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*The experienced Louise Henchy helped to keep the tie in the balance until the final whistle. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

A mixture of pride and heartbreak in equal measure for Banner Ladies who were edged out by long-suffering Munster bridesmaids Ballyacarbry for a first senior club crown in 22 years in Mallow GAA Complex on Sunday afternoon.

Ballymacarbry 0-8
Banner Ladies 0-5
Venue: Mallow GAA Complex, Cork

Finally transferring their county dominance of 41 consecutive Waterford titles into a record 15th provincial triumph following eleven final defeats in the intervening years since the turn of the Millennium, a deserved win was hard-earned as the uneasiness of the favourites tag weighed heavily on their shoulders.

Unfortunately, despite stifling and frustrating their opponents for the majority, a depleted Banner Ladies simply couldn’t capitalise as goal chances for Sarah Ní Cheallaigh and Niamh O’Dea were both repelled nearing the two-thirds mark.

Without a goal, the Clare champions’ challenge was always going to fall on stoney ground as already shy of the vast experience of Laurie Ryan, Aoife Keane, Naomi Carroll, Louise Woods, Niamh Keane and Aoibheann Malone, the Banner’s energy-sapping brave bid eventually ran out of steam.

One couldn’t fault the effort and endeavour as superb goalkeeper Emma O’Driscoll, Clare Hehir, Niamh O’Dea and the relentless Louise Henchy kept the tie in the balance right up to the final whistle. One must save special mention too for newcomers such as Caoimhe Cahill, Keelin Fitzgerald and Caoimhe Ryan who all belied their inexperience to try and take the game to the favourites.

That said, an understandably anxious Ballymacarbry failed to score any of seven glorious goal chances and also kicked eight wides over a nail-biting hour before finally relievedly falling over the line.

They did lead from start to finish though, with Sinead Kenrick’s two point burst providing an early 0-3 to 0-3 wind-assisted platform nearing the end of the opening quarter. Banner Ladies did finally open their account in the 14th minute through a Grainne Nolan free but while a brilliant brace from Niamh O’Dea matched sisters Sinead Kenrick and Michelle Ryan at 0-5 to 0-3 by the break, that scoreline does mask a plethora of Ballymacarbry goal opportunities.

Goalkeeper O’Driscoll unearthed a superb point blank stop to deny chief threat Aileen Wall, Banner talisman Niamh O’Dea excellently prevented Brid McMaugh from scoring a tap-in in the 25th minute while inspirational full-back Clare Hehir made a vital interception to stop the rampaging Karen McGrath from putting Sadhbh Hallinan through on goal.

O’Driscoll’s heroics continued into the new half when somehow denying Clare Walsh in the 36th minute but with the door ajar, one felt that the Banner needed to snatch their rarer goal chances. Louise Henchy and Aoibhin Ryan first combined to pick out the unmarked Sarah Ní Cheallaigh whose one-on-one effort was stopped by the advancing Lauren Fitzpatrick. Only three minutes later, Henchy picked out Niamh O’Dea who got inside her marker but struck her shot off the back of full-back Michelle McGrath.

Instead, with a wipe of their brows, Ballymac countered with the next two points through Brid McMaugh and Sinead Kenrick at 0-7 to 0-3 nearing the turn of the final quarter.
So while Grainne Nolan and Niamh O’Dea twice lowered the arrears to just a kick of the ball, the goal the Banner craved never looked like coming as Ballymacarbry prevailed for an emotion return to the summit of Mount Munster.

Scorers for Ballymacarbry: Sinead Kenrick (0-4); Brid McMaugh (0-2, 1f); Kellyann Hogan, Michelle Ryan (0-1 each)

Scorers for Banner Ladies: Niamh O’Dea (0-3); Grainne Nolan (0-2f)

1: Lauren Fitzpatrick

4: Gretta Nugent
3: Michelle McGrath
2: Mairead Wall

7: Karen McGrath
6: Louise Ryan
5: Laura Mulcahy

8: Brid McMaugh
9: Kellyann Hogan

15: Sinead Kenrick
14: Sadhbh Hallinan
12: Aoife Barron

10: Aileen Wall
11: Michelle Ryan
13: Clare Walsh

19: Maeve Ryan for Hallinan (44)
18: Orla Barron for Michelle Ryan (62)

Banner Ladies:
1: Emma O’Driscoll

24: Caoimhe Ryan
3: Clare Hehir
4: Eva O’Dea

7: Laoise Ryan
2: Sinead O’Keeffe
12: Keelin Fitzgerald

5: Sarah Ní Cheallaigh
14: Niamh O’Dea

10: Caoimhe Cahill
11: Grainne Nolan
9: Emer Burke

8: Louise Henchy
13: Shannen O’Donovan
15: Aoibhin Ryan

23: Grainne Burke for O’Donovan (HT)
17: Aleisha Malone for E. Burke (53)

Referee: Justin Murphy (Cork)

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