“It is the kind of stuff you dream about,” said Laura Fitzgerald of her All-Ireland final winning score, her right-footed kick sailing between the opposition posts with 16 seconds remaining on the clock.
Saturday’s club decider, with the sides deadlocked as referee Maggie Farrelly threw in the ball between Bríd O’Sullivan and Siobhan Divilly 30 metres from the Mourneabbey goal and the watch showing just 65 seconds left, appeared destined for extra-time.
From the throw-in, however, possession broke to Mourneabbey’s Roisin O’Sullivan and 13 passes later, it was corner-forward Fitzgerald, having gathered Noelle Healy’s delivery at the second attempt, who rounded Caoimhe Boyle and fired over the winner.
There was insufficient time for Kilkerrin-Clonberne to engineer an equaliser, Mourneabbey’s deep bank of experience so pivotal in them becoming the seventh side to successfully defend the All-Ireland senior club title.
It had been an up and down evening for Fitzgerald, her first-half goal ruled out for square ball. She also kicked wides in either half, but her goal on the three-quarter hour mark — nudging Mourneabbey in front after Kilkerrin-Clonberne had gained the upper hand in both general play and on the scoreboard — and 60th-minute winning point meant it was Fitzgerald’s contribution that was most telling in determining the outcome.
“I had a goal disallowed, but you have to pick your head up and go again. My head could have been down, but I had the nerve to attempt that last shot,” said the corner-forward.
“I actually was aware of the clock because I had an opportunity to take a shot a couple of minutes earlier but I opted to give the pass instead and ended up playing the ball too high. Doireann [O’Sullivan] said to me, the next opportunity you get, you have to go for it. That is exactly what I did. I barely looked over my shoulder.
“I think instinct took over because I don’t have that much composure. I just knew I had to go for it as time was almost up. If the opportunity is there, you take it.”
Echoing the words of her manager Shane Ronayne elsewhere on these pages, Fitzgerald stressed how they were never going to be content with just one All-Ireland title, not when they have been so regularly involved on All-Ireland final day since 2014.
“We knew at the start of the year that we didn’t want to give up any title, especially the All-Ireland, because there have been so many years of hard work and so many years of heartache. To win it like we did is extremely special.”
The same as their semi-final against Donaghmoyne, Mourneabbey were slow to settle. Kilkerrin-Clonberne’s pace and directness, led by the excellent Olivia Divilly, time and again cut open the opposition rearguard. The first-time finalists were 0-5 to 0-1 clear 12 minutes in.
Mourneabbey’s response was a 66-second blitzkrieg which delivered 1-2 to move them in front for the first time in proceedings. It was Doireann O’Sullivan who supplied the goal, the Cork forward played through by Dubliner Noelle Healy. The latter sniped a pair of points to sandwich the final’s opening goal, Kilkerrin-Clonberne’s brisk opening briskly undone.
An Olivia Divilly free subsequently tied matters, but it was the Cork champions who snuck back in front thereafter, white flags from Doireann O’Sullivan (free), sister Ciara, and Fitzgerald helping the 2018 winners to a 1-6 to 0-8 interval advantage.
Kilkerrin-Clonberne again opened brighter upon the change of ends and although they lost Hannah Noone to a yellow card, Ailish Morrissey landed a beauty off the right to edge the Galway side 0-11 to 1-7 ahead.
Ciara O’Sullivan tied matters for the fifth occasion, but Kilkerrin-Clonberne were pouring forward now and Galway’s 2004 All-Ireland winning captain Annette Clarke was on target to return them in front.
Then arrived Fitzgerald’s goal, briefly shifting momentum behind the Mourneabbey women. Chloe Miskell and Clarke brought the underdogs level by the 53rd minute and there followed four opportunities for the North Galway side to take control of this final as the finish line came into view. Not a single one, however, did they convert. Divilly, with a free from the 20-metre line, dropped the ball short, while Morrissey, Clarke, and Claire Dunleavey were all off target with their respective kicks.
As for Fitzgerald, producing her side’s first score in a quarter of an hour, she didn’t even glance at the posts before taking aim.
“We went a player down as Ciara O’Sullivan finished the game on the sideline so you just have to keep your nerve. Our experience helped. They had a couple of chances that could have went over. We are just very lucky they didn’t.”
All told, luck was only a small part of it.
Scorers for Mourneabbey: L Fitzgerald (1-3); D O’Sullivan (1-2, 0-1 free); C O’Sullivan, N Healy (0-2 each).
Scorers for Kilkerrin-Clonberne: O Divilly (0-2 frees), A Clarke, A Morrissey (0-3 each); C Miskell (0-2); C Dunleavey, L Noone, E Noone (0-1 each).
MOURNEABBEY: M O’Sullivan; S Conroy, E Meaney, A O’Sullivan; E Harrington, R O’Sullivan, K Coakley; M O’Callaghan, B O’Sullivan; N Healy, C O’Sullivan, N O’Sullivan; L Fitzgerald, D O’Sullivan, S O’Callaghan.
Subs: E Jack for Harrington, A Ryan for O’Callaghan (both 35); A Cronin for N O’Sullivan (50).
KILKERRIN-CLOBERNE: L Murphy; A Costello, N Ward, S Gormally; C Dunleavey, H Noone, S Fahy; L Ward, S Divilly; L Noone, O Divilly, C Miskell; E Noone, A Clarke, A Morrissey.
Subs: K Mee for N Ward (19 mins, inj); C Boyle for Miskell (52-57, temporary); C Boyle for L Noone (58).
Referee: M Farrelly (Cavan).