FOOTBALL: Offaly 3-12 Limerick 4-4 (Lidl NFL Division 4 Final)
By AISLING CLERY (Becky Bryant of Offaly in action against Cathy Mee of Limerick. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile)
Ellee McEvoy hit 1-4 as Offaly were crowned Lidl National Football League Division 4 champions after victory over a defiant Limerick at St Brendan’s Park in Birr.
Offaly trailed by a single point at the half-time break but second half goals from Emma Hand, Ciara Walsh and McEvoy pushed Offaly into the lead and towards a deserved victory.
The game burst into life with Mairéad Kavanagh getting Limerick’s opening score from the throw-in. A minute later, Limerick had a goal after Rebecca Delee was left unmarked in front of the Offaly goal and she made no mistake with the finish.
Thereafter though Offaly dominated as three points from McEvoy and one from Fiona Dempsey, on 12 minutes, levelled the game. Offaly were moving the ball well from defence to attack with Emer Nally and Michelle Mann marshalling their defence and intercepting Limerick’s attacks. Decisive running from the Offaly forward sent them in at the first half water break ahead, as Emma Hand converted a 14-minute free.
Marie Byrne and Walsh both found their scoring range to send Offaly three points clear when play resumed but the game was level once more when Iris Kennelly netted after a sweeping move involving Delee and Davis. Fiona Dempsey got her second point in the 19th minute but it was Limerick that went back into the ascendancy when Kennelly hit the net for the second time after a well-timed pass from Cathy Mee.
With both teams moving well, McEvoy got her fourth point of the afternoon on 24 minutes to leave Offaly trailing by 3-1 to 0-9 at the half-time break.
Catriona Davis drew the sides level as the second half got underway with Walsh and Kavanagh swapping points before Emma Hand hit 1-1 in the space of two minutes to put Offaly back into the driving seat. Róisín Ambrose reduced Limerick’s deficit to a point but two goals in two minutes for Offaly put them right back into the driving seat.
Walsh netted the first of those goals, supported by an industrious Emma Hand. A minute later, Offaly had their third goal. Substitute Mairead Daly’s ferocious running opened up the Limerick defence and she found McEvoy on the overlap who rifled it to the right corner to set up a seven-point lead at the second half water break.
Kennelly gave Limerick some hope as she finished her hat-trick on 50 minutes to reduce the gap to four, but this only proved a consolation as Róisín Mealiff’s point ensured Offaly claimed the Division 4 honours for the first time since 2015.
Scorers – Offaly: E McEvoy 1-4, C Walsh 1-2, E Hand 1-2 (1f), F Dempsey 0-2, M Byrne 0-1, R Mealiff 0-1.
Limerick: I Kennelly 3-0, R Delee 1-0, M Kavanagh 0-2, C Davis 0-1 (1f), R Ambrose 0-1.
OFFALY: E Evans; N Buckley, E Nally, B Bryant; A Kehoe, M Mann, R Ennis; E Maher, E Gavin Mangan; F Dempsey, E Hand, S McGuinness; M Byrne, E McEvoy, C Walsh.
Subs: M Daly for McGuinness (30), R Mealiff for Dempsey (51), D Hannon for Bryant (53), N Farrelly for Walsh (57).
LIMERICK: S Hennessy; K Reidy, S O’Sullivan, M O’Halloran; M MacNamara, L Coughlan, A Ryan; L Hanley, R Ambrose; G McKenna, R Delee, C Mee; C Davis, M Kavanagh, I Kennelly.
Subs: N Ryan for A Ryan (30), K Heelan for McKenna (30), A O’Dea for Hanley (51), R Daly for O’Sullivan (51), N Curtin for O’Halloran (56).
Referee: Mel Kenny (Mayo).
“It was the first goal on our list from the start of the year was to win the league and get out of Division 4, it’s a great feeling,” said Offaly joint manager Danny McGarvey.
“The girls have put in such work since the start of the year and they’ve tremendous talent in the team. They deserve to be playing at least in Division 3 if not higher.
“The biggest thing we wanted to change was the belief within the group. They have the talent, maybe they just needed more self-confidence and belief in themselves that they can mix it with any team.
“We haven’t reinvented the wheel or anything like that, we have just gone back to basics.”
“Of course, we are disappointed, we came up to win,” said Limerick manager Graham Shine.
“We’ve won our four games and come up to the final and fallen short, you get no reward for winning four games and getting to the final.
“All credit to Offaly, they have experience, they are an intermediate team and our girls will learn and will grow from it and we will refocus for championship.”