The Under 16 Ladies Gaelic Football Team were crowned Ulster Champions last Friday at the Mid-Ulster Sports Arena in Cookstown after an exciting, hard fought match against St Pius X, Magherafelt. This was the culmination of seven games in this season’s campaign with numerous challenge matches and training sessions throughout.

The final scoreline of 7-05 to 2-06 belies how tight this game was and how well the Aquinas girls persevered through very challenging periods of the match.

The first score came within seconds of the throw-in when St Pius’s scored a goal and five minutes later tacked on another point. Aquinas battled gallantly to win possession and in fact, dominated large parts of the first half, but they just couldn’t score. In another St Pius’s attack, they managed to get one-on-one with Caoimhe Callaghan, the Aquinas goalkeeper, but she came off her goal-line, making the angle tight for the forward and she put it wide.

Finally, after twenty minutes, with a score of 1-02 to 0-00, Aquinas ventured into the large square with Chelsea Dignam on the ball. Her defender had to foul her to avert a certain goal so the referee had no option but to award a penalty. Chelsea took the penalty but slammed it off the bar, only to calmly control the rebound, soccer style, then slot the ball into the net!

The Aquinas girls grew in confidence after this and both sides exchanged points before the whistle leaving the half time score at 1-03 to 1-01 in favour of St Pius’s. Brilliant displays in the first half by the half backs (Maya McCathie, Emma Norris and particularly Aoife Murnaghan) and the half forwards (Anna Doyle, Doireann Sheridan, Ella Durkan and Rebecca McKegney – a left full forward playing in the half forward position) definitely kept Aquinas in touch of their opposition. Jenny Carlin also deserves praise with her tackling and tracking back when not in possession.

The mild conditions and big pitch had the girls quite tired at half time but winning the toss at the start of the game and electing to play against the sun, though still high in the sky, meant that the second half conditions favoured the Aquinas team who now had the sun and a breeze (which grew stronger at the interval) on their backs.

However, the second half began badly for Aquinas when St Pius’s seemed to start where Aquinas left off, dominating possession and scoring a goal and a point within five minutes. Things were looking bleak for Aquinas with St Pius’s winning a lot of breaking ball, blocking Aquinas passes and scoring another point. Things changed for the better after thirteen minutes when Chelsea was hauled down in the large square once again. The resulting penalty was cooly despatched, hard to the far corner of the net by Chelsea: brilliant goal!

Once again, this seemed to give the Aquinas girls confidence and slowly they began to open up the St Pius’s defence. Katie-Rose Rice was introduced into the half forward line giving five half forwards with Chelsea playing alone up front. The move of the match came when Ella Durkan got the ball on the 45 metre line and made a beautiful diagonal run toward the right wing, then cut quickly toward the square. She spotted Chelsea running toward the goal and made a deft punt-pass right into Chelsea’s path who only had to fist into the net! The goal was disputed by the crowd as a square ball but the umpire and referee gave it.

St Pius’s hung on but after twenty minutes Anna Doyle scored a point from a free on the D, putting Aquinas in front for the first time in the game. This was followed quickly by Ella Durkan scoring a goal from long range, clearly intended as a point, but dipping under the bar for a goal. Aquinas were now in control, with four points in front and the wind at their backs. However, it was the turn of the Aquinas full back line to show their mettle at this crucial stage of the match, keeping out St Pius’s with determined tackling and getting out in front of their opposite number. Anna Foster, Kathryn Brown and Caitlin McMahon deserve special mention at this stage. Credit too to the midfielders of Fiona Smith and Bronagh Murray who never tired in their running up and down the pitch throughout the match helping both forwards and backs: fantastic.

Another point from Ella followed by two quick goals from Player of the Match, Chelsea Dignam put the game beyond St Pius’s grasp. In the end Chelsea scored SIX goals, using her good reach advantage and lethal right foot to good affect.

The final whistle blew to cries of jubilation by players and supporters alike. During the presentation, a lovely moment came when the Aquinas girls en-masse sensitively commiserated and shook hands with their opponents.

It was indeed a proud moment for Aquinas and Ella. As captain, she spoke very well in her acceptance speech, thanking: St Pius’s, Aquinas and its coaches, especially Emma Kelly from Belfast City Sports Development Network (BCSDN) who reliably trained the girls every Tuesday (as well as being there for the last three matches) and finally thanking her own team mates.

There were thirty-two teams in this competition, but the Aquinas road to the final was as follows:
Aquinas 12-11 Lismore, Craigavon 1-03
Aquinas 12-07 St Joseph’s Coalisland 0-03
St Patricks Keady 5-07 Aquinas 6-10
Colaiste Feirste 0-12 Aquinas 6-10
Mulroy College, 2-01 Aquinas 6-09
Aquinas 7-05 St Pius’s 2-06

Finally, our subs: Elish Crickard, Hannah McKegney and Laura Smart deserve mention who made valuable contributions in training, group and quarter final matches during the campaign. They were VITAL members of this panel. Thanks also to Grace Cunningham and Bria Deighan who were last minute panel members for the final.

Caoimhe Callaghan, Kathryn Brown, Anna Foster, Caitlin McMahon, Aoife Murnaghan, Emma Norris, Maya McCathie, Fiona Smith, Bronagh Murray, Dioreann Sheridan, Ella Durkan (1-04), Anna Doyle (0-01), Jennie Carlin, Chelsea Dignam (6-00) and Rebecca McKegney. SUBS: Katie-Rose Rice, Hannah McKegney, Laura Smart, Elish Crickard, Grace Cunningham and Bria Deighan.

Thanks to Classroom Assistant, Liz Waide for taking and editing the photographs.

And a big thank you to all the parents who helped.  One sponsored the purchase of jerseys for the final and another treated the girls to a feast of gorgeous pizza once the team got back to school (disappeared in ten minutes flat!). Thanks also to parents who came to Cookstown to lend their support – it was much appreciated.

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