Last year, the Banner came to Croke Park as strong favourites, but a disappointing second-half, where they failed to score for the last 19 minutes, allowed Tipp to take the honours.
The previous two seasons had seen their hopes extinguished at the semi-final stage so it was little wonder their greater experience told when push came to shove against a green Ulster outfit. “You start off playing football to be here and to win is all that matters,” said Eimear Considine, the young minor star who was the obvious choice for the player of the match award. “You start off when you are seven, eight or nine and you want to be in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day and when you are here you don’t want to let it slip.”
Considine was sublime all day, scoring 1-1 and stitching attack after attack together with unfussy and unselfish play, which isn’t always the case with players so young and gifted.
With others like Majella Griffin and Niamh Keane also putting shoulders to the wheel up front Clare had all the cards they needed when the stakes were at their highest in the last quarter.
This was Fermanagh’s first visit to headquarters and it showed in a hugely disappointing first-half in which Clare and some over-officious refereeing were equally complicit.
Joe Murray blew his whistle 43 times throughout the 60 minutes but the man in the middle could hardly be blamed for the paucity of some of the play on offer at both ends. And it was at both ends where the problems lay. Both sides managed to string together some fine moves in the middle third but most came to a grinding halt when in sight of the posts.
Fermanagh centre-half forward Shauna Hamilton posted three wides alone in the first 24 minutes and the Erne women compounded those errors with a slew of point attempts into the goalkeeper’s arms.
The half had started sprightly enough. With just three minutes gone, a Griffin point attempt fell into the Fermanagh net through the arms of the unfortunate netminder Donna Gilroy.
Fermanagh appeared to have cancelled that out two minutes later but Sharon Little’s shot to the net was disallowed after the Lisnaskea forward was adjudged to have taken a few steps too many with ball in hand.
Moments of note were few and far between after that and half-time arrived with Clare having engineered a four-point lead thanks mainly to Griffin ‘s goal and a pair of frees.
Fermanagh’s task got all the harder within 60 seconds of the restart when Considine rambled through the spine of their defence before slotting the bal past a stationary keeper.
Suggestions that she had bounced the ball twice in the build-up were, ultimately, immaterial and that seven-point gap still existed 12 minutes later, at which point Fermanagh began to reel it in.
Two points kick-started the comeback which shifted into top gear when Sharon Little’s ball across the box was deflected into the arms of her sister Caroline who could hardly miss from three yards.
Another point from Caroline Little and one from Aisling Moane brought Fermanagh level with eight minutes to play but, as so often happens, the chasing side seemed to run out of puff at that critical point.
Griffin restored Clare’s lead, and their belief, by ending a beautiful team move with a shot to the rigging and three more points to Fermanagh’s one sealed the win, the championship and promotion to the top tier.
“I think losing last year was a big factor,” said the 18-year old Considine. “We were here again and we had one thing on our minds, which was winning. We were in the exact same position last year.
“We were beating Tipp and then they came back and got level and we couldn’t catch up with them. Obviously both teams wanted to win it but maybe we wanted it more.”
A dejected Fermanagh captain all but agreed.
“They had the experience,” said Kyla McManus.
“We felt it was only a pitch and we could do it. Again, Fermanagh is not just going to get here often. Clare was here last year. I doubt Fermanagh will be here for another few years.”
Scorers for Clare: M Griffin 2-4 (0-4f), E Considine 1-1, L Henchy 0-1, F Lafferty 0-1, E Morrissey 0-1, N Keane 0-1, R Lenihan 0-1.
Scorers for Fermanagh: C Little 1-5 (0-4f), S Little 0-3f, A Moane 0-2, S Hamilton 0-1.
CLARE: D Walsh; S Eustace, L Kelly, S Hoey; M Delaney, S Kelly, L Woods; L Henchy, F Lafferty; M Considine, E Morrissey, E Considine; A Kelly, N Keane, M Griffin. Subs: R Lenihan for M Considine 52, G Lynch for Lafferty 58, B Kelly for Morrissey 58, C Considine for L Kelly 58, AM Callinan for Griffin 59.
FERMANAGH: D Gilroy; T Hughes-Little, E McGovern, C Woods; A Newell, P Melanaphy, A Gallagher; C Murphy, K McManus; A McBrien, S Hamilton, A Moane; D Maguire, S Little, C Little.
Subs: S McGovern for Woods 35, A McCaughey for McBrien 57.
Referee: J Murray (Dublin).