St. Louis Football Ladies Capture Ulster Title!
St. Columbas’ Comprehensive School, Glenties (Donegal) 3-06
St. Louis Grammar School, Kilkeel has a wonderful sporting tradition, admired and respected through Ulster. With Ulster titles in Camogie and Gaelic Football (boys) in abundance, St. Louis have nurtured many players who have gone to represent their county with distinction. However, in recent years the rise and popularity of Ladies Gaelic Football has been mirrored on the training pitch at St. Louis with the result being another Ulster title arriving at the Mourne school. This Ulster title in Ladies football has been brewing for a while as the girls have developed and enhanced their naturally ability and taken their game to a new level. After accounting for fellow Down schools in the group stages (St. Malachy’s Castlewellan, Our Lady’s and St. Pats, Knock and Aquinas Grammar School, Belfast), St. Louis had to overcome Ballybay CC (Monaghan) and St. Clare’s Ballyjamesduff (Cavan), both strongholds in the Ladies game, to set up this final meeting St. Columba’s’ Comprehensive School from Glenties in Donegal.
Going into this final as underdogs didn’t give the St. Louis squad much cause for concern as this was the role they had played all year. A bigger problem was looming on the day of the match- the wind! With the game scheduled for Garvaghy (Tyrone Centre of Excellence), an area exposed to the elements at the best of times, the strong wind would play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of this final. St. Louis found themselves playing against the wind in the opening half and had to adjust their style of play very quickly. Glenties opted for a long ball strategy and were quickly rewarded for their efforts. Two goals in the opening ten minutes would have finished off most teams, this St. Louis team dug deep to find the resilience and character that had got them this far. The full back line of Laura Cunningham, Ellen Boden and Caitlin Trainor refused to give an inch and quickly regained control of their quarter of the field. With goalkeeper, Maria Gribben exploiting space with her kick-outs, she found willing recipients in Ciara Keenan, Emma McVeigh and Alice McAlea.
The Kilkeel girls played the right tactic against the wind by carrying the ball, supporting each other, thus denying the Donegal girls valuable time to further exploit their advantage. St. Louis should have registered a number of scores as they created many opportunities, but a mixture of the conditions and poor passing in the final third of the pitch frustrated their efforts. However, the movement and interplay in the forward line from Emma Russell, Sorcha McCartan and Sinead O’Rourke indicated the threat they carried to the Donegal defence was viable.
As the opening half continued, Glenties was denied the free flowing game they desired due to resolute defending by the St. Louis half back line of Megan O’Boyle, Niamh McDonald and Megan Fitzpatrick. The St. Louis management team had some reservations about some refereeing decisions which allowed the Glenties team notch up points from dubiously awarded frees which put the Donegal school firmly in the driving seat. The response from St. Louis girls in the latter stages of the first half was immense. They dug in and counterattacked, led by the powerful duo of Sorcha McCartan and Captain, Meabh O’Hare. This pressure led to two goals for the Kilkeel school from Maureen McMahon who was relentless in chasing down every ball that came her way. These goals were just reward for the efforts of the St. Louis girls against a well drilled Donegal defence and of course the howling wind. Further points from Glenties left St. Louis with a deficit of five point as the half drew to a close. Considering the role of the wind, the St. Louis management team of Aisling McGivern and Steven McVeigh would have realised that reducing this margin was well within their grasp as they recharged the Mourne girls during the half time break. Half Time score St. Louis 2-00, St. Columbas’ 2-05.
If the outcome of this game was to be decided of who used the wind the best, then St. Louis quickly set about exploiting the elements. The introduction of Aine Fearon proved a to be a bonus for St. Louis as she quickly broke up the Donegal attack with a good mixture of timely interceptions and excellent distribution. With the St. Louis midfield pair of Ciara Keenan and Emma McVeigh taking control of the middle third of the field it was now the turn of the St. Louis attack to notch up some scores to reduce the deficit. To their credit the Glenties defence were well disciplined and stuck to their task, frustrating the Kilkeel girls. However, trademark point from Sorcha McCartan and Meabh O’Hare, were vital as St. Louis powered on towards levelling the game.
