Lidl National Football League Division 4 semi-final
Antrim 2-20-2-14 Louth (AET)
Louth’s hopes of a second successive appearance in the league final were ended by a tenacious Antrim in sun drenched Clones on Saturday afternoon.
Such an outcome looked unlikely as a fantastic Lauren Boyle goal had given Louth a four-point lead two minutes into injury-time at the end of the second-half. Maeve McCurdy hit a point when her side needed a goal, however enough time remained after the resultant kick-out and Saoirse Tennyson capitalised on a defensive error by a Louth defender to set up a goal chance which saw Cathy Carey fire past Una Pearson in the last action of the game meaning there would be two additional periods of extra-time as it finished 1-14 to 2-11.
Louth appeared shell shocked and a reenergised Antrim took control and boosted by Ciara Durnein goal in the second period of extra-time helped the Saffrons into a commanding position. They had some nervy moments late on, including Eimear Byrne finding the net with a minute remaining, though after consultation with his officials referee Declan Callaghan disallowed the goal because of a hand pass to the net.
The final whistle sounded shortly after and Antrim were able to celebrate a result that looked unlikely just four weeks ago when they suffered a 4-11-2-03 defeat at the hands of the same opposition in Cooley.
Louth were strong favourites to reach the league decider in the clash between 1st and 4th in Division Four, but it was Antrim who made the brighter start in St Tiernach’s Park. Inside the first five minutes Caitlin Taggart had the opening after a patient passing move through the hands and Saoirse Tennyson doubled the lead soon after, although a goal may have been on it was fine score from the skipper.
Lauren Boyle hit back for Louth – but converted frees from Cathy Carey and Caitlin Taggart had the Saffrons 0-4 to 0-1 in front approaching the midway point in the first-half. Boyle doubled her account in response and it was soon level pegging in Clones as Kate Flood converted a free and Niamh Rice conjured up her first score of the afternoon to make it 0-4 to 0-4 on twenty minutes.
Antrim were back in front through back to back points from youngster Lara Dahunsi – the second of which squeezed narrowly between the posts. The Saffrons then received a blow when impressive corner-back Orla Corr was sent to the sin-bin for ten minutes approaching the break. Louth made the most of having an extra player as points from Lauren Boyle brought the side’s level at 0-6 to 0-6 with five minutes remaining.
Just sixty seconds later Louth went ahead for the first time as as a brilliant 30 metre Lauren Boyle pass found her clubmate Niamh Rice who cut inside a couple of defenders before crashing an unstoppable shot to the net giving the Reds the lead for the first time. Louth then lost their numerical advantage as Ceire Nolan was sin-binned by referee Declan Callaghan two minutes before the break.
Points from Cathy Carey and Caitlin Taggart (free) reduced the defecit to the minimum approaching the midway whistle – while Lauren Boyle converted a free to give Louth a 1-07 to 0-08 interval lead. Orla Corr’s reintroduction ensured it was Antrim who held a numerical advantage and Cathy Carey converted an early second half free to close the gap to a point once more.
Louth were dealt a further blow, being reduced to thirteen players as Eilish Hand was sin-binned minutes before Ceire Nolan’s re-emergence.
Aoife Taggart brought the side’s level for the third time after 35 minutes and before the half was out the lead would switch hands on the number of occasions. Louth restored their slender lead ten minutes into the second-half through their captain Kate Flood.
Cathy Carey levelled up through a converted free and midway through the half substitute Michelle Magee made an immediate impact – curling the ball over to give Antrim a 0:12 to 1:8 advantage. Kate Flood leveled from a free within sixty seconds as the sides were tied level for a fifth time approaching the final ten minutes.
With the clock showing 51 minutes Louth got a major boost as Lauren Boyle took off towards goal and lashed a terrific shot to the net to give the league table toppers a 2-09 to 0-12 lead.
