Twelve goals scored, extra time and high drama throughout, but it was Tyrone who edged through to the Ulster Ladies senior football final at the expense of Donegal at Brewster Park on Saturday. It ended 6-17 to 6-10 with both defences tested to the limit in what turned into a test of steely nerve, thrilling scores and some of the best championship fayre on offer in 2011.
There was outstanding scores in near perfect conditions, the tie turned so many times it was almost impossible to keep track of it all. Tyrone’s Gemma Begley hit 4-3 while her Donegal counterpart Gearldine McLaughlin fired in a remarkable 3-5, one of those goals worthy of a goal of the season award. McLaughlin and Yvonne McMonigle gave Tyrones defence a torrid afternoon and for new Tyrone goalkeeper Colleen McCullagh it was certainly a baptism of fire, although it would be unfair to hold her to account for all the goals.
At the other end Begley signalled her desire to retain the golden boot while she was ably assisted up front by Joline Donnelly, veteran Catriona McGahan and Cathy Donnelly. Perhaps it was a case of great forwards, or maybe it was a case of poor defending, both wouldn’t be far of the mark but it certainly contributed to what turned out to be a classic Ulster semi-final that on the day Tyrone deserved to win.
Within the opening fourteen minutes Donegal had opened a 2-2 to 0-3 lead, Roisin Friel and Yvonne McMonigle adding the goals to two Gearldine McLaughlin frees, those Donegal scores all coming after Tyrone led 0-2 to no score courtesy of McGahan and Joline Donnelly points, McGahans initial effort saved by goalkeeper McCaffety.
Ashling O’Kane and the impressive Orla O’Neill saw chances go wide , Begley opened her account with a close range free before all star McMonigle beat debutant McCullagh for a third Donegal goal 22 minutes in.
The last ten minutes of the half proved fruitful for Martina Dillons outfit though, Gemma Begley finished to the Donegal net after a move involving three players from the back, Maura Kelly, sent O’Kane racing through, she in turn passed through to Neamh Woods who teed up the Carrickmore forward to deliver the score, Joline Donnelly and Catriona McGahn added points in a three minute spell and by the 30th minute Tyrone had the lead again when Cathy Donnelly finished to the net courtesy of a Joline Donnelly set up.
McLaughlin pulled a point back for Donegal before nippy half forward Ashling O’Kane beat McCafferty to put her Tyrone side four points ahead at the break.
Both sides traded early second half scores, Joline Donnelly and McLaughlin on target before a quick fire goal and point from a determined Donegal levelled matters , remarkably for the first time.
Talented Termon forward Mc Laughlin somehow turned in her half volley past McCullagh, the goal coming from a very difficult angle and that was followed within a minute with a McMonigle point.
Again though the tide turned in Tyrones favour and this time it looked like Donegal would have to settle for the all Ireland qualifiers, Gemma Begley the catalyst for last years beaten all Ireland finalists.
Two very different goals from the Carrickmore ace, but they all count, McGahan laid the ball off to Joline Donnelly who in turn found Begley who brushed aside Kelly Wilson before deftly chipping the ball to the net from fourteen metres, seconds later after a foot block saw referee Michael Hegarty award a spot kick, Neamh Woods unlucky to see her stinging shot saved, Begley eased home the spot kick to put Tyrone 5-8 to 4-5 in front.
Six down with less than ten minutes to go was there any hope for Donegal ? the simple answer was yes although the withdrawal of Tyrone’s Sarah Donnelly from the middle of the park was a contribution to the slip. Donnelly had been performing well with Woods in the absence of Shannon Quinn, she had nullified the threat of Karen Guthrie for long periods of the match and had been a contributor to several attacks that led to scores, she had been replaced by Laura McGreesh on the 21st minute and Tyrone shuddered. Perhaps it was no surprise to see the Trillick ace return to the fray just after the start of the extra twenty minutes, Catriona McGahan replaced after another good performance in a Tyrone shirt.
Niamh Hegartys 0-2 and a Neamh McLaughlin point, that was certainly a goal chance left three in it, Begley pointed again for Tyrone only to watch then, as McMonigles strike, when she nipped in leaving the Tyrone defence at sixes and sevens, left just a point between two tired sides with seconds to go. Monaghan match official Hegarty played seven minutes of additional time and almost with the last kick of the half, McLaughlin split the uprights from twenty metres to take the game to extra time.
Colleen McCullagh pulled off a great save at the feet of Hegarty within minutes of the restart, but despite a trade of points with O’Neill and Friel in the opening seven minutes it was Tyrone who stepped up a gear. Superior fitness allowing McGreesh, Begley and Donnelly in for three points to stretch the game from Tir Connal.
Three points to the good Tyrone, through Joline Donnelly once again increased their grip on the game and when Begley rattled the net again three minutes in it was all but over. Dillons side had by that stage in extra time outscored Donegal 1-6 to 0-1 and when McMonigle, a constant threat up front was sinbinned for a high challenge on Sinead McLaughlin the Donegal threat was gone.
They did manage another goal when Hegarty drilled past McCullagh , unmarked at the near post but Joline Donnelly and quite aptly Sarah Donnelly had the final say with points in the closing minutes.
6-17 to 6-10. remarkable scoring from both sides but plenty of food for thought for Tyrone manager Dillon and her backroom team to take from this one. There is not doubt Tyrone have a forward unit second to none, a constant source of potential scorers throughout, however at times against Donegal the defence were stretched and maybe found the going tough, that said there was good performances all over the park, Maria Donnelly, Laura McGillion, Maura Kelly, the midfield of Woods and Donnelly and of course all six forwards who all scored, Begley tallying up 4-3, Joline Donnelly with 0-8, Cathy Donnelly with 1-1, Ashling O’Kane hitting that first half goal with points from McGahan, an improved O’Neill , Sarah Donnelly and substitute McGreesh.
The test will be sterner next time out but Tyrone have so much potential it would be unwise to underestimate their chances of annexing another Ulster senior title.
Tyrone Scorers Gemma Begley 4-3, Joline Donnelly 0-8, Cathy Donnelly 1-1, Ashling O’Kane 1-0, Catriona McGahan 0-2, Sarah Donnelly, Orla o’Neill and Laura McGreesh 0-1 each
Donegal Scorers Gearldine McLaughlin 3-5, Yvonne McMonigle 2-1, Niamh Hegarty 1-2, Roisin Friel 1-1, Meamh McLaughlin 0-1
Colen McCullagh, Eimear Teague, Laura McGillion, Sinead McLaughlin. Maria Donnelly, Maura Kelly, Roisin Rafferty, Sarah Donnelly and Neamh Woods, Cathy Donnelly, Orla O’Neill, Ashling O’Kane, Joiline Donnelly, Gemma Begley Catriona McGahan
Subs Laura McGreesh, For S Donnelly, Niamh Hughes For O’Kane, Sarah Donnelly For McGahan, Emma Conlon For Hughes.
Roisin McCafferty, Kate Keeney, Kelly Wilson, Tanya Kennedy, Grainne Houston, Ciara Hegarty, Therese Mc Cafferty, Aoife McDonnell and Karen Guthrie, Ciara Grant, Niamh Hegarty, Emer Gallagher, Gealdine McLaughlin, Yvonne McMonigle, Roisin Friel.
Subs Ashling Cunningham For Grant, Neamh McLaughlin For Gallagher, Niamh Friel For Keeney, Emer Gallagher For Cunningham