ambition was realised.
Victory was achieved with plenty to spare as the Cats stormed their way to provincial success in Portarlington. Having started as an under-13 development squad in late 2010 most of the girls were newcomers to county football, but all had progressed through the primary schools leagues and soon blended into a formidable panel.
In the opening round of the Leinster championship the girls made a great start with a five point win over Longford. That was the springboard to further victories, as they racked up the scores to beat Louth and Carlow by 40 and 20 points respectively. A narrow one-point defeat to Westmeath denied Kilkenny a place in the Leinster A final, but the B title was now a realistic target as they set out to do battle with Longford once again.
A large crowd of supporters travelled to Portarlington on Sunday where, despite a nervous start, the Kilkenny girls were on top from the outset. Caitlin Moore, Becky Walsh and Ciara Delaney tormented the opposition in the opening minutes but a swirling breeze played havoc with the high ball, with Kilkenny registering three wides by the fifth minute.
Opponents Longford found it hard to deal with the pace of the Kilkenny attack and were finally undone when a swift ball into the forwards was kept in play by Becky Walsh. Retaining possession, Walsh sent a superb crossfield pass for her club-mate Ria Lawson to gather and drill to the net for the opening score.
Longford had dangerous players in the Slashers’ duo of Aoife and Eimear O’Brien but they were well marshalled by a solid Kilkenny backline where Michelle Teehan and Aobha O’Gorman were outstanding. The Kilkenny girls were just as impressive in the forward lines - in the 10th minute Danielle Morrissey claimed the Longford kickout and fed the inrushing Jenny O’Keeffe to pop over a point and stretch the lead to four.
Longford attacked again but Emily McCarthy and Niamh Deely combined to win possession back and advance upfield again. The quick-thinking Becky Walsh flicked the ball on to Ciara Delaney who shot over from a tight angle giving Kilkenny a 1-2 to 0-0 lead on 20 minutes. With Kilkenny continuing to fizz around the field, a probing 30-metre solo saw Aoife Cantwell bear down on goal before her swift hand-pass allowed Blathnaid Galwey to split the posts from the 20-metre line.
Kilkenny held a 1-3 to 0-0 half-time lead. The scoreline was a reward for their efforts, but the Cats knew that with the wind in Longford’s favour in the second half that they still had plenty to do.
Trailing by six points it was no surprise that the Longford girls upped the tempo after the break. However, no matter what they tried they couldn’t break down a Kilkenny defence which was in superb form. Lauren Valentine led the charge, sweeping up behind the half-back line and clearing the ball to safety whenever Longford went for close-range attacks. Changing tactic Longford tried shooting from distance, but goalkeeper Niamh Sheehy dealt with the high ball and sent some fine clearances to midfield while Neasa Galwey was calmness personified at full-back.
Sarah Farrell and Megan Creegan were working hard for Longford in the half forward line but were surrounded by a black and amber wall, with substitute Shauna Valentine rejuvenating the Kilkenny defence. The introduction of Sophie Dwyer, Ally O’Keeffe and Caoimhe O’Shea helped Kilkenny regain control after a period of sustained pressure from Longford.
After 20 second half minutes neither side had registered a score but Aoife Cantwell relieved the pressure when she gained possession on the 20 metre line and sent a low ball towards goal. Her shot deceived all and rattled the net to push Kilkenny into a 2-3 to 0-0 lead and leave them with one hand on the title.
Despite trailing by nine points Longford never gave up and Jessica Stewart in goal pulled off two fine saves from Jenny O’Keeffe shots in the closing minutes. However the Cats had done enough and when Martin Carthy sounded the final whistle Eoin Hennessy’s charges had earned their reward.
Amid great scenes of celebration Leinster ladies Gaelic football president Marie Hickey presented Kilkenny captain Ria Lawson with the Division 2B Shield. A trojan display at centre-forward earned Aoife Cantwell the Player of the Match award.
Kilkenny have now added the under-14 Division 2 title to the C championship won in 2010, the Division Three blitz crowns from 2009, 2010 and 2012 and the Leinster under 12 blitz in 2011.
In the coming weeks Kilkenny City Girls make their eagerly awaited trip to Feile Peil na nOg in Laois. They will be hoping to secure a second Feile title for the county following Thomastown’s success in 2009.
Kilkenny - Niamh Sheehy, Lauren Valentine, Neasa Galwey, Emily McCarthy, Michelle Teehan, Aobha O’Gorman, Niamh Deely, Jenny O’Keeffe, Blaithnaid Galway, Caitlinn Moore, Aoife Cantwell, Danielle Morrissey, Ria Lawson, Becky Walsh, Ciara Delaney. Subs: Laura Tynan, Ava Comerford, Saoirse Comerford, Ciara Deely, Kate Drennan, Eadaoin Murphy, Aine Murphy, Aoife Naddy, Rebecca Nevin, Sophie O’Dwyer, Ally O’Keeffe, Ailis O’Shea, Caoimhe O’Shea, Ciara Phelan, Hannah Scott, Shauna Valentine.
Longford - Jessica Stewart, Sara Murphy, Lisa Keegan, Emma Doris, Sara Smyth, Chloe Flanagan, Rachel O’Reilly, Ikeya Collins, Ruth Jones, Aoife O’Brien, Eimear O’Brien, Laura Burke, Sara Farrell, Emer Esler, Niamh Whelan. Referee - Martin Carthy (Offaly)