JOYOUS scenes greeted the full-time whistle in Castleroad yesterday as Sarsfields took their first senior county in 30 years, and their second title in the club's 50-year history.
With a record crowd, this game was either sides until the final whistle blew. Sars looked fairly comfortable with a six-point lead on 56 minutes but Inniscarra, as they have done all year, never gave in and brought the gap to three before the whistle blew.
Sars led by five points 11 minutes into the game and scored just one more for the remainder of the half, Inniscarra scoring seven and leading by one at the turnaround.
There was no panic on the line or on the pitch when they went five down. They just worked it back.
One aspect that stood out to me in that second half was how much Sars have matured this season.
They came back out totally unfazed, even when Inniscarra stretched their lead to two.
Their heads never once hung. They had belief.Sarsfields' Emer Fennell hammers home a goal. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare
It was going to take goals to beat the champions. It took three. Emer Fennell’s absolute top-class finish on 39 minutes gave Sars a lead they never relinquished, even though the sides were level again on 53.
In every sport small margins make the greatest of difference. On 55 minutes an Inniscarra strike came off the crossbar, the ball fell to the goalline.
Despite the frantic efforts of Inniscarra it didn’t pass it. The ball was cleared up the field. Fennell got her second goal.
A six-point swing!
I mentioned before the game that Katie Barry would give Niamh McCarthy a tough hour. She would give any player a tough hour.
McCarthy is Inniscarra’s main goal threat. She did nothing wrong but came up against the best full-back in this year’s championship. Niamh moved around but Katie followed her wherever she went.
McCarthy moved further out the pitch during the second half, Niamh Dilworth went inside, and Barry still commanded the area. All over the pitch every Sars player was doing their bit and it feels almost wrong to mention just a few here.
I thought Ellen Murphy at left half-back had a fine game as did Michelle Barry. Hollie Herlihy and Olivia McAllen got two great points each early in the first half as Sars were far faster out of the traps.
And what about Emer Fennell? Two tremendous goals and driving out with the ball from her own defence in additional time as Inniscarra pushed for the goal that would force a replay. How apt that it was Emer who was on the ball when that final whistle blew.
Sport can be cruel, but it was oh so sweet yesterday that a player who has given so much to her club finally won a senior title. Joint captains Ellen Murphy and Lucy Allen paid a fitting tribute to the player the entire panel look up to.
Inniscarra had a couple of goal chances as they got on top in the second quarter. As Aileen Sheehan came more into the game they drove forward. They should have been more clinical with one chance instead of hitting it over the bar on fifteen and had three wides, one enforced with a tremendous Katie Barry hook on Claudia Keane.
Sars too had a goal chance when Sheila Walsh saved from Fennell and the ball stalled on the line. If we didn’t have the torrential rain in advance of the game and if the goalmouths weren’t heavy, we would have witnessed more goals, from both sides.
The drawn game last week looked to take its toll on Inniscarra’s legs in addition to the fact that the team are on the road a while now as Sars certainly looked fresher in the closing 10 minutes.
But all year Inniscarra were finding it hard to get goals while Sars had scored nine heading into the final and you just knew that they were going to add to that tally yesterday.
Sars had that bounce in their step. They have such a spread of fine hurlers and when you can bring in impact subs it makes all the difference.
Inniscarra struggled a bit with their bench this year having lost four of last year’s panel and then being without corner-back Deirdre O’Callaghan for yesterday.
Sars on the other hand had talent in abundance, Ciara Irwin adding to the strength of the team when introduced in the second half.
It’s been a dream come true for so many in Sars. They didn’t have an easy path to the final.
They took serious clubs down along the way and yesterday took down the champions. It doesn’t get much better than that and sincere congratulations to them.