Caitlin Taggart (free) responded with five minutes to go – though the Saffrons needed a goal and instead went into injury-time trailing by four points as Sinead Woods and Lauren Boyle both raised white flags to give their side a 2-11 to 0-13 advantage.
It looked as if the brave Saffrons challenge was finally over but now in desperate need of a goal, Maeve McCurdy shot over the bar for what looked a mere consolation as time was up.
Louth goalkeeper Una Pearson kicked the ball out and the Referee allowed play to continue in which a Louth defender’s careless pass was seized upon by Saoirse Tennyson allowing thee Saffrons to launch one final attack and were rewarded as Mairead Cooper as she did all afternoon got out in front of her marker and switched the ball to Michelle Magee whose fine pass found Cathy Carey and the half-forward fired to the net to salvage the most unlikeliest of draws at the end of a thrilling half as the game was level for a sixth time on a score line of 1-14 to 2-11.
Antrim began the first period of extra-time in splendid fashion and regained the lead for the first time since the 45th minute courtesy of a Cathy Carey free. Further points from Mairead Cooper and a Carey free had the Saffrons three to the good.
Louth almost hit back and levelled but for an outstanding save from Anna McCann, the rebound was blocked and at the third time of asking Niamh Rice shot over the bar a minute before the end of the first period – as Antrim led 1:17 to 2:12 at the halfway point in extra-time.
Cathy Carey added her third point of the additional period and the athletic Lara Dahunsi popped over in the immediate aftermath. Antrim continued to dominate and put the tie beyond doubt in the 74thminute as substitute Ciara Durnein’s attempt to fist the ball over the bar saw it crash off the post and Durnein got to the follow up and turned it past Una Pearson to give Antrim a 2-19 to 2-12 lead with little over five to play.
Antrim attempted to run the clock down with the emphasis of keeping possession of the ball with the game firmly in their grasp.
Eimear Byrne shot over the bar in response to Durnein’s strike. Michelle Magee doubled her afternoon’s tally to restore the seven-point advantage with time fast running out.
Louth thought they had salvaged a late goal to set-up a grandstand finish as Eimear Byrne hand passed to the net, but after consulting with his umpires behind the goal referee Callaghan disallowed the goal.
Niamh Rice would salvage the final score of the game but it had little impact of the final bearing as Antrim ran out deserving six point winners to advance to their third league final in six seasons. Antrim had many different scorers while the Cooley duo of Niamh Rice and Lauren Boyle accounted for 2-09 of the Wee County’s 2-14 total.
In a disappointing Louth performance where they failed to play to the level they showed in their previous six outings, Seoda Matthews, Eimear Byrne, Sinead Woods, and the aforementioned Lauren Boyle and Niamh Rice were the pick.
It will be an all Ulster final on Saturday week as Fermanagh overcome an eleven point deficit to beat Limerick in the other semi-final.
Antrim: A McCann, N Killen, M Hanna, O Corr, K Farren, C Brown, S Tennyson (0-1), A McFarland, L Dahunsi (0-3), C Taggart (0-4, 3f), C Carey (1-7, 5f), SL McLaughlin, M Cooper (0-1), M McCurdy (0-1), A Taggart (0-1).
Subs: M Magee (0-2) for SL McLaughlin (39 mins), C Durnein (1-00) for A Taggart (52 mins), L Wallace for M McCurdy (65 mins).
Louth: Una Pearson, Shannen McLaughlin, Eilish Hand, Seoda Matthews, Ciera Nolan, Michelle McMahon, Aine Breen, Rebecca Carr, Eimear Byrne (0-01), Aoife Russell, Susan Byrne, Sinead Woods, 0:1, L Boyle (1-5,1f), K Flood (0-3, 0-2f), Niamh Rice (1-4).
Subs: C Woods for S Byrne (40 mins), Jennifer McGuinness for S Woods (67 mins), Grainne Murray for E Hand (73 mins).
Referee: Declan Callaghan (Donegal)
Report by Dermot Woods | Photos by Warren Matthews