Despite a courageous effort, Louth’s bid for provincial glory is over despite winning a thrilling contest by a single point in Philipstown on Sunday.
Louth 5-7 Offaly 2-15 | Report by Dermot Woods, Photos by Warren Matthews
Needing to victory by five points or more, Louth looked to have one foot in the semi-finals when Laura Collins blasted home the team’s fifth goal from a penalty to give them a seven-point advantage, 5-7 to 1-12, with five minutes of normal time remaining.
But showing great character and impressive fitness levels, the visitors rattled off 1-3 without reply in the closing stages to leave just a point in it at the final whistle and qualify for a last-four meeting with neighbours Kildare this Sunday.
Laois, who also beat Offaly by a point last Sunday week, topped the group with three wins from three, with Offaly, Louth and Wicklow having one triumph apiece. However, it’s the Faithful County who join Laois in the knockout stages thanks to their superior score difference.
Played in a constant drizzle at the home of St Kevin’s, this game was a wonderful advertisement for ladies’ football which saw both sides go all out for the win and leave nothing on the pitch. Former Aussie Rules star Kate Flood scored 3-1 in an outstanding first half display to help a fired-up Wee County to a 3-3 to 0-4 interval lead.
A Marie Byrne goal straight after the restart brought the recently-crowned National League Division 4 champions back into it before a Collins brace of majors looked to have secured Louth’s passage to the next round. But with 16-year-old Saorah Doyle converting six frees off the ground and substitute Eve Kelly scoring a brilliant solo goal, Offaly rescued the situation late on.
Collins opened the scoring before Saoirse McGuinness blazed an early goal chance wide. The visitors were made to pay for that miss when Seona Halligan set up Flood for the opening goal in the eighth minute.
Ellee McEvoy opened Offaly’s account from a free two minutes later before hitting the outside of the post after Nicole Buckley had joined the attack. Emma Hand registered Offaly’s second point before McEvoy saw another goal chance go abegging when her shot was saved.
The winners got a lucky break on 24 minutes when a speculative shot from Flood slipped through the hands of Eimear Evans and into the net. Collins tagged on a free before Flood completed a stunning first half hat-trick in the 27th minute after the Offaly defence had failed to deal with a long ball over the top. The Louth full-forward added a free, which was replied to by Emma Hand just before the break after taking a free short to McEvoy.
Byrne’s goal at the start of the second half was the start they would have hoped for, but the home side responded impressively with a pair of Collins frees and a Jennie McCourt point from play as Louth maintained their grip on proceedings. Offaly introduced both Becky Bryant and Róisín Mealiff for the second half, and they closed the gap again thanks to two points (one free) from Doyle and one from McEvoy. Ciara Woods replied before three more unanswered points from Doyle (free), Róisín Ennis and Byrne closed the gap to three, 1-10 to 3-7.
Louth again replied in brilliant fashion as Collins hit a sensational shot from 20 metres into the bottom corner after Woods had put her through. Doyle, who had taken over the free-taking duties from the usually unerring McEvoy, clawed back two more points from placed balls before Woods won a penalty which the excellent Collins planted in the top corner to push Louth seven clear.
But it was the Faithful who finished the stronger as they dominated at midfield where Emma Maher really came into her own, they scored 1-3 in the nine minutes of stoppage-time allotted by referee Sineád McHugh and may well have won if the game had gone on any longer.
A missed free, which struck the outside of the upright, didn’t unnerve Doyle who slotted over three in quick succession, the last of which came after Louth had lost Céire Nolan to the sin-bin. The Wee County girls were on the attack when a loose pass was intercepted by Eve Kelly who soloed over half the length of the pitch before firing past Una Pearson via the inside of the left post.
Amy Gavin-Mangan followed up with a point to reduce the deficit to the minimum before McEvoy was inches away from salvaging an unlikely draw for the Brían Ó Ruairc and Danny McGarvey-managed side
Louth: Una Pearson; Eilís Hand, Sarah Quinn, Ceire Nolan; Michelle McMahon, Shannen McLoughlin, Louise Byrne; Aoife Russell, Aoife Halligan; Róisín Kavanagh, Ciara Woods 0-1, Jennie McCourt 0-1; Laura Collins 2-4 (1-0p, 3f), Kate Flood 3-1, Seona Halligan. Subs: Rebecca Carr, Ruth Hanna, Holly Lambe-Sally, Eimear Byrne, Eimear Murray.
Offaly: Eimear Evans; Imelda Fleming, Emer Nally, Nicole Buckley; Michelle Mann, Emma Maher, Annie Kehoe; Emma Hand 0-2, Róisín Ennis 0-1; Amy Gavin-Mangan 0-2, Ciara Walsh, Saoirse McGuinness; Saorah Doyle 0-7 (6f), Ellee McEvoy 0-2 (1f), Marie Byrne 1-1. Subs: Becky Bryant, Róisín Mealiffe, Eve Kelly 1-0, Nicole Farrelly.
Referee: Sinead McHugh (Dublin).