WHEN Carnacon reflect on last Sunday’s All-Ireland Club Championship Final that got away, you can be sure that ifs, buts and maybes will feature strongly in their analysis.
They will ponder what would have happened were it not for a torrid first half performance that saw them score just 0-4 into the teeth of the strong wind and concede 1-8 in the same period.
They will also ask why it took so many of them so long to get going on the biggest day of their year in picturesque Dromard? And they will wonder where they would have been without Cora Staunton?
The finest ladies forward in Ireland saved her best form for the second half and nailed seven points in that period to haul Carnacon onto level terms for the first and only time in the 54th minute.
However, she was powerless to prevent Donaghmoyne midfielder, Amanda Casey, from lofting the winning score in the 57th minute as the Monaghan standard-bearers withstood a late Carnacon rally to squeeze home in front.
There was no doubting the merit of Donaghmoyne’s victory but, in all honesty, Carnacon’s second half tour de force could – and should – have earned them a draw.
Emerging from the dressing-rooms seven points down, the Mayo champions tore into the deficit with abandon. First, Martha Carter took a pass from the tireless Claire Egan and fired over her second point before Maria Staunton showed nimble footwork to find some room and drill over from a narrow angle.
The gap was back to five and shrinking. Cora Staunton (free) and player of the match, Catriona McConnell then traded points before Cora swung over another free and split the posts superbly from play. It was now a three-point game and Carnacon were starting to look like their old selves.
Nicola Hurst and Caroline McGing played from the front in the full-back line and came driving out time and again while Aoife Loftus showed composure and dynamism at centre-back that belied her years.
Carnacon’s purple patch also coincided with Claire Egan and Martha Carter’s best passage of the game, as the county stars took the match by the scruff of the neck.
With the outcome finely balanced after 45 minutes (1-9 to 0-9), Donaghmoyne snatched a vital score from the classy Catriona McConnell who arced over a snap-shot in a congested goalmouth to nudge her side into a four point lead again.
But the force was now with Carnacon and with Loftus, Egan, Carter and the elusive Fiona McHale keeping Cora supplied, the wonder woman did the rest.
In six sensational minutes she smacked over two huge points from play and also drilled two long-range frees to level the match (1-10 to 0-13). Normal service had been restored, and with Donaghmoyne down to fourteen players after the sin-binning of their captain, Fiona Courtney, Carnacon looked set to push on.
But instead the Ulster club champions dug in and broke downfield where tall midfielder, Amanda Casey, soared highest to claim a delivery inside the 20m line and throw over the winning score.
True to form, Cora Staunton tried to engineer a late, audacious equaliser but her slaloming run – which took her past two defenders – ended with a 40m shot that tailed wide.
In hindsight, this game was won and lost in the opening half. Donaghmoyne played with the aid of the breeze and started positively, taking the game to the pre-match favourites.
Catriona McConnell gunned five points from frees from a variety of angles and distances in the first 20 minutes to leave the Monaghan ladies ahead by 0-5 to 0-3.
Carnacon were constantly fighting a rearguard action during that period with only the excellence of the McGings, Caroline and Sharon, Nicola Hurst, the Corbetts, Michelle and Marie, and Aoife Loftus keeping Donaghmoyne at bay.
Cora Staunton was not as prolific as usual at the other end but her three pointed frees were still crucial as Carnacon hung on to their opponent’s coat-tails. They would have been much closer too had Marian Hallinan’s goalbound shot not been well saved on 17 minutes.
But the game’s only goal was scored by the eventual winners, Cora Courtney popping a pass to the inrushing Catriona McConnell who smacked the ball past a stranded Caroline Brennan on 25 minutes.
It was only the second goal that Carnacon conceded in the championship and left them trailing by 1-5 to 0-3. It also seemed to leave them shell-shocked for the final five minutes.
Donaghmoyne closed out the half impressively, McConnell tacking on two further frees and Eileen Murtagh pointing from play to send the John Morrison-coached side in ahead by seven points.
Put simply, Carnacon left themselves with too much to do in the second half. They did everything they could to get into a winning position down the stretch but it was just not meant to be.
Their quest for a second All-Ireland club title goes on and no doubt they will return in 2007 to try and finish the job.
L Martin; J Geoghegan, M Grimes, N Lynch; H Kingham, F Courtney, J Courtney; S Courtney, A Casey (0-1); L Daly, M Woods, E Murtagh (0-1); C Courtney, C McConnell (1-9, 7fs), L Kingham. Sub: L Ruddy for McConnell (inj).
C Brennan; N Hurst, C McGing, Michelle Corbett; