Super Shane O’Neills are Ulster Junior Champions
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
AGHYARAN 0-13 SHANE O’NEILL’S 3-15
Richard Bullick in Emyvale.
Shane O’Neill’s are Ulster Junior champions after battling back from an unaccustomed deficit to clinch a deserved victory in the final against Aghyaran in Emyvale.
The awful weather which produced atrocious conditions in the first half wasn’t what swashbuckling Shane’s would have wanted and they took time to adjust to the challenge of facing a more experienced, physical side.
As well as scoreboard pressure, Shane’s had to deal with big game nerves and the small pitch probably didn’t suit their strengths either, but having to dig deeper than usual should stand to them for the challenges ahead as they now target All Ireland glory.
In spite of torrential rain arriving right on cue for the start of the game, it seemed business as usual as high-scoring Shane’s went two points up inside the first four minutes but Aghyaran threw down the gauntlet by posting the next five.
Being behind was a rare experience for this Shane’s side so it was an interesting test of the composure, maturity and resolve of this entirely teenage team – and they passed it with flying colours on an afternoon finally bathed in sunshine.
On paper, this was women against girls, with Aghyaran’s average age of just under 24 set against Shane’s strikingly low figure of less than 16 – remarkably, not a single outfield starter has yet had their 18th birthday – but it was the younger outfit who deservedly triumphed.
Coming into this final there had been plenty of focus on Shane’s sensation Aimee Mackin, who had piled up an astonishing 75 points in their last four Championship matches stretching back to August’s county final.
She won her first free inside the opening 15 seconds, swooping on an opponent’s hesitation and instantly causing panic. An injury stoppage meant she had a considerable wait to take it but Mackin made no mistake from medium range directly in front of the posts.
Within another half minute she had shown her range of footwork and deceptive physicality but spoiled that show with a wayward ball on an afternoon when Shane’s accuracy was understandably lacking at times.
That can be explained by a mixture of big game nerves, awful weather, relatively tough opponents and unaccustomed pressure though Shane’s did double their score through full forward Aoibheann Jones after the Aghyaran ‘keeper had parried an Aimee Mackin shot.
Soon afterwards Aghyaran got a penalty at the other end but it was saved and Shane’s skipper Louise Kenny lifted her team by showing typical tenacity in an inspirational passage of play. This was followed by brave blocking to deny the Tyrone team a clear sight of goal.
An Aghyaran wide was followed by a good run but poor final ball by Shane’s midfielder Moya Feehan and then full back Marianne Marron almost spoiled her own great work at the back by clearing straight to an opponent.
The opposition got on the board in the 10th minute with a long point from captain Nichola McMenamin, quickly followed by an equaliser from full forward Roisin Temple after a lost kick-out.
Aghyaran went ahead with a long point by their other midfield McMenamin and added another off the far post from an acute angle as Shane’s continued to lack precision in difficult conditions, though Kenny continued to fight for everything.
Lucy McMenamin put Aghyaran three up with a long-range point in the 19th minute and nearly added another a minute later but then the rain eased as Shane’s suddenly stepped it up, helped by the introduction of Edinburgh-based student Meghan McGuire.
Aimee Mackin kicked a free to the relief of the huge Shane’s support but a real roar and the joyous waving – appropriately enough – of green flags followed when the influential Feehan cut in from the left and kept going before rolling home a great goal.
The management would have been equally pleased with how the defence stood firm to win a free out as Aghyaran tried to respond, though the Tyrone outfit did cancel out Aimee Mackin’s next free with a point of their own through Shannon Skelton just after hitting a wide.
A check on Aimee Mackin by her marker Kellie Meehan resulted in a slightly harsh yellow card though referee Jason McAndrews justifiably figured the Armagh Under 16 captain could otherwise have been racing clear.
One of the few youngsters in the Aghyaran team, Aimee Coyle, kicked an excellent equalising point but Aimee Mackin sent Shane’s in ahead at half-time after being set up by younger sibling Blaithin.
At the start of the second half, Aimee Mackin hit a post high up after an exchange with Feehan following a free but Blaithin landed a point and then both sisters threatened goals in the following minutes.
After Aghyaran pointed through Lucy McMenamin, Shane’s did hit the net, skipper Kenny showing her forwards how it should be done, but the Tyrone team kicked a point and a free either side of an Aimee Mackin wide.
The Shane’s star went wide twice more in quick succession after good runs but Blaithin conjured a superb point to put a goal between the teams midway through the half and Aimee then sandwiched two Aghyaran scores with two of her own.
Blaithin, consistently showing maturity way beyond her 14 years, completed her hat-trick of points and although Aghyaran responded, Aimee immediately hit back with a lovely catch and towering point before the teams traded wides.
The crowd were treated to an Aimee Mackin masterclass in the closing stages with three points in as many minutes, the third a memorable effort after she had turned defenders inside and out.
A big ball from the left by Feehan resulted in her second goal with help from the keeper and although Aimee Mackin had a shot saved, she fittingly had the last word with a long point to take her tally to 11 for the afternoon.
Inspirational skipper Kenny pipped Aimee Mackin to the Player of the Match award and as usual there weren’t many names on the score-sheet but this was a true team effort.
Manager Ryan McConville, who recently steered Linfield Ladies to Irish Cup success in women’s soccer, had particular praise for Kenny and her defiant defensive unit who showed real resolve in containing the threatening Aghyaran attackers. It is a tribute to their effectiveness that most scores by the Tyrone outfit came from midfielders further out.
The likes of Tara Byrne and McGuire work hard in supporting roles enabling the more recognisable names to flourish, but it must be incredibly rewarding to have an Aimee Mackin on hand to secure scoreboard reward.
It’s easy to forget that the star turn is still only 16 years of age and this Shane’s side has huge potential for future years but even now they have their sights set higher than this Ulster Junior title.
They will now travel to Edinburgh the weekend after next to take on the British Junior champions for a place in the third tier All Ireland Club Championship semi-final.
SHANE O’NEILL’S: A Tavey; C McCrave, M Marron, E Kenny; C Sloan, L Kenny (capt; 1-0), E Rafferty; M Feehan (2-0), T Byrne; J Watters, A Mackin (0-11, 3f), B Mackin (0-3); L Lennon, A Jones (0-1), E Hannaway. Subs – M McGuire, C Jones, S Doyle, N McFadden, H McMenamin, N Carroll, A Morgan.
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