By John McIlwaine
Looking back at Saturday’s All Ireland Colleges A Camogie final it is still hard to process it all. Nearing half time I as beginning to think that CPC may not score at all, such was the superiority of their opponents. During the first half the Ballycastle girls were way off the pace. They could not get into the game as a brilliant Loreto side strode imperiously on. The Kilkenny girls were faultless in their play and they had 2-3 on the board before they registering their first wide. However as the first half progressed they started to make mistakes as CPC slowly began to make little inroads. It was a big relief when Roisin McCormick final broke the duck from a free in the twenty seventh minute, but even though Anna Connolly added one from play before the break, a fourteen point deficit appeared to be too wide a gap to bridge, even for the most optimistic CPC fans.
During the break I spoke to a few people about just how bad things had been. We all knew the girls were better, much better, than they had shown. My opinion was that if they could go out and win the second half by a point or two it would at least show that they were a lot better than their first half display had suggested. ‘Oh ye of little faith”. What happened in that second half will rate among the best displays I have seen over my years of covering games. It reminded me of two great days with the Antrim minor hurlers in 2005 and 2006 when they ran Limerick and then Galway close in the All Ireland quarter finals. As the great Cork journalist Kevin Cashman once wrote “It ended in defeat of course, as the poets the Gods prefer” but those of us who were there those days went home feeling very proud of how our young men had performed. Lady luck was our downfall in 05 against Limerick when a late Limerick shot for a point rebounded high of the upright and fell straight into the hand of a Limerick forward who gratefully accepted the gift, a goal that gave them a one point win, while in 06 the brilliance of a young Joe Canning was our undoing.
Ciara Lavery’s goal early in the second half gave the whole team a lift. Pic by Dylan McIlwaine
Last Saturday Ciara Lavery’s goal within seconds of the restart was key. Suddenly the belief that had been missing during the first half was back, and when Roisin McCormick broke in from the right to fire home her team’s second just over a minute later that belief level multiplied. Two further points cut the gap back to seven and when Charley McCarry got the ball just left of the Loreto goal, twenty metres out, we all held our breath. It was not to be however as Charley’s well struck shot was saved by Loreto goalkeeper Hannah Brennan and the Kilkenny fans breathed a sigh of relief. A goal then would have left just four between the sides with twenty five minutes left to play and CPC would surely have been favourites at that stage.
Loreto slowly found their rhythm and as great champions do they set about getting themselves back into the game. For the next fifteen minute it was score for score and when the gap was out to eight by the fiftieth minute we all felt it was as good as over. However there was still another comeback to get the northern fans on their feet again and when Charley grabbed a great goal, and Roisin fired in her second the gap was down to just three….just one score between them. A couple of times it went up to four again, and was clawed back to three, and when CPC goalkeeper Aoife McGowan pulled one down that was going over the bar, the chance of a late equalising goal was still there.
Unfortunately it was not to be as the champions got an insurance point deep into injury time and the CPC dream of that elusive All Ireland Senior title was put on hold for another year. The scenes of devastation at the end were heart-breaking as tears flowed freely. Friends and family tried to comfort the girls, but it was a grieving process they all had to go through. We all know it is only sport and that when it is measured against some of the terrible things that are happening in daily like it may appear insignificant. But for those who went through it all it is very real. Time will heal the scars and before long the players will be battling it out against each other for their clubs as Spring turns to Summer. There will be a lot of heated battles in the coming months, especially between Loughgiel and Ballycastle whose players make up the bulk of the team. However the bond between them that has been built up over their years at Cross & Passion will remain strong. They had dreamed of this day for a long time, and though it ended in tears each and every member of the panel can be very proud of what happened that day in Darvar, Co. Louth.
Next year they will go again, and though a good few players will have moved on by then, a lot of the stars of this team, like Roisin McCormick, Charley McCarry and Meave Kelly will still be there to spearhead the challenge.
The dream lives on!
We were all dissapointed after the defeat, but spare a thought for Meadbdh McCormick who was forced to sit out the final becuse of illness. A key member of the team in the early rounds in Ulster Meadbdh was struck down with Scarlet fever and missed the business end of the season.