FIDELMA Marrinan’s 57th-minute point proved the winning score for Clare in a quite incredible All-Ireland minor B ladies football championship final in Ballinasloe on Saturday afternoon.
The Banner girls held out for a one-point win to capture their second All-Ireland B crown – and first since 2013.
Meath, winners last year, were denied the two-in-a-row in front of a big crowd at Duggan Park.
Spectators were treated to a cracker – as the pendulum swung one way and then the other throughout an absorbing tie.
Meath led by 2-6 to 1-7 at half-time – with goals from Caroline McLoughlin Lynch and Lauryn Grier boosting their challenge.
The Royals could have had more three-pointers in the first half but only a combination of some good Micaela Glynn goalkeeping and desperate defending kept them out.
Meath’s opening score of the game was a McLoughlin Lynch goal in the third minute, after the ball had passed through the hands of captain Aoibhin Cleary and Grier.
Meath led by 1-1 to 0-0 early on but Clare, with wing-forwards Marrinan and Eimear Keane impressive, were level at 0-5 to 1-2 by the 13th minute.
Clare went ahead three minutes later, when player of the match Caoimhe Harvey stormed forward from the midfield area, played a one-two with Ciara Hickey, and crashed the ball to the Meath net.
It was a superbly-created and executed score, and sent the Banner girls into a 1-5 to 1-3 lead.
In a tit-for-tat opening half, that advantage wouldn’t last long, as Meath struck for a second goal in the 23rd minute.
It was all Grier’s own work, as the centre forward took matters into her own hands before crashing a long-range effort into the top corner.
McLoughlin Lynch was almost in for her second goal seconds later, as Clare scrambled the ball behind for a ’45, while Harvey blasted over the bar at the other end when a goal was there for the taking.
Meath’s Anna Brangan had the final say in the opening half, popping over a point to hand the 2016 winners a two-point interval lead.
The scene was set for an enthralling second period – and it delivered in style.
Goal chances came and went at both ends of the pitch before Hickey slotted home a 42nd-minute penalty goal for Clare, after Catriona Callinan was hauled down by Rachel Troy.
Clare were two points clear before Grier pulled another magnificent goal from the top drawer, handing the Royals a slender 3-7 to 2-9 lead midway through the half.
Clare were back in business when Harvey netted her second goal with 12 minutes left but Meath responded with a major from sub Tara Berigan.
That score levelled matters (4-7 to 3-10) and Clare were rocked on their heels when Harvey was forced off injury in the closing minutes.
But Marrinan was the match-winner – and her late was good enough to separate two excellent teams, as Clare held on for the silverware in a tense finish.
Scorers for Clare – C Harvey 2-1, C Hickey 1-1 (1-0 pen, 0-1f), F Marrinan 0-3, E Keane 0-2, T Kelly, L Roche, C Callinan & E McMahon 0-1 each.
Scorers for Meath – L Grier 2-1, T Berigan 1-1, C McLoughlin Quinn 1-0, S Lynch 0-3, A Branagan 0-2.
Clare – M Glynn; N O’Doherty, K Dillon, Á Keane; A Mulcair, A Morrissey, A Courtney; T Kelly, C Harvey; F Marrinan, L Roche, E Keane; C Hickey, H Meaney, C Callinan.
Subs: M Downes for Meaney (h.t.), E McMahon for O’Doherty (h.t.), O’Doherty for Dillon (52), S Brew for Harvey (57).
Meath – J Bobbett; L Quinn, O Lally, L Kearney; L McDermott, K Newe, R Troy; A Branagan, N Cassidy; T Faye, L Grier, A Cleary; C McLoughlin Quinn, A Leahy, S Lynch.
Subs: A Timmons for Leahy (h.t.), T Berigan for Lynch (34), P Dorian for Fay (47).
Referee – G McMahon (Mayo).