John ‘Curly’ McIlwaine looks back on a special day for the people of Glenravel as Brídíní Oga are crowned All Ireland champions
The celebrations are beginning to die down in Glenravel but the memories of a special day will live for ever. The journey to Kinnegad was arduous to say least, that is for those of us foolish enough to think that turning inland at Ardee was the best way to go. I had been told to drive to Dublin and come out the motorway by quite a few, but foolishly took the shortest route, and how wrong I was. Bad enough if I had gone the main roads but once we got through Kells Co. Meath the sat nav started sending us up country lanes with grass growing up the middle of the road and past all sorts of obstacles. One humped-back bridge over the Royal Canal in the last few miles of the journey almost defied gravity, is was so steep.
In truth it probably did us a favour for arriving at the ground just fifteen minute before throw-in gave us less time to get nervous. Having never seen our club play in an All Ireland final we didn’t have anything to judge it on, but I can tell you the stomachs were churning as throw-in approached.
Being out on the pitch and witnessing first hand just how strong the wind was, we knew just how big the task was for our girls facing the gale in the opening half. Knockananna won the toss and decided to take the wind, and when their brilliant midfielder Aimee Maher got her team on the scoreboard inside the opening minute the nerves got much worse.
Orla Donnelly’s first puc-out gave us some solace when she sent it out to midfield, but when Eimhear McAleenan was short from her first free the nerves kicked in again. It was clear this was going to be tough, and when the Wicklow champions got their second point through an Emily Hadden free on five minutes I have say I was worried. The way Orla Donnelly dealt with a couple of high balls was reassuring, that and the 100% effort by displayed by every player in green and white. They were all good, but in Player of the Match Laoise McKenna, Erin Coulter, Sarah Fyfe and Kirsty Laverty we had players who were a cut above.
When Tori Edgar got our first point on twelve minutes the large crowd that had made the journey really began to get behind the team.
Sarah Byrne restored Knockananna’s two point cushion but when Molly Woulahan pulled a point back before half time I knew we were in a strong position going in at the break, just one point in arrears.
Of course as the old saying goes the wind won’t win you the game on its own and when the Leinster girls got the first score of the second half we knew they were not going to roll over. We needed a lift to the get the crowd in full cry again and it came on 36 minutes when Aisling Millar pulled on a loose ball on the edge of the Knockananna square and fired it to the net. On close examination of photos of the score she almost sent Aime Traynor’s right ankle in as well, but even Aimee didn’t mind.
This was now the ‘sweet spot’ of the game for Brídíní Oga as everything clicked into place, and after Aimee got a point of her own, and Eimhear McAleenan added one from a free, came the real coup de grâce when Molly Woulahan broke through the middle of the Knockananna defence and cooly flicked the ball over the head of goalkeeper Byrne to maintain her brilliant record of scoring a goal for the sixth game in a row. Molly and her sister Jamie at corner back had great games, and when that second goal went in I thought of their grandfather Jimmy Woulahan who grew up in Wicklow, not that far from Saturday’s opponents.
Of course great teams don’t throw in the towel and Knockananna hadn’t lost a game in two years up to Saturday. Six behind they cut the deficit in half when Rachel Byrne fired a free through a packed goalmouth to the back to the Glenravel net. The plans for the after match celebration shots of our friends and neighbours at the final whistle were now back on hold but luckily the sinking feeling didn’t last long as substitute Clodagh McPeake picked up a loose ball, rounded her marker and struck the ball left-sided between the posts. Clodagh hadn’t struck a ball in anger for over four months after having to leave the field with a concussion injury which flared up again when playing against Cargin back on the 24th September. Rodney had introduced her to give her some time on pitch and she rewarded him with a very special score.
Clodagh McPeake goes past her marker to send over a great point
Eimhear’s late pointed free put the seal on it and we got ready for the celebration shots. After the trophy presentations the world and his neighbour wanted their photo taken with the cup. So much so that the stewards in the park had to make an announcement more than an hour after the final whistle to get us all to go home
The journey home was even worse for me than it had been coming down in the morning. My trusty sidekick Dylan was now on the bus with girls providing the live music on the way home. I had again failed to take the advice of those who had told me yet again to go through Dublin and was instead on that long and winding road to Ardee. When I reached the motorway at Dundalk thing were much better, but those wacky races through Westmeath and the Royal County had taken their toll.
Later that evening I had just about recovered for the homecoming, and what a night it was with the clubrooms packed the rafters with young and old alike. What a welcome home the girls received as our local Scotsman Archie Rea led them into the clubrooms and up to the celebration evening. By this stage old age had taken its toll and I just couldn’t stick the pace, but I have to say I had a day to remember, one I honestly thought I would never see, with a Glenravel team crowned All Ireland Champions.
Brídíní Óga Abu