McEldowney's girls show true grit to earn another blast at final
Loughgiel 1-8 Slaughtneil 1-8
A pulsating Ulster senior camogie club championship final ended in stalemate at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh yesterday and now the replay offers the alluring prospect of another significant boost for the sport.
Certainly, Slaughtneil manager Damien McEldowney is in no doubt about this.
The three Ni Chaiside sisters - Brona, Aoife and Elis - lined out for Slaughtneil at the end of a week in which their father - club stalwart Thomas - passed away, and showed remarkable composure and commitment in the circumstances.
"I thought both teams put in a huge effort and I am really proud of my players," commented McEldowney.
"We might have missed chances in the first-half but the girls never let their heads drop.
"They put in a huge effort and I think the replay will be another massive shop window for the sport.
"We will certainly be up for it," he added.
The Antrim side's pace and cohesion were evident from the outset as they repeatedly pierced the Slaughtneil defence in the opening quarter.
An opportunist sixth-minute goal from Aisling McFadden was complemented by a brace of points from the impressive Racquel McCarry and another from Una McNaughton as the Antrim champions streaked into a 1-3 to 0-1 lead, Slaughtneil's score coming from Eilish Ni Chaiside.
Yet Loughgiel failed to press home their advantage and the superb Shannon Graham, a tower of strength throughout, revived Slaughtneil's challenge by landing two points from frees.
But the Oak Leaf side's profligacy was to prove to be their undoing.
At least two goal chances were spurned, several other shots were spooned wide and the pendulum swung back in Loughgiel's favour when McCarry converted two more frees and McNaughton also hit the target to give the side a 1-6 to 0-4 interval lead.
And the reigning Ulster champions looked to have tightened their grip on the game when Emma McMullan and McCarry scored further points in the 48th and 49th minutes.
Slaughtneil, though, dug deep into their reserves of courage and skill.
A Mary Kelly goal in the 35th minute fired the side up and they went on to score the last four points between the 51st and 54th minutes through Louise Dougan (2), Eilis Ni Chaiside and goalscorer Kelly.
Parity of esteem when referee Julie O'Neill sounded the final whistle was no more than they deserved.
Loughgiel: M Coyle; A Connolly, L Connolly, C Boyle; M Lynn, E McFadden, M Connolly; C Campbell, S Devlin; C Higgins, U McNaughton 0-2, E McMullan 0-1; A McFadden 1-0, R McCarry 0-5 (1f), C Dobbin. Subs: C Laverty for Higgins (40), J Gillan for McMullan (55), E McGarry for Devlin (55), H Devlin for McFadden (62).
Slaughtneil: J Bradley; J McMullan, B Ni Chaiside, D McGuigan; G O'Kane, A Ni Chaiside, C McGrath; L Dougan 0-2(2f), S Graham 0-3 (3f); S McKaigue, E Ni Chaiside 0-2, D McGuigan; M Kelly 1-1, S Mellon, T Mellon. Subs: C Mulholland for D McGuigan, B McAllister for McKaigue.
Referee: Julie O'Neill (Armagh).