The journey to Croke Park proved just a step too far for The Harps, whose bid to add the Agnes O’Farrel Cup to their bulging trophy cabinet at the end of a stunning first season at intermediate level ended at the hands of Eoghan Rua’s three-goal heroine Grace McMullan.
They won’t want to hear it, accustomed as they are to winning All-Irelands, but to annex the Leinster title and get to perform at headquarters having stepped up a grade was a fine achievement. The nagging feeling will persist though, that while there can be little argument about the merit of Eoghan Rua’s victory, the Laois side did have enough opportunities which if availed of, might have led to Elaine Cuddy leading her team up the steps of the Hogan Stand presentation area.
They actually led going into injury time of the first half but McMullan struck for two goals before referee Mike O’Kelly finally called proceedings to a temporary halt. The body language of many of The Harps’ players as they left the field was telling and they were clearly shellshocked by double-blow.
It was a memorable day for McMullan of course, with Eoghan Rua manager Joe Passmore revealing that their match-winner had invoked the spirit of Lar Corbett, who managed a similar feat in Tipperary’s All-Ireland hurling final.
He added, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, that McMullan was twice Corbett’s age. That isn’t the case but her speed of movement and thought certainly belied her 38 years, with her third major, in injury time of the second half, ending the doughty resistance of the midlanders.
She wasn’t the only thorn in The Harps’ side though, as Gráinne McGoldrick weighed in with seven points, six of them from frees, while her sister and team captain Méabh was a commanding presence at centre-back, getting on oceans of possession and launching attack after attack for the winners.
It all began pretty much as Mick Bolger would have wished as his charges settled well and moved two points clear early on courtesy of an Áine O’Mahony free and Angela Hanlon. It took Eoghan Rua nine minutes to respond but two converted frees by Gráinne McGoldrick had the sides level.
The Harps continued to drive forward, with Caitriona Phelan and Louise Mahony at the hub of much of their attacks and when Laura Saunders found the net in the 20th minute after a goalmouth scramble to give them the advantage again, it was the least they deserved for their efforts. Indeed they could have had at least one more goal in the resultant period of dominance, while they also finished with six wides in the first half.
They were punished for this profligacy when McMullan pointed well under pressure in the 26th minute and Gráinne mcGoldrick reduced the deficit to just the minimum from a free.
The real damage was done in the first minute of injury time though when McMullan raced in behind the defence onto a long delivery and showed searing pace before coolly picking her spot and finding it with a crisp strike. It took good work from Teresa Bennett and Claire Walsh to deny the veteran full-forward another goal from the next attack but the warning wasn’t heeded.
Gráinne McGoldrick landed another point from a 40m free after some brilliant play from her younger sibling Méabh, and the skipper was central once again with more than four minutes of injury time played, as she gathered the sliotar, ran up the left sideline and sent another delivery towards The Harps’ danger zone. McMullan got on the end of it and suddenly, having looked like they were going to be in front at half time, actually went in trailing by 2-5 to 1-2.
The Harps took some time to recover from that setback and two Gráinne McGoldrick frees early in the second half gave the Coleraine gang even more breathing space. Aisling Phelan’s 45th minute goal put the game back into the melting pot though and reinvigorated the Leinster representatives but a pointed free from Áine Mahony was all they had to show for plenty of possession.
Eoghan Rua were more clinical though and McMullan’s third strike right on the hour, after Teresa Bennett had saved a Rosanna McAleese shot, cemented the verdict.
After five seasons of unrivaled success, it is a rare lowlight for The Harps, who have raised the bar for camogie both in Laois and in Leinster. They have suffered defeat before, most notably against St Anne’s from Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final in 2009, and still come back strongly. They must do so again now.
SCORERS - Eoghan Rua: Grace McMullan 3-1, Grainne McGoldrick 0-7 (six frees); The Harps: Laura Saunders, Ashling Phelan 1-0 each, Aine Mahony 0-2( both frees), Angela Hanlon 0-1
EOGHAN RUA: Aileen Moore; Aisling Carey, Kelly Maybin, Maureen Heneghan; Eilis McNamee, Maebh McGoldrick, Maria Mooney; Megan Kerr, Jane Carey; Maeve Dillon, Grainne McGoldrick, Sinead Boyle; Hannah Eastwood, Grace McMullan, Rosanna McAleese. Subs: Katie Mullan for Eastwood (39 mins), Adelle Archibald for McNamee
THE HARPS: Teresa Bennett; Elaine Cuddy, Denise Quigley, Patricia Dunphy; Claire Walsh, Caitriona Phelan, Michelle Fitzpatrick; Louise Mahony, Joanne Prior; Aine Mahony, Angela Hanlon, Elaine Mahony; Joan Dollard, Ashling Phelan, Laura Saunders. Subs: Rosemarie Phelan for Saunders (40 mins), Helen Keane for Prior (50 mins - injured), Bronagh Dunne for L Mahony (57 mins)
Referee: Mike O’Kelly