Down queens rule supreme

Down queens rule supreme

9 December 2020

DOWN camogs lifted the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Championship for the first time in 22 years with a commanding at Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan, on Saturday.

The star of the show was Niamh Mallon, who illustrated the full breadth of her array of talents as a well balanced Down made experience count, producing a power-packed second half performance.

Mallon began at left half-forward, but it was no surprise to see her drifting into full-forward for periods of play, a ploy that yielded significant dividends when the game was still there to be won. She was a key figure in Down’s success.

The Portaferry ace claimed two goals and three points from play, and was a key figure in Down’s success. 

Down had too much firepower for Antrim, with Sara-Louise Graffin proving a very influential foil to Mallon. The likes of Sorcha McCartan, Lauren Clarke and Aimee McAleenan were selfless in their toil. 

Further back, Graffin’s sister Fionnuala Carr thundered into the fray in the last ten minutes of the first half.

The 39-year-old marked her 22 years of representing Down at adult level in stirring fashion alongside fellow co-captain Karen McMullan.

Former dual star McMullan was in Australia when Down lost the 2018 final. However, she returned after three years away last term, when the Mourne women fell short by a point at the penultimate hurdle to subsequent victors Westmeath.

They would not be denied this time around though, despite the shock of conceding a goal after less than 30 seconds. 

It took five minutes for Derek Dunne’s side to regain their composure, but they were in front by the 12th minute after Mallon, McAleenan, Paula O’Hagan and Graffin all raised white flags. 

Antrimy hit four of the next five scores to establish a two-point advantage that could have been even greater had Catrine Dobbin not just dragged her ground shot wide with Catherine McGourty coming out quickly to narrow the angle. 

The Down response was notable. Three points came, including a wonderful effort by McCartan. Then, after Nicole O’Neill pointed a free at the other end, Graffin hit the net with a goal in the third minute of first-half injury time. She showed tremendous strength to make space and finish in trademark fashion after brilliant play out wide by Clarke. 

That made it 1-8 to 1-5 at the interval but Paul McKillen got the ideal response from his Antrim team.

Dobbin pointed early in the second half before Kelly drilled a fantastic goal home in the 36th minute.

The 19-year-old took a shoulder from Dearbhla Magee with ease before unleashing a shot that was just too strong for Down’s custodian McGourty to repel.  

Drain denied McAleenan a quick riposte, but it came shortly after as Mallon’s piledriver returned her side to the lead.  She followed up with a point, as did O’Hagan from a free.

When Mallon concluded some deft footwork with a resounding finish after Clarke had done tremendously well to win possession, the writing was on the wall for Antrim. 

They continued to battle, but Down were dominant in too many sectors now.

Their know-how shone through as they ensured that there would be no goals conceded, unafraid to relinquish frees to that end. O’Neill converted a few but as time ran out, major scores were required. 

In the end, it was Clarke who raised the game’s final green flag, a fair reward for her tireless efforts.

There could be no doubt about the merit of Down’s win however. They had done it at last, and the final whistle brought their celebrations.

Down: C McGourty, C Caldwell, D Magee, D Harrison, K McMullan, F Carr, B Fitzpatrick, A Keown, P O’Hagan (0-5, 4fs), S McCartan (0-1), S L Graffin (1-2), N Mallon (2-3), C Cowen, L Clarke (1-2), A McAleenan (0-3).

Subs: C Rocks for Fitzpatrick (60+1), C Fitzpatrick for Cowen (60+2), I O’Hare for Clarke (60+6). 

Antrim: E Boyle, C Patterson, C Drain, C Conlon, N Donnelly, M Connolly, A Boyle, E Laverty, L McNaughton, Christine Laverty, M Kelly (1-2), C Dobbin (0-1), R McCormick (1-2), Ciara Laverty, N O’Neill (0-5). Subs: C McKillop for E Laverty (40), O O’Hara for Ciara Laverty (54), N A Donnelly for Patterson (46), A Donnelly for Christine Laverty (60). 

Referee: J Heffernan (Wexford).

Down 4-16

Antrim 2-10