TG4 All-Ireland Junior Football Championship
By Daire Walsh
A 43rd-minute goal from substitute Orla Swail was crucial at Croke Park as Down secured their second TG4 All-Ireland Junior Football Championship crown at the expense of Limerick.
Previous winners of the competition in 2000, the Ulster side have sealed an automatic return to the intermediate grade after suffering relegation at the end of 2022. Natasha Ferris amassed an impressive tally of 0-5 to supplement Swail’s clinical finish and while Caoimhe McGrath kicked four points for their opponents, Limerick fell just short in their quest for a third junior title.
After Ferris had broken the deadlock with a routine free in the third-minute, Limerick opened their account with a superb individual point from play by McGrath. Promoted to the starting line-up following an impressive performance off the bench in their semi-final win against Fermanagh, McGrath subsequently knocked over a brace of frees to give Limerick an early two-point advantage.
Yet Ferris began this contest four points clear of Clare’s Fidelma Marrinan in the race for the ZuCar Golden Boot award and she contributed a quickfire 0-2 salvo to bring the Mourne women back on level terms.
While dead-ball specialist McGrath was on hand to restore Limerick’s advantage, Down regained control with back-to-back points from attackers Aimee O’Higgins and Ferris. This offered the Ulster champions a slender 0-5 to 0-4 cushion at the break, but this was wiped out by a Deborah Murphy point on the run straight after the resumption.
Her half-forward colleague Karen O’Leary also split the uprights moments later to move Limerick back into the ascendancy, only for O’Higgins to once again restore parity with her second of the day on 38 minutes.
In their last-four encounter with Carlow, it was a late goal by Swail that ultimately propelled Down towards victory and the Carryduff ace repeated those heroics by unleashing an unstoppable shot to the opposite net just five minutes after her introduction.
This suddenly moved Down three points ahead moving into the final-quarter and even though Iris Kennelly raised a white flag for Limerick, Graham Shine’s charges suffered a set-back when O’Leary was sin-binned on 54 minutes.
Ferris and Treaty corner-back Meadhbh McNamara traded scores in the closing moments, but Down – All-Ireland intermediate champions in 2014 – held out for a hard-earned triumph.
Down: N Ferris 0-5 (2f), O Swail 1-0, A O’Higgins 0-2.
Limerick: C McGrath 0-4 (3f), M McNamara, D Murphy, K O’Leary, I Kennelly 0-1 each.
DOWN: A McGivern; A Greene, C Byrne, O Boyle; N McKibbin, M Doherty, O Duffy; A Laverty, A Brogan; N Scullion, V McCormack, L Duffy; E Fitzpatrick, N Ferris, A O’Higgins.
Subs: C Mulvenna for McCormack (h-t), O Swail for Fitzpatrick, P Smyth for Laverty (both 38), K McKay for O’Higgins (42), E Martin for Doherty (57).
LIMERICK: C Bateman; A Quaid, Y Lee, M MacNamara; G Lee, L Walshe, L Ryan; R Ambrose, F Bradshaw; D Murphy, K O’Leary, C Mee; L Coughlan, A Ryan, C McGrath.
Subs: K Heelan for Bradshaw (32), I Kennelly for A Ryan (39), A O’Sullivan for McGrath (51).
Ref: Angela Gallagher (Dublin).