By Alan Gunn
They left it late but Naomh Ciaran came with a stunning finale to claim their maiden All-Ireland Intermediate Club title as they denied Antrim club Naomh Pól at Kingspan Breffni.
Kirsty McGuinness scored goals in each half for Naomh Pól, but there was no denying the Offaly side after their powerful final quarter.
“I think it’s the first time ever an Offaly team won it and everything you win brings the whole county on,” said Naomh Ciaran manager Mikey Kenny.
“I am absolutely thrilled, I thought we were dead and buried there. We went five points down, we got a goal chance and it didn’t go in. But we showed tremendous character.”
Kirsty McGuinness had fired Naomh Pól off to the dream start when her goal in the third minute gave her side the lead, but with Kate Kenny in rare form Naomh Ciaran maintained contact throughout.
Amy Gavin Mangan hit a goal midway through the first-half for the Offaly champions, which meant there was nothing between the teams at the interval, and after Kirsty McGuinness hit her second goal the Belfast club led by five points after 37 minutes.
But from there to the end Naomh Ciaran outscored them by nine point to three and a goal from substitute Seana Heffernan set up the come-from-behind victory.
For most of this game it was like a shootout between Kenny and Kirsty McGuinness, while the respective defences battled hard for every possession.
It was 1-4 each at half-time and McGuinness had landed 1-3 of that while all four Naomh Ciaran points went the way of the young dual star Kenny.
Naomh Pól’s efforts before the interval were slightly hampered by a leg injury sustained by Lara Dahunsi, but she managed to play on after receiving treatment on three separate occasions. After McGuinness’s early goal her side struggled to find the target again, but they soon clicked into gear and three points for the dangerous attacker and a fourth from Áine Tubridy meant they deserved to be level at the break.
The Antrim champions didn’t take long to take charge after the break and following two more Kirsty McGuinness points, she showed excellent pace to race clear of the Naomh Ciaran defence and crashed her second goal past Amanda Keena for a 2-6 to 1-5 lead.
The Offaly club made a few changes with the aim of reviving their flagging hopes and they really made an impact. However Aisling Healy denied substitutes Emma Cahill and Roisin Egan with smart saves, although Kenny did reduce the deficit.
Points from Naoishe Burns and Kirsty McGuinness gave Naomh Pól a five-point lead with eight minutes to go, but they failed to score again. Heffernan’s goal and a Kenny point had that lead down to one in the space of a minute, and a stunned Naomh Pól side were helpless as Roisin Egan, Ellee McEvoy and Kenny reeled off the cup-clinching points.
“We got a bit disorganised, we had one or two people went down with injuries and we didn't get organised right and they broke through and got a couple of good scores,” said Naomh Pol manager Brian Coyle.
“They are a good team, nobody gets to an All-Ireland final unless they are good. Losing to a good team, you can't complain.”Tweet