Gutsy Athleague take the long road




Senior Camogie Final

Athleague 2-7

Four Roads 0-11 AET


In the aftermath of last Sunday’s drawn out battle, Athleague’s joint captain Kelley Hopkins addressed the gathered media as her teammates celebrated close by.

  “I’m ecstatic. I’m lost for words,” she began breathlessly.

  “This is one of the best days of my life. The last few (county title wins) were sweet but this has to be the best one of them all.”

  Last Saturday’s victory over rivals Four Roads was one borne of guts and doggedness rather than sublime skill. It was a skirmish that swung to and fro as the light dimmed in Athleague. The winners displaying the will to win which has now seen them crowned Roscommon Camogie Queens three years running.

  They may, however, have been expecting a more straightforward finale last weekend, particularly when Fiona Connell-Jones fired them in front with a free within the first minute. Four Roads were nothing if not stubborn though and the sides went in at the break tied at four points each. Shauna Fallon was a thorn in the Athleague side as both provider and scorer while Sinead O’Brien showed steel from the placed ball.

  The second half began in similar vein to the first with Hopkins converting a long-range free before O’Brien took on scoring responsibility for Four Roads. It was five apiece at the first real turning point.

  That arrived at the midway point of a frenetic half. Rachel Fitzmaurice, who had been quiet by her own high standards, glided towards goal before being unceremoniously upended by a combination of Four Roads defenders, leaving referee Mike Ryan no choice but to award a penalty.

  Hopkins stepped up and smashed a captain’s goal beyond Cait Kenny. A real shot in the arm for the champions and they pushed forward with renewed belief afterward. Only a last ditch goal line clearance from Eimear Lennon minutes later prevented them from winning this in regulation time.

  Four Roads took full advantage of Lennon’s rescue mission and fought their way back from the brink. Sinéad O’Brien’s nerveless display in front of the posts continued as she hit three without reply. Fiona Connell-Jones momentarily stopped the rot before O’Brien brought us to extra-time at the death.

 It was Athleague who struck the decisive blow. Super sub Leanne Walsh capitalising on slack Four Roads defending, walloped the sliothar into the top corner. 2-6 to 0-9 and another long way back for Four Roads.

  Athleague manager, Seamus Qualter, was then sent to the stand, or at least behind the gate, as tensions rose and questionable decisions went against his team. A Four Roads comeback proved just beyond them in the second period of extra-time, however. Two more frees from O’Brien were too little, too late as Athleague held out thanks to some heroic defending from Niamh Farrell, Meabh Tiernan and their fellow backs.

  Afterwards, Athleague manager Qualter provided an honest assessment of his team’s showing.

  “We didn’t get going in the first half but we were still drawing at half-time and we were quite happy with that because we hadn’t performed.

  “In fairness to Four Roads, when we got the goal they came back and scored three points and brought it into extra-time. We knew they were going to battle to the very end and so did our girls as well. The rub of the green was getting the goal in extra-time because you’ve only ten minutes each side and time passes by very quickly.”

  Qualter then had a confident glance at the horizon.

  “Look, they’re a great bunch and that’ll bring them on leaps and bounds for a Connacht Final and for an All-Ireland Quarter-Final as well. We’ll fancy our chances against anyone from now on.”

  Following last Sunday’s stubborn defence of their county crown, it’s easy to see why. The London champions, Tara Camogie Club, will pose the next challenge this Sunday at 1 pm in Athleague.