John the Baptist ladies produce the goods again to claim All Ireland Victory

Holy Rosary College 1-6

Lidl are the new sponsors of the LGFA this year and they have a new slogan, “serious athletes deserve serious support”, today anyone lucky enough to be in Gort’s GAA ground got to witness some very serious athletes performing at the very highest level. The athletes in question came from John the Baptist Community School Hospital, Co Limerick and Holy Rosary College Mountbellew, Co. Galway. They served up an exhibition of football with John the Baptist CS coming out on top after 60+ minutes.

The opening minutes of the game were intense with both teams attempting to get a foothold. Mountbellew had the wind with them and looked eager to capitalise, as they ran at the JTBCS defence the JTBCS ladies stood firm and broke down successive attacks. Both teams in the early stages could be accused of being a little scrappy in attack as they struggled to find the final killer ball. Mountbellew also missed two frees in the opening exchanges, they were the first on the scoresheet though with a well taken point by centre forward Aoife Thompson after 7 minutes.

This seemed to spark JTBCS into life and they got the next two scores from the ever accurate boot of Anna Rose Kennedy. Around the pitch the JTBCS ladies were working very hard, Kate O’Meara carried a lot of ball forward as did Gráinne Ryan and Caitlin Kennedy in midfield but they were not getting any clear cut goal chances that they seemed to be looking for. Chloe Miskell looked very dangerous at all times for Mountbellew, her frightening change of pace seemed like it would cause serious trouble. Some astute tactical knowhow nullified her threat as Katie Heelan was given the task of shadowing Miskell, one she was more than capable of the words “tough as nails” come to mind when describing Katie. Another stalwart of the JTBCS defence Maeve McCarty, was also excellent throughout the game and she dealt with a very dangerous ball from a long range free on 18 minutes as Mountbellew continued to look for any chinks in the armour of JTBCS.

Even though scores were limited on occasions in the first half it was an utterly enthralling affair, the quality of tackling was outstanding from both sides. Niamh O’Brien and Michelle Donovan were not giving an inch in the full back line. Miskell did manage to produce a moment of individual brilliance though to complete a mazy run with a well taken point on 20 minutes, she also took a great free on 27 minutes. Niamh Holland made sure that the Mountbellew defensive unit had plenty to think about as she made several powerful runs, one ending with a selfless hand pass for Anna Rose to slot over a point.

In the closing minutes of the first half Mountbellew assaulted the JTBCS defence, Áine Murray took a great long-range point that struck the right upright for them on 30 minutes and they tacked on a further point before the break. Niamh Holland got one back on the stroke of halftime to steady the ship. At this point it is apt to mention the performance of the JTBCS half backline consisting of Gráinne Kennedy, Gráinne Condon and Ava Hartigan which continuously thwarted the Mountbellew attack and their pressure led to the crucial sin-binning of Emma Flanagan on the stroke of half time.

As the ref blew for half time the supporters got a chance to catch their breath and take stock, Mountbellew led by five points to four and picking a winner seemed like a futile task, everyone was a little apprehensive about what the second half might bring. JTBCS made one change at half-time bringing on Maeve Barry for Gráinne Kennedy who had given everything in the opening half.

Irish people, seem to have an unhealthy obsession with the weather and this year we were treated to our storms getting names. JTBCS had the wind in the second half and to all that were present from the throw in it was evident that storm “Kennedy” had just landed. Caitlin won the ball and found Anna Rose in space; she dispatched the ball over the bar after a sub-total of ten seconds. This was followed quickly by another score from Niamh Holland who was on fire in attack. Another who was really growing into the match was Andrea O’Sullivan she put on a powerful display, a prime example being when she won a throw in on the forty five, ran straight at the heart of the Mountbellew defence and pointed, big games call for big players and she didn’t hide from the task. In truth every one of the JTBCS ladies were giving their all and the opposition were struggling with the change of pace.

One of the scores of the match came on 40 minutes from Ava Hartigan who got the ball on her defensive 45 and just kept running, it looked like the options in front of her were limited so she decided to go alone and struck the ball from range off the left, it landed dangerously in front of Katie Fleming the Mountbellew keeper and she watched it bounce over the bar. Mountbellew were in trouble and they failed to break down the stoic JTBCS defence, Maeve Barry kept up the tone that Gráinne had set before her and she refused to let anyone get the better of her.

Anna Rose kept the scoreboard ticking over with anther free and was unlucky not to score a goal on 45 minutes, she was knocking on the door though and finally it opened on 50 minutes. Keely Baggot replaced Captain Eimear Daly who had worked tirelessly for 46 minutes, Keely’s excellent link play was crucial in the Goal for Anna Rose, Caitlin brought the ball out of defence and picked out Anna Rose with laser like accuracy, she then played a delightful one, two with Keely and hammered the ball into the Mountbellew net.

The JTBCS crowd who were brilliant throughout were really finding their voice at this time, and their support deserves a mention. The highlights were a slightly surreal rendition of the Savage Garden classic, “truly, madly deeply”, and Mr. School Morale, Cormac “Mackey” Hanley wielding a bodhrán and dressed as a Bumble Bee, running gracefully up and down in front of the stand. Even though Cormac was dressed as a bee, it was Mountbellew that showed that they had a sting left in the tail. They refused to go down without a fight and on 52 minutes, corner forward Catherine Finnerty gave Emer McCarty no chance in the JTBCS goal. Cool heads were called for at this point and none were cooler then Emer, who straight after the goal resumed normal service by finding a team mate from the kick out, she was solid through the entire game and marshalled her defence expertly.

In the final few minutes, JTBCS showed their experience and never really looked like they were in trouble, they continued to run at the Mountbellew defence and the likes of Gráinne Condon and Gráinne Ryan kept taking the game to the opposition. This pressure led to another sin binning for Mountbellew with Sarah Flattery getting a yellow. A super individual point from Niamh Holland after another confident run put the icing on the cake for JTBCS on 57 minutes. Chloe Miskell did add another point for Mountbellew in the dying minutes of the game, but resistance was futile and scenes of sheer elation ensued at the final whistle, with the ladies of JTBCS bringing another historic All Ireland title to the school.

As Eimear Daly held the All Ireland trophy aloft, the achievement of the JTBCS ladies began to sink in. Eimear spoke extremely well on receiving the trophy and one thing that stuck in the mind was the high esteem that she and her team mates held their mentors Seamus Dollery and Michelle Buckley. They have put so much work in with the ladies of JTBCS and the recent success is no surprise to those that are aware of their commitment. They have helped mould these young adults into the match winning and well-rounded individuals that they are, they are truly a credit to the school. Staff and fellow students are immensely proud of them. Unfortunately, it is the last year some of our senior ladies are in the school but their legacy is sure to keep on with the young players coming through. One such young player was awarded “player of the match”, this player was the extraordinary Caitlin Kennedy who happens to be 13 years old, I think ladies football in JTBCS is in safe hands.