St. Columbas’ proved their quality as the slowed the game down with a highly impressive short game as they patiently worked the ball out of defence. An interesting battle was emerging between the ‘internationals’ St. Louis defender (and Irish Karate Champion) Megan O’Boyle and St. Columbas’ half forward Amy Boyle Carr (Irish Schools soccer player). The St. Louis defender had got the measure of her opponent after a shaky start, but one moment of brilliance (and in soccer style) saw Amy Boyle Carr brake away to bury the ball in the top corner of the St. Louis net, in a move which would surely seal the game for the Donegal school. Megan O’Boyle never let her opponent touch the ball again as St. louis rallied one more.
Once more it was down to the tenacious full forward, Maureen McMahon to drag St. Louis back into the game with another opportunist goal. Having been beat in the final the previous year the Glenties girls were determined that history would not repeat itself. The ever present danger of the St. Columbas ’team was never far away as they fought hard to retain their lead.
Another Glenties point on the counterattack took some of the wind out of the Mourne team sails, but there was more too come from St. Louis as they had proved in similar situations before. The introduction of Aoife Murphy indicated that a more direct approach was coming as the score line read 3-06 to 3.04 in favour of the Donegal school with 8 minutes left on the clock. Once again the Glenties side were holding on firmly to their lead moving the ball around in a slow manner enticing the Kilkeel girls to tackle. The St. Louis didn’t wait about and despite being on the wrong end of numerous harsh decision from the Tyrone referee a route one ball into the full forward line was gathered under intense pressure by Aoife murphy, who shrugged off the attentions of two Donegal defenders and slipped the ball to Maureen McMahon. It was the right player on the ball at the right time as McMahon coolly slotted the ball home under the hapless Glenties keeper to score her fourth goal of the game. More importantly this goal put the Kilkeel school in front by a point. With 3 minutes left on the clock.
The large St. Louis following ignored the cold conditions as they nervously, urging St. Louis to finish off the game when disaster struck. St. Louis half-back, Niamh McDonald blocked the road of a Glenties attacker whose momentum resulted in the young St. Louis played being knocked out. Bizarrely, the referee interpreted the incident differently than the majority of those at the game. Instead of a St. Louis free being awarded, Glenties once again received the refereeing decision and were awarded the free.
It took nearly eight minutes for the game to restart as the St. Louis player was stretchered off the pitch by a team of paramedics, but it was St. Louis who were to hold firm as Aine Fearon broke up the last Glenties attack and dual All-Star Sorcha McCartan delivered another long ball into the waiting arms of Aoife Murphy. Murphy turned her opponent quickly and blasted the ball over the Glenties bar to seal an historic two-point victory and the Ulster title for the St. Louis girls with final score reading St. Louis 4-05, St. Columbas’ 3-06.
Scenes of jubilation soon followed as the referee blow the long whistle. St. Louis captain Meabh O’Hare stepped forward to receive not only the trophy for St. Louis but also to pick up the player of the match award. St. Louis had added another Ulster title to their proud record and their first in Ladies football. This was a proud day not only for the school but for the Mourne clubs and indeed Down Ladies football.
The St. Louis team and scorers:
Maria Gribben (Dundrum), Laura Cunningham (Ballymartin), Ellen Boden (Dundrum), Caitlin Trainor (Ballymartin), Megan O’Boyle (Castlewellan), Niamh McDonald (Bryansford), Megan Fitzpatrick (Burren), Ciara Keenan (Ballymartin), Emma McVeigh (Burren), Emma Russell (Warrenpoint), Sorcha McCartan (Castlewellan) 0-3, Sinead O’Rourke (Ballymartin), Alice McAlea (Dundrum), Meabh O’Hare (Warrenpoint) Captain 0-1) and Maureen McMahon (Rostrevor) 4-0. Subs; Claire Young (Bryansford) for McDonald (inj), Aine Fearon (Ballymartin) for Fitzpatrick, Aoife Murphy(Rostrevor) 0-1 for O’Rourke, Joanna Boden (Dundrum), Kerrie Grant (Ballymartin), Niamh McDowell (Ballymartin), Sarah Cunningham (Ballymartin), Caitlin Grant (Ballymartin), Naomi Rooney (Ballymartin) and Naimh McKibben (Ballymartin).