St Paul's lose out in final as Naomh Ciaran land first title
St Paul's 2-9 Naomh Ciaran 2-11
They left it late but Naomh Ciaran came with a stunning finale to claim their maiden All-Ireland Intermediate Club title as they denied Antrim club St Paul's at Kingspan Breffni.
Kirsty McGuinness scored goals in each half for the Belfast ladies, but there was no denying the Offaly side after their powerful final quarter.
"I think it's the first time ever an Offaly team won it and everything you win brings the whole county on," said Naomh Ciaran manager Mikey Kenny.
"I am absolutely thrilled, I thought we were dead and buried there. We went five points down, we got a goal chance and it didn't go in. But we showed tremendous character."
Ten years on from their Feile team winning an All-Ireland title on this ground, Brian Coyle's girls just could not pull it off.
While they are respected in their province, they have to battle against a lack of competitive edge in their own domestic competitions. They beat St Gall's in their own county final with a scoring margin in excess of 40 points, for example.
Coyle said in the lead-in to the game, "We don't get tested as much in Antrim as we used to because we've such a great underage structure, so Kinawley (their Ulster final opponents) was a great experience for us. I knew the girls had the fitness to get us over the line in extra-time."
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The team underwent a gruelling training regime this year and it looked good when McGuinness had fired St Paul's off to the dream start with her goal in the third minute, but with Kate Kenny in rare form Naomh Ciaran maintained contact throughout.
Amy Gavin Mangan hit a goal midway through the first-half for the Offaly champions, which meant there was nothing between the teams at the interval, and after McGuinness hit her second goal the Belfast club led by five points after 37 minutes.
But from there to the end Naomh Ciaran outscored them by nine points to three and a goal from substitute Seana Heffernan set up the come-from-behind victory.
For most of this game it was like a shootout between Kenny and McGuinness, while the respective defences battled hard for every possession.
It was 1-4 each at half-time and McGuinness had landed 1-3 of that while all four Naomh Ciaran points went the way of the young dual star Kenny.
St Paul's efforts before the interval were slightly hampered by a leg injury sustained by Lara Dahunsi, but she managed to play on after receiving treatment on three separate occasions.
After McGuinness's early goal her side struggled to find the target again, but they soon clicked into gear and three points for the dangerous attacker and a fourth from Áine Tubridy meant they deserved to be level at the break.
The Antrim champions didn't take long to take charge after the break and following two more McGuinness points, she showed excellent pace to race clear of the Naomh Ciaran defence and crashed her second goal past Amanda Keena for a 2-6 to 1-5 lead.
The Offaly club made a few changes with the aim of reviving their flagging hopes and they really made an impact.
However Aisling Healy denied substitutes Emma Cahill and Roisin Egan with smart saves, although Kenny did reduce the deficit.
Points from Naoishe Burns and McGuinness gave St Paul's a five-point lead with eight minutes to go, but they failed to score again. Heffernan's goal and a Kenny point had that lead down to one in the space of a minute and a stunned Naomh Pól side were helpless as Roisin Egan, Ellee McEvoy and Kenny reeled off the cup-clinching points.
"We got a bit disorganised, we had one or two people went down with injuries and we didn't get organised right and they broke through and got a couple of good scores," said St Paul's manager Brian Coyle.
"They are a good team, nobody gets to an All-Ireland final unless they are good. Losing to a good team, you can't complain."
ST PAULS: A Healy; C Stewart, E Kelly, L O'Neill; M Hanna, C Brown, L Wallace; S McCann, A Tubridy (c) 0-1; N Enright, C McGuinness, L Dahunsi; F Rocks 0-1, K McGuinness 2-6, 0-2f, M Cooper.
Subs: N Burns 0-1 for Rocks (45), K McConville for McCann (58), R Hemsworth for Brown (60).
Naomh Ciaran: A Keena; N Buckley, E Nally, A Grehan; R Ennis, E Flynn (c), A Boland; K Kenny 0-8, 4f, A Gavin Mangan 1-0; E Cahill, L Keena, K Rigney; A Corbett, R Cockram, E McEvoy 0-2.
Subs: R Egan 0-1 for Corbett (h-t), A Kelly for Rigney (h-t), S Egan for Cahill (48), S Heffernan 1-0, for Cockram (48).
Referee: M Kenny (Mayo).