Banner Ladies Are All Ireland Division 1 Féile Champions

Banner Ladies Are All Ireland Division 1 Féile Champions


It pays to dream and on Sunday last in the verdant
Wicklow countryside the dream became a reality for the Banner Ladies
Football Club of Ennis. Whether in the men’s or ladies’ code Clare
has always been rated amongst the minnows of Gaelic football but
last weekend Gaelic football history was turned on its head when
the magnificient girls of the Banner Ladies Club in Ennis won the
county’s first ever A Division football championship All Ireland

Their victory will be all the more cherished in that on the way
to the national title they accounted for the reigning All Ireland
champions Dublin and the traditional kingpins of Gaelic football
Kerry and Galway. Sunday July 1st, 2006 will forever stand as
a momentous day in the history of Clare football for all those
present to witness the event. In the spectacular venue of Baltinglass,
Co. Wicklow, before an attendance of 5,000 spectators, the Clare
team was crowned champions of All Ireland and beyond after a truly
superb display of guts, determination and no little skill.

The Clare outfit entered the competition as rank outsiders. How
could a football team from the Banner county be expected to compete
with the likes of Kerry, Cork, Dublin, Mayo, Monaghan, Galway,
Kildare, Meath and Wicklow at the high altar of Division 1 championship
football? Well compete they did and in the process played some
of the finest football that was ever witnessed in a Clare jersey.
Only Clare’s historic Munster championship success in 1992 over
Kerry is comparable to this achievement.

The Banner’s opening Friday game was against Dublin’s Foxrock-Cabinteely
the reigning All Ireland champions. In the run up to the finals
weekend the Clare outfit had dared not think beyond this opening
encounter – played in the Dublin team’s home ground of Kilbogget
Park (a venue shared with the famed Seapoint Rugby Club). Could
the minnows from Clare overturn such an esteemed outfit?

From the throw in Clare dominated but had only one score, a point
from Niamh O’ Dea, to show from their first five minutes of superiority.
Dublin settled and hit back with two quick points and, growing
in confidence, they looked destined to shatter the Banner’s ambition
of making any meaningful progress in the tournament. All this
changed when the Ennis girl’s corner forward Lauren Dooley scored
a wonder eight minute goal to ignite the Clare team. In the minutes
following Dooley’s goal Clare again raised green flags with scores
from Niamh O’ Dea and Eimear O’ Connor. Dublin responded with
a point but the Banner girls were not finished yet and ended the
half with a goal from corner forward Katie Cahill and points from
O’Dea and Hough. The half-time score read 4 – 4 to 0 – 2 in the
Banner’s favour.

True to their status as reigning All Ireland champions Dublin
came out fighting in the second half and scored two quick points
before Niamh O’Dea settled the Banner ship with and excellent
long range point. Dublin then got through for a supperb goal and
the game was in the melting pot again. The Banner were not for
giving in however and a point from Megan Hough (from a 30 metre
sideline ball) followed by a brace of goals from the same player
put the game beyond Dublin’s reach. The Metropolitan girls did
score a consolation late point but by this stage the Clare girls
had well signalled their intentions of not being cannon fodder
to the supposedly stronger counties. The game ended on a 6 – 6
to 1 – 5 score-line in favour of Clare and thus their epic championship
odyssey had begun.

On Saturday the Clare girls had an early morning game against
Wicklow opponents Éire Óg of Greystones. This game
played in beautiful Enniskerry, and at a grounds donated to the
local club by famed fiction writer Fredrick Forsyth, turned out
to be a complete mismatch and the Banner Ladies ran out facile
winners on a 6 – 11 to no- score scoreline.

Next up for Clare were the Monaghan champions Scotstown and again
the Banner team registered an overwhelming 4 – 12 to 0 – 0 win.
Strange emotions followed this victory which set the Clare girls
up for a semi-final encounter with the famed Kerry divisional
side of Southern Gaels. Were Clare worthy of such a status, or
was the opposition barring Dublin very poor? Could Clare hope
to compete with a Kerry team who had already won the All Ireland
title on three previous occasions?

The contest between the Banner and the Kingdom took place in
the newly opened grounds of Bray Emmets. So confident were the
Kerry girls of victory that they sang (like the New Zealand Haka)
Amhrán na bhFiann in their pre-match huddle. This gesture
was intended to unsettle their Clare opponents but it was a ploy
that seriously backfired on the Kerry outfit. True the Kerry girls
dominated the early exchanges but once the Ennis girl’s realised
that they were more than a match for the Kerry team they well
and truly cut loose and gave an exhibition of Gaelic football
that probably will never be equalled in modern day Clare.

Each Clare girl fought for every ball as though their life depended
on it and Kerry simply could not handle Clare’s intensity and
footballing brilliance. Niamh O’Dea was outstanding for the Banner
in the opening half when, playing against the wind, she dropped
back from the half-forward line to act as a sweeper in front of
her half backs. Any time Kerry breached this defence they were
met with Clare’s player of the tournament, Laurie Ryan who was
simply unbeatable. This resolute Clare defence set up sweeping
attacks, led in the main by O’Dea and Louise Woods, and this ploy
was rewarded with goals from Megan Hough, Katie Cahill and Niamh
O’Dea herself. The half time score read Clare 3 – 0, Kerry 0 –
0. Stunned the Kerry girls retired quickly to their dressing room
and everybody from Clare had to pinch themselves repeatedly to
ensure that what they were witnessing really was true.

In the second half Clare continued to dominate and their midfield
pairing of Eimear O’Connor and Catríona Hennessy completely
over ran their Kerry counterparts. Marie McMahon also came into
her own during this period and gave an exhibition of high fielding
and foot passing that would have made the great man from Valentia
proud. Further scores accrued for Clare with a goal from captain
Eimear O’Connor and two points apiece for Niamh O’Dea and Megan
Hough. Well into injury time Kerry got their only score of the
game from a hotly disputed free on the twenty metre line. Utter
disbelief greeted the final whistle. A Clare team had just completely
overwhelmed the pre tournament favourites. Kerry were completely
mesmerised and also deeply hurt that a team in saffron and blue
had dared lower their green and gold, this was completely against
the script and not in line with the natural order of Gaelic football.

The Banner Club was thrilled with this achievement. Losing Division
2 finalists in 2003 and 2004, before capturing the title in 2005,
the club had now succeeded in qualifying for its fourth All Ireland
Final in a row. The only thing new for the Ennis team was that
this was the All Ireland Division One final and the formidable
Corofin of Galway were their opponents. Corofin, the losing Division
One finalists in 2005, had beaten the Dublin and Wicklow champions’
en-route to their semi-final match and when they annihilated a
fancied Mayo team in this game they were immediately installed
as tournament favourites. Tradition would at last win out and
all would be ok with the world of Ladies Gaelic football.

Thus the scene was set for the final encounter in the magnificent
stadium in Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow. On a super sod and in the
presence of such luminaries as ex-GAA president Seán Kelly,
current GAA president Nicky Brennan and Ladies Gaelic Football
president Geraldine Giles, the scene was set for and epic final
clash. A huge number of Clare fans travelled to Baltinglass for
the match and scenes resembling Munster Final day in Thurles were
enacted in the town’s main square before the match. The tension
and excitement of it all was unbearable.

The game itself was a truly tense affair with little or nothing
between the teams on the scoreboard. Clare dominated the early
proceedings and opened up a 1 – 1 to 0 – 0 lead by the seventh
minute. Clare’s scores came from a Lauren Dooley goal and an absolutely
wonderful Aoife Davoren point (Aoife cut through the Corofin defence
soloing on her right leg only to kick a thirty metre point with
her left). Clare were well on top but further scores were proving
difficult. Megan Hough was unfortunate to have a goal disallowed
on eight minutes before the game took a dramatic twist in the
tenth minute when Galway were awarded a very dubious penalty.
A shot to the corner left the otherwise faultless Banner keeper,
Alison Carrig with no hope and the game was suddenly cast back
into the melting pot. Clare responded in the twelfth minute with
a Megan Hough point but Corofin exerted late first-half pressure
to secure a point of their own and when straight through on goal
just on the verge of half-time the Banner looked in deep trouble.
Alison Carrig, the Banner’s goalkeeper somehow contrived to pull
off a wonderful save and so the half time score read The Banner
1 – 2, Corofin 1 – 1.

In the second half The Banner continued to dominate proceedings
but could not put significant scores on the board. The generally
dependable Megan Hough missed some very scorable chances before
pointing a free after five minutes. This score was further added
to by an Aoife Davoren point to leave three points between the
sides. Again under strong pressure the Banner defended stoutly
and none more than wing back Lorna Higgins and full back Laurie
Ryan. Marie McMahon was also doing Trogan work at centre back
while Marian Conway was simply outstanding in the corner. Corofin
hit back however and by the twelfth minute had narrowed the gap
to 1 – 4 to 1 – 2. The pressure was now well and truly on The
Banner to survive and survive they did and try as they may Corofin
could not close this gap. Wing back Louise Woods was absolutely
brilliant in this closing period and made devastating clearance
runs up the right wing as the game drew to its thrilling conclusion.
Previously unimaginable scenes greeted the referee’s final whistle
as Clare had won the Division One title on a 1 – 4 to 1 – 2 score.
Clare were the dominant team all over the pitch and were good
value for their narrow win. Losers Corofin put up a great show
but were held by a better team on the day.

Well done to all the Banner girls who brought this title to the
Banner Ladies Football Club, to Ennis and to Clare. That this
team was magnificent throughout the whole weekend is an understatement
and it may take a while for the honour they have bestowed on their
club and county to sink in properly.

Banner Ladies Team & Panel: Alison Carrig, Laura Brennan,
Laurie Ryan, Marian Conway, Louise Woods, Marie McMahon, Lorna
Higgins, Eimear O’Connor (Capt), Catríona Hennessey, Rebecca
Culligan, Niamh O’Dea, Aofe Davoren, Lauren Dooley, Megan Hough,
Katie Cahill, Niamh Walsh, Clodagh Glynn, Mary Allen, Cathy Hayes,
Aoife Dormer, Kathleen O’Keeffe, Ellen Minogue, Rachel McNamara,
Aidín Shannon, *Fiona Forde, Katie McKenna, Emma Glynn,
Shauna Crowley, Victoria Krechun, Finuala O’Dea, Denise Cosgrove,
Niamh Cahill, Roisín Crowe.

* Non playing members of panel in italics

Dr. Paul McKenna,

PRO The banner Ladies Football Club.



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