This was the tale of two Emmas, goalkeeper Cullen and attacker Hansberry, as Sligo qualified for the final of the inaugural Connacht Ladies Gaelic Football Intermediate Championship following a marvellous one-point defeat of the Aine Tighe-inspired Leitrim, 4-14 to 3-16, last Sunday at McHale Park, Castlebar.
Following an epic second-half, during which Sligo overturned an interval deficit of four points and absorbed the loss of net-minder Cullen following a sickening collision with Leitrim’s Sinead Fowley, substitute Emma Hansberry popped the winning point in the ninth minute of additional time.
Hansberry, the Republic of Ireland Women’s U-19 soccer international, made the difference in an absorbing encounter not only by contributing the winning point, her third of the half, but by being directly involved in three of Sligo’s four goals.
In the 23rd minute of the second-half Hansberry provided the selfless assist for Elaine O’Reilly to plant a shot past a motionless Michelle Guckian – the Leitrim net-minder’s movement was hindered by a first-half leg injury – as a revived Sligo retook the lead, 3-10 to 2-12.
Two minutes later O’Reilly bagged her second goal. Hansberry’s clever goalbound shot came off the inside of the upright and rebounded into play, leaving the Geevagh player with a simple finish.
Much earlier, Hansberry and Noelle Gormley linked intelligently for the move that led to the penalty kick that was superbly converted by
Of course, Emma Cullen’s injury and subsequent enforced substitution loomed large over a game that was spellbinding at times.
Having already been wrtitten into proceedings due to an unfortunate fumble that gifted Leitrim a second goal, Cullen was stretchered off after a shocking frontal clash after 42 minutes.
She got to the ball first but such was Leitrim player Sinead Fowley’s momentum that the Sligo net-minder was pole-axed.
Play resumed after a stoppage of approximately 10 minutes with Sligo manager Pat Costello opting for corner-forward, Noelle Gormley, to mind the house. Gormley’s handling was relatively assured although she appeared to be unfairly clattered by Aine Tighe, who barged the stand-in goalkeeper when netting Leitrim’s third goal.
That goal put Leitrim back in the driving seat, albeit briefly, as their one-point lead, 3-16 to 4-12, was erased by two more Sligo points thanks to Karen Maloney and Emma Hansberry.
In those crazy closing minutes Sligo also had a player sin-binned (midfielder Bernice Byrne) as the winners were thankful for a second-half revival sparked by four scores unanswered scores (1-3) in the five minutes after the restart.
The Gormleys, Aine and Noelle, and Emma Hansberry each pointed to help eat into Leitrim’s advantage, which was 1-10 to 1-6 at the break, while Sligo’s second goal was a spot-kick clinically dispatched by Nicole Fowley, who contibuted 1-1 when moved from her original placing of centre-back.
Fowley’s goal put Sligo 2-15 to 1-10 up and, despite Leitrim twice regaining the lead, there was a renewed sense of purpose about Sligo, even more so than in the first period when they initially fell five points behind, 1-2 to 0-0, but worked dutifully to keep in touch.
A typical goal from Noelle Gormley, who calmly ended a 25th minute attack after taking Elaine O’Reilly’s assist, was the highlight of Sligo’s seven first-half scores, although Sinead McTiernan, who won Sligo’s second-half penalty, might have goaled in the 11th minute but pointed instead following a purposeful gallop.
This was one of two first-half points from midfielder McTiernan, later named ‘Player of the Match’, with Elaine O’Reilly also pointing twice from play.
Leitrim, meanwhile, had first-half problems of their own, primarily the 20th minute injury to goalkeeper Michelle Guckian, who returned for the second-half but obviously carrying an injury, while the 17th minute yellow card for Shauna Clancy saw Leitrim reduce in numbers for a crucial phase.
Still, with Aine Tighe churning out 2-8, six of these scores from play and the first goal a breezy sixth minute shot, Leitrim had a peerless matchwinner.
But Tighe, a wonderful attacker, was perhaps overly relied on and Leitrim’s reluctance to pursue goal chances also hurt them – five times they were through with the target looming but flashed over points instead.
On other occasions they found that Sligo’s defence had shut the door – Emma Cullen blocked Shauna Clancy’s third minute shot, Cullen’s replacement, Noelle Gormley, later dealt with a close-range effort from Tighe and substitute Laura O’Dowd, with the goal gaping, dallied and the ball was swept clear for a ’45′ by an alert Sligo defender, Siobhan Melvin.
Player of the Match: Sinead McTiernan (Sligo)
Sligo: Emma Cullen, Orla McGowan, Tracey O’Hara, Claire Colleran, Siobhan Melvin, Nicole Fowley (1-1, 1-0 pen), Ethna Flanagan, Bernice Byrne, Sinead McTiernan (0-3), Aine Gormley (0-2, 1f), Elisha Codd, Karen Maloney (0-2, 1f), Elaine O’Reilly (2-2), Roisin Colleary, Noelle Gormley (1-1, 1f)
Subs used: Emma Hansberry (0-3), Grainne O’Loughlin, Jacqui Mulligan
Leitrim: Michelle Guckian, Mairead Stenson, Enya McWeeney, Mary Farrell, Kirby Gilgunn, Sinead Tighe, Lisa McWeeney, Sinead Fowley (0-1), Deirdre Ward (0-1), Niamh Tighe (0-1), Shauna Clancy (0-1), Kiara Keegan, Lorraine Brennan, Erin Farrell (1-3), Aine Tighe (2-8, 4f)
Subs used: Patricia Forde, Laura O’Dowd (0-1)
Referee: Seamus Regan (Roscommon)