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Smyth hits jackpot for Erne to set up all-Ulster showpiece

 

Class act: Teenager Eimear Smyth landed 1-12 for Fermanagh
Class act: Teenager Eimear Smyth landed 1-12 for Fermanagh
Kelly Mallon
John Campbell

By John Campbell

In the not too distant past, ladies' football was perceived as the poor relation under the GAA banner.

Female players struggled for recognition as their endeavours were invariably undertaken in the giant shadow of the men's game.

But patience, determination and hard work were to pay handsome dividends and now the Lidl Ladies' National Football League is viewed as one of the major sporting competitions on this island.

No longer do the ladies play second fiddle to the men and certainly not in this part of the world after a stunning Ulster breakthrough over the weekend when Fermanagh and Antrim triumphed over huge semi-final odds to reach the Division Four final.

The Ernesiders came out on top against Limerick by 2-15 to 4-7 while the Saffrons dug deep in extra-time to overcome Louth by 2-20 to 2-14.

The results have not only served to boost the sport within the respective counties but have already triggered final fervour now that an Ulster side is guaranteed to make it into Division Three.

If the displays by both teams were out of the top drawer, then Eimear Smyth's towering contribution to Fermanagh's win highlighted a raft of outstanding individual performances.

The Mount Lourdes Convent, Enniskillen final year student hit 1-12 of Fermanagh's 2-15 total, the majority of her scores coming in the second half after her team had to all intents and purposes been forced to take a standing count at half-time when they were behind by a whopping 11-point margin (4-6 to 1-4).

Mairead Kavanagh and Cathy Mee had fired Limerick into a seemingly unassailable lead when they each grabbed two goals prior to the break with Fermanagh restricted to occasional forays up until then.

But Joanne Donnan's goal was to prove vital in lifting their spirits before Smyth set to work after the break.

Her accuracy from all angles and distances was such that Limerick's superiority was initially threatened and then ultimately negated as Fermanagh's passion and fervour proved lethal weapons.

When Mee and Loretta Hanley were sent to the sin bin in the closing stages, it proved to be a telling blow for Limerick as the imperious Smyth sustaining her scoring blitz until the end, helping to close the game out in Fermanagh's favour by 2-15 to 4-7 with the losers recording just one point in a one-sided second half.

No wonder Fermanagh manager Johnny Garrity was ecstatic at the finish.

"It was a marvellous team performance," he beamed.

"I thought Eimear Smyth's finishing was superb and the effort that the other players put in to create the scoring chances for her was just relentless.

"I just can't praise them enough."

And while Fermanagh will take a fresh infusion of confidence into the final, Antrim also underlined their ability and character by edging out Louth in extra-time.

Louth led by 1-8 to 0-7 at half-time and looked as if they might exert a stranglehold on the game after the break.

But Antrim had other ideas and quickly put them into practice in the second period.

With Cathy Carey cleverly picking off the points, the Saffrons stayed shoulder to shoulder with their opponents but still looked as if they might surrender in the end.

Carey, however, embellished her gigantic contribution up until then by whipping in a crucial goal which saw the sides finish level at the final whistle, Louth 1-14 to Antrim's 2-11.

In a tense, fraught passage of extra-time, Antrim managed to grab an all-important goal through Ciara Durnien which was to secure their place in the decider.

But while Fermanagh and Antrim remain in the spotlight, Armagh and Donegal forfeited their opportunity to participate in their divisional finals by losing to Kerry and Galway respectively. Armagh found the task of playing against the Kingdom in their Division Two semi-final without the Mackin sisters Aimee and Blainthid along with Caroline O'Hanlon too much while Donegal were overpowered by Galway.

The Orchard County were only one point adrift at the interval (1-6 to 0-8), their goal coming from skipper Kelly Mallon (left), but they managed to hit just five points after the break with Niamh Marley, Aoife McCoy, Niamh Reel and Mallon sharing the scoring load.

But with Louise Ni Murheartaigh in such inspirational form - she scored 1-6 in all - the Kingdom finished strongly.

So too did Galway against Donegal after leading by 0-9 to 1-1 at the break with Niamh Hegarty landing Donegal's goal from a penalty.

Galway were always in control of the contest and won comfortably by 1-12 to 1-5, leaving Donegal and their manager Maxie Curran bitterly disappointed at the full-time whistle.

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