By Daire Walsh
DOWN joint manager Caoibhe Sloan said they knew they would have to dig deep to see off the challenge of Limerick in the TG4 All-Ireland junior final at Croke Park.
Sloan said she and the management were thrilled that all their hard work throughout the season paid off as they make an immediate return to intermediate after being relegated last year.
“We knew we were capable of it all year. We probably knew we were going in as favourites and we probably were talking that down a small bit,” said Sloan. “Trying to keep the girls grounded, keep us, the management, grounded. Make sure that we knew it didn’t actually count for anything being favourites. It was going to be a nip and tuck battle, and it was.
“Limerick were incredible. They were class, we expected them to be. It was going to be no easy battle. We knew we were going to have to go out and really go for it, and go after it.
“We didn’t settle well. We really didn’t. We came into it towards the end of the first half. Same again in the second half, they came out and scored. It was the second quarter and the final quarter that we really kicked on.”
A 43rd-minute goal from substitute Orla Swail was the key score, while Natasha Ferris amassed an impressive tally of 0-5 to supplement Swail’s clinical finish.
Caoimhe McGrath kicked four points for Limerick but they fell just short in their quest for a third junior title.
Down led by 0-5 to 0-4 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 Aimee O’Higgins to once again restore parity with her second of the day on 38 minutes.
In their semi-final win 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, leaving Limerick manager Shine to rue a narrow defeat.
“Absolutely gutted,” he said. “We weren’t good enough. We probably created a lot of chances in the first half and just didn’t take them. We found ourselves a point down going in at half-time. To be honest, we should have been four or five points up. Just that goal [from Orla Swail], it was sort of 50-50, a throw-in ball. It sucker punched us, that goal.
“To be honest, whoever was going to score a goal today was going to win, because both defences were well on top. When they got that goal we started chasing, but the clock goes down very fast when you’re chasing. I’m just disappointed for the girls. They’ve put in a ferocious effort. Not many people gave us a chance coming up today, but we knew coming up we’d have a great chance. We’ll have more days.”