Big day in Croke Park beckons for Na Fianna as first semi-final is won
Meath side continue their amazing journey with victory in Darver
"I'm so proud of you," said one Na Fianna supporter to her daughter after the All-Ireland Intermediate Club Camogie semi-final at Louth GAA''s Centre of Excellence in Darver today. "So proud of you," she repeated.
The praise, the pride, was fully justified because the Na Fianna players (including the lady's daughter) had to graft and strive for this 1-9 to 0-9 victory. Graft as hard as they had to do in any game they've played in this remarkable season for the club.
And as soon as the game was over the Na Fianna dual players began to prepare for their trip down to Cork for the All-Ireland Intermediate Club football semi-final against Glanmire tomorrow.
At least they have one part of their hectic schedule completed.
This camogie semi-final was a game when heart, character and resilience was required to win in large amounts - and Na Fianna were not found wanting.
They showed all those qualities and more; the victory a tribute to the players and manager Niall Burke as well as his support team of Ken Forde, Martin Dixon (both selectors), Karina Kelly (FLO), Shane Burke (coach) and Jackie Byrne (administration).
Now they are off to Croke Park and because of that Saturday's victory felt like a some kind of championship had been won. No matter what happens from here on the Na Fianna players have achieved one of their primary ambitions - to get to Croker and play on the stadium's green sward.
Not that the players will be happy to leave it at that. Having got to the final they will dearly want to win it. That's the way the players are, driven. That was obvious again today when under the floodlights of Darver they lit up an cold and rainy afternoon, at least that was the case among their admiring supporters.
Another reason for the unconfined and understandable joy the Na Fianna players and supporters felt at the final whistle was down to the way this victory was achieved - the hard way.
The Meath side led throughout the hour building on a bright start to set them on their way. After 15 minutes they were in front, 1-3 to 0-2 before pushing on to lead 1-5 to 0-5 at the interval. That bright start could be explained by Na Fianna's alertness, that hunger ingrained in the team. Eglish's corresponding slow start might have been explained by the fact that they haven't had a competitive game since September, when they won their county final.
Yet as this game unfolded and the skies grew darker and darker Eglish got better and better. Considering they had a number of truly quality players such as Reagan Fay, Oilibhia Farley, Leanne Donnely and Katie Daly, it was no surprise that the Leinster champions were pushed - and pushed hard.
The foundations for his victory, as it is for most victories, was the defensive fortitude of the winners. Time and again Na Fianna defenders got a block in as opponents looked like they might inflict very significant damage.
Na Fianna goalkeeper Niamh Kirby was busy throughout. She made a series of blocks and clearances that were fundamental to keeping her team one step ahead. Full-back Claire Coffey and the players each side of her in the trenches, Gracie Grehan and Aisling Byrne, tackled and closed down at a relentless rate.
There were others also who were eager to woman the battlements. It wasn't unusual to see forwards back in the Na Fianna goalmouth giving a helping hand. At least that was the way in the second-half as Eglish dominated.
The defence was less under pressure in the opening half when Na Fianna put together many determined, flowing, dangerous moves - and few of their attacks flowed better, or were more productive, than the pincer movement that led to the goal at the end of the first quarter.
Aedin Slattery won the ball in midfield. She picked out Brodie Kelly with a neat pass. Kelly, in turn, did very well to find Cole. She surged forward, too aim and fired a powerful shot to the net from distance, the ball going in off a post. It was a score to cap another fine display by one of the team's marquee players.
Cole also swept over three points, two in the opening half and one in the second-half. Midfielder Aoife Carey also helped herself to a hat-trick of points, all from frees, and did a lot of good work in the team's engine room.
There were three precious points also from full-forward Emma Regan who had a splendid game, her scores smartly taken.
They were all invaluable scores, of course, but none were as welcome, or as warmly greeted by the team's supporters, than her last score garnered in the dying stages of the contest. It carried an extra significance as it put four points between the teams and brought to an end a sustained spell of pressure by the Ulster side. Regan's last point lifted the siege when some respite was badly needed.
Just how concerted Eglish's revival was in the second-half could be seen in the way they fought back to leave just that goal between the teams as the contest drew to a conclusion with players such as Reagan Fay, who hit five points for them (including the last score of the game) and Oilibhia Farley, particularly dangerous. There was always the possibility the Tyrone side would find a chink in the Na Fianna armour.
Yet as they did time and again throughout the hour the Na Fianna defence withstood the pressure. No weakness was found. The players, as a unit, held out to help the team achieve a famous victory.
Now Croke Park beckons. No wonder that delighted mother was so proud at the end.
Na Fianna - Kerrie Cole 1-3; Emma Regan 0-3; Aoife Carey 0-3 frees.
Eglish - Reagan Fay 0-5 three frees; Kaitlin Gallagher 0-2; Oilibhia Farley 0-1; Cliodhna Goodfellow.
Na Fianna - Niamh Kirby; Gracie Grehan, Claire Coffey, Aisling Byrne; Sophia Payne, Eimear Fagan, Leah Devine; Aedin Slattery, Aoife Carey; Brodie Kelly, Shauna Ennis, Kerrie Cole; Maire Kirby, Emma Regan, Leah Dixon. Subs - Brooke Flynn for Dixon 47 mins, Katie Kelly for Kelly 53m, Erin Leddy for Ennis 59m, Ellen O'Hara.
Eglish - Julie Lagan; Cathy Jordan, Francine Farley, Laura Mason; Grace Daly, Aisling Jordan, Aisling Donnelly; Leannne Donnelly, Kate Daly; Kaitlin Gallagher, Reagan Fay, Oilibhia Farley; Casey Gallagher, Cliodhna Goodfellow, Ciara McMullan. Subs - Shauna Kelly for Goodfellow 26 mins, Emma Conroy for C Gallagher 38m, Emma Holmes for Kelly 58m.
Referee - Phillip McDonald (Cavan).