Thirteen months after their memorable semi-final in 2016, the Loreto Secondary School and Cross and Passion College produced another unforgettable chapter in their recent rivalry.
In the end, the Loreto, Kilkenny prevailed and claimed their ninth All-Ireland junior ‘A’ camogie schools title since 2007.
Not only that, the Loreto completed a wonder senior/junior All-Ireland double in seven days.
However, the massive contribution of the Ballycastle (Antrim) school to what was a wonderful final wasn’t ignored as their midfielder, Maeve Kelly, took the player of the match award.
A strong wind was a factor in the Naomh Peregrines GAA grounds with very little breaks in play, but two Rebecca Cuddihy first half goals, followed by Maddy Lawson’s winner, ensured the Kilkenny side maintained their recent grip on the national schools’ scene.
Before 2007 the Loreto had never been All-Ireland champions in either senior or junior level.
Saturday’s victory was their 14th and their fifth double since 2010 following the seniors’ win the previous weekend.
However, that successful conclusion looked far away in the opening half where the teams traded serious blows.
However, it was Cross and Passion who were landing the real punches.
Maeve Kelly found the target after just 12 seconds, but when Ciara Laverty dispossessed Rachel Kelly on the right four minutes later, her delivery into Charley McCarry allowed the full-forward to hit the target and they led 1-1 to 0-0.
Two Roisin McCormick frees stretched the margin to six, but the Loreto didn’t panic.
Strangely, they were in the same situation in the 2016 semi-final before prevailing by 5-7 to 3-9.
Rachel Kelly opened their account in the seventh minute before Lawson troubled the opposing defence and picked out Cuddihy for the Loreto’s first goal.
Another Kelly point reduced the arrears and Tara Walsh also had an excellent low shot saved by Becky Ellis.
Referee Mike Ryan allowed both teams express themselves to the full and the contest lacked nothing in intensity.
Cross and Passion arrested the Loreto revival with four unanswered points through McCormick, Maeve Kelly and a McCarry brace making it 1-7 to 1-2 on 21 minutes.
What ultimately proved to be the game’s defining score was the Loreto’s second green flag five minutes later.
Hannah Kelly picked out Cuddihy with a delightful pass, and the latter struck her second three-pointer.
Based on how Cross and Passion concluded the half, that goal kept the Kilkenny team in the tie.
Maeve Kelly snatched her third from play in the 27th minute, but Carla McGarry’s run down the left 60 seconds later resulted in the sliotar beating Hannah Brennan into the far corner for another goal and their half-time lead was 2-8 to 2-2.
Both teams received a standing ovation from a packed stand as they went in for the rest. The crowd really enjoyed the exhibition, but the stiff breeze in Blakestown favoured the Loreto in the second half.
After struggling in midfield, the Loreto got a better hold on proceedings with Steffi Fitzgerald, Ruth Kent and Ciara O’Keeffe becoming more assertive.
When team captain Nicole Carter dropped back to cut out the supply to McCarry, this put a different challenge to the Northern girls.
Within seven minutes of the restart the winners trailed by just one as Rachel Kelly sent over four points. And Walsh also pointed from play, while she had a great goal chance denied by a superb hook from corner-back Fionnuala Toner.
Anna Connolly got Cross and Passion’s next score in the 39th minute to make it 2-9 to 2-7, but they wouldn’t score again.
The Loreto had taken over the game and Cross and Passion couldn’t enforce their will like in the first half with Maeve Kelly forced to play sweeper.
Hannah Kelly converted a free before O’Keeffe set up Rachel Kelly for the equaliser with 11 minutes remaining. There looked to be only one winner now, and the twins were wreaking havoc – Hannah Kelly put Loreto 2-10 to 2-9 in front on 54 minutes.
After a first half goal feast, inevitably a major would be decisive.
Lawson was rewarded for her hard work when she goaled two minutes later to put four between the teams.
Cross and Passion weren’t giving up yet. McCormick managed a snap shot that forced a brilliant reflex save from Brennan to ensure the Loreto’s margin remained intact.
And in the second minute of added time, Cuddihy had the final say with the insurance point.
It was a physical battle, but an excellent display from both teams and Loreto showed their character to come out the right side.
Brennan in goal, Kate Dempsey, Carter, O’Keeffe, Kent, the Kelly twins, Cuddihy and Lawson were their top performers.
SCORERS: Loreto SS – R. Kelly (0-7, three frees); R. Cuddihy (2-1); M. Lawson (1-1); H. Kelly (0-2, one free). Cross and Passion – C. McCarry (1-2); M. Kelly (0-3); R. McCormick (0-3, frees); C. McGarry (1-0); A. Connolly (0-1).
Loreto Secondary School - H. Brennan; C. Mullan, C. Hanlon, K. Dempsey; J. Cass, N. Carter, S. Keoghan; S. Fitzgerald, R. Kent; H. Kelly, T. Walsh, R. Kelly; R. Cuddihy, M. Lawson, C. O’Keeffe. Sub - E. Keher for Fitzgerald (50 mins).
Cross and Passion - B. Ellis; F. Toner, M. McGarry, C. Mathers; C. Laverty, A. O’Mullan, M. O’Neill; M. Kelly, R. McCormick; A. Connolly, K. Laverty, A. Lynn; E. McShane, C. McCarry, C. McGarry.
Referee - M. Ryan (Tipperary).
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