Minor Ladies Championship Final
Claudy have caught Steelstown off guard.
Cara Doherty has rattled the net within seconds of the start of the ladies minor championship final at Kevin Lynch Park. The league champions are rocked.
Megan Devine takes matters into her own hand. The powerful Brian Óg’s number 11 wins possession on her own 45’ and she drives right through the centre of the field, swatting away challenges like they’re just obstacles in front of her.
She bursts by the half way line, glides over the 65’ and exchanges passes with the sharp Clodagh Laverty. Aoife McKeever joins in on the act, Claudy are cut open. Devine splits the posts.
Steelstown still trail, 0-1 to 1-0. But the tone is set. A marker is laid down and from that blistering first attack of the city girls, the Óg’s don’t look back. They never do.
Not even a minute has passed and they’re in front anyway. Orla Flanagan controls the tempo of another attack, hanging onto possession as the blue Mitchell’s jerseys flock back in panic. The midfielder works it left to the outstanding Ella-Rose Sainsbury and, with one sliced pass straight into the chest of Emma Donnelly, the Steelstown goal machine makes no mistake.
At 1-1 to 1-0, Thomas Cusack’s side have a lead they wouldn’t even have dreamed of letting up and the rest takes care of itself.
The ruthless streak running through this current crop of Steelstown minor ladies is what sets them apart. It’s what leaves nothing up to chance and it is what made the difference yesterday in Dungiven as the Brian Óg’s girls recorded an historic club double of league and championship feats.
Even with Cara Doherty and all her lightning prowess, the Claudy girls were no match for the Steelstown machine when it got churning. The attacking six were menacing. Either one of them could’ve put a serious dent in the Claudy backline and when you have so many options in the forward line, so many girls ready to run at you and look to create something, it is damn hard to put a stop to.
That’s why Ella-Rose Sainsbury wriggled free and drilled over an effort straight after setting up the first goal. And when the forwards weren’t firing, well then Derbhla Wilson just joined in from half back, Orla Flanagan pushed forward, or Una Casey pierced another hole in the opposition defence like she did to raise the next white flag for the Ballyarnett club.
Aoife Laverty then got in on the act for the slick Steelstown outfit’s fifth different scorer with just their fifth score of the game, the wing forward curling over a beauty from the right hand side to stretch their lead to 1-4 to 1-0 and it was Laverty again on the scoresheet with a touch of fortune when her next free kick dropped into the top left corner and rippled the net.
Then Derbhla Wilson hammered home her side’s seventh consecutive score and that’s how it was. Whenever the ball was moved forward, there were three or four different blue and gold jerseys chasing after in a slick-moving Steelstown attack that worked from back to forward like clockwork.
But Cara Doherty struck again as the Óg’s failed to clear their lines and, after drilling into the bottom right hand corner with her first goal, the jinky Claudy full forward found the top left this time around to give the north Derry outfit some hope.
With this one though, the Steelstown girls weren’t rocked and they just went about reasserting their authority on the decider. Fionnuala Flanagan, in truth, was almost the brains of the operation. The Óg’s wing back dropped deep time and again and read the game like it was elementary, cutting out Claudy attacks ruthlessly and launching the platform for that deadly Steelstown forward line to go to town on.
Flanagan was the main reason that supply line was always open to her attackers as she continued to overturn the Mitchell’s and keep the momentum pumping in Steelstown’s direction.
It helped that Rachel Roberts got to grips with Doherty thereafter and that captain Aoife McGough started to power out from the backline whenever a half chance presented itself.
And so, Devine rattled over another before the break but not before young Clodagh Laverty came darting in from the right hand side and worked a pocket of space to lob over off that famous left of her’s.
At half time, the teams went in with seven separating them at 2-7 to 2-0 but, straight from the throw-in, the Óg’s cut loose again.
Una Casey got up and won it. She broke out of the tackle and found Clodagh Laverty on the move who slipped in her older sister Aoife one on one with Niamh Doherty only for the Claudy stopper to produce an outstanding save off the crossbar.
It didn’t matter though, it never does when Emma Donnelly is lurking about and the potent Steelstown full forward gobbled up the break and hammered home for her second goal of the game and send out a message of intent that the city girls were powering to this championship title.
A series of coolly taken free kicks – four in total, two each for the Laverty sisters – stretched Steelstown’s lead to 12 before Emma McCloskey floated over a dead ball at the other end for the Azzuri blues.
However, even though Megan Devine was being tightly watched in the second period, always one or two girls keeping tabs on the Steelstown danger woman, the centre forward soon exploded to life finding either side of the cross bar in the space of one breathtaking minute.
The goal came right after the point when Devine finally burrowed a way through the tackles and drilled low and hard and straight into the bottom right hand corner before Clodagh Laverty simply put the icing on the cake with another point as she and young Fionnuala Flanagan battled it out for player of the match.
As it was, it was the whole team dynamic that set the Óg’s apart. Their running was relentless, the score-taking was merciless, and the girls head off as champions of the county having stormed through every opposition this season.
If this is a sign of things to come, the future’s not looking too bad. Because this was emphatic. This was brilliant.
Steelstown: Emma McCallion; Jasmin Boyle, Aoife McGough, Rachel Roberts; Aoife McShane, Derbhla Wilson (0-1), Fionnuala Flanagan; Orla Flanagan, Una Casey (0-1); Clodagh Laverty (0-4, 0-2f), Megan Devine (1-3), Aoife Laverty (1-3, 1-2f); Aoife McKeever, Emma Donnelly (2-0), Ella-Rose Sainsbury (0-1)
Laura McLean, Lucy Williamson, Darrina Hunter, Emma McFarland, Caitlin Wade, Toni Cregan, Leah Casey, Beth Heaney, Eimear McCauley, Niamh Cusack, Ciara Foley
Claudy: Niamh Doherty; Sarah Hargan, Sarah McKeever, Beth McKinney; Erin O’Kane, Kady Brunker, Emily Bracken; Dáire White, Katie Hargan; Danielle Hargan, Cora McCloskey, Dearbhla Harkin; Ciara Boyle, Cara Doherty (2-0), Sarah Hargan
Cailiosa Hone, Emma McCloskey (0-1f)
Referee: Eddie Nash