TG4 All-Ireland Junior Football Championship Semi-Final
For the third consecutive year, the All-Ireland semi-final hurdle proved London Ladies’ Everest, as the Exiles’ Croke Park dream came to an end at Mallow GAA Sports Complex in Mallow, Cork.
Riding the feel-good factor forged by their county’s hurlers on their way to Liam MacCarthy glory, Limerick’s junior ladies surged into the final on 16 September at GAA HQ on the back of a clinical second half display.
Defeat was another bitter pill to swallow for London, following last year’s heart-breaking semi-final loss to Fermanagh, and losing out to Antrim at the same stage in 2016.
Like 12 months ago, this was a game the Exiles will undoubtedly feel they could have won, especially after opening up a 1-4 to 0-2 lead after 14 minutes thanks to Avril Kilkelly’s goal.
But Paddy Bowles’ Exiles, playing just their fourth competitive fixture of the year, saw their lead reduced to just one-point by the break (1-8 to 1-7). Limerick’s goal coming from Rebecca Delee.
The Shannonsiders then produced a strong second half performance with goals from the returning Dymphna O’Brien and Delee sending them through to the final.
The early exchanges all went the way of the Exiles with centre forward Kilkelly slotting over the game’s first score from a long range free inside two minutes.
London continued to play a possession-dominated game and were rewarded with a second Kilkelly free on seven minutes, as Limerick struggled to get any clear sight of goal.
The Shannonsiders did cut through on eight minutes but Mairéad Kavanagh’s rasping effort came back off the London crossbar. The Exiles responded with their third point to open up the game’s first sizeable advantage.
Limerick finally got on the board on 11 minutes with a Catriona Davis free, before she doubled her personal tally a minute later.
The game was opening up at this point and Davis had a great chance to goal only for her strike to be cleared off the line.
Again London responded, this time with a second free from Mayo native Lisa Cafferky before the corner forward set up Kilkelly for the game’s first goal.
Points from Davis (one) and Delee (two) brought Limerick back to a goal down as the game entered the final five minutes of the first half.
Another Kilkelly score followed before Limerick finally found the net after some good work from Kavanagh set up Delee for the finish.
The side’s traded scores sending London in leading at the break by the minimum (1-8 to 1-7).
The game opened up after the interval with Limerick challenging stronger in the middle third while London continued to cause problems at the back for the Treaty girls.
Despite all the early promise, London started to wilt as Limerick managed to trouble the scoreboard on an ever more frequent basis.
Points from Kavanagh and Davis were cancelled out by a pair of Cafferkey frees to keep London’s noses in front, but substitute Katie Heelan pointed ten minutes after the restart to bring Limerick level (1-10 a piece).
The game would swing decisively in Limerick’s favour with the introduction of O’Brien.
Limerick’s management had done their best in the build-up to convince of O’Brien enforced absence through injury. It’s unlikely anyone in the London camp had bought that one.
She’d come off the bench to goal twice in Limerick’s emphatic 22-point win over Carlow, and the veteran star would be instrumental again, bagging 1-3 in her 20-minute shift.
O’Brien pointed with almost her first touch to edge the Treaty girls in front for the first time in the game, although the Exiles found a quick riposte to restore parity.
She then made her most telling contribution, smashing home a penalty after Kavanagh was fouled to give Limerick a three-point lead.
They subsequently stretched that advantage to five points (2-14 to 1-12) with five minutes to go, thanks to points from O’Brien and Heelan, as London chased the game.
But there was only more pain for the Exiles late on as Delee bagged her second three pointer to end this one and send Limerick through to a first junior decider since 2010, when they lifted the West County Hotel Cup.
London’s wait for a first All-Ireland final appearance since 2008 goes on.
Scorers for Limerick: R Delee 2-2; C Davis 0-6 (0-4f); D O’Brien 1-3 (1-0 pen), K Heelan 0-2; M Kavanagh, C Mee, 0-1 each.
London: A Kilkelly 1-6 (0-4f); L Cafferky 0-6 (0-4f), K Canavan, R Mills 0-1 each.
LIMERICK: M Giltenane; K Reidy, S O’Sullivan, A Hartigan; C Hickey, N Ryan, M O’Shea; L Hanley, C Mee; C Ní Cheallaigh, R Delee, R Ambrose; O Giltenane, C Davis, M Kavanagh. Subs: K Heelan for C Hickey (27), D O’Brien for C Davis (40), C Ryan for C Ní Cheallaigh (50), E Ryan for K Reidy (62).
LONDON: R Healy; C Barrett, R Hunt, N Mulholland; N Cocoman, P Marmion, C Twoigh; N Daly, K Canavan; C O’Sullivan, A Kilkelly, R Mills; L Cafferky, F Morrissey, C McGahan. Subs: B Murphy for F Morrissey (52), C Brennan for C O’Sullivan (57).
Referee: Eamonn Moran (Kerry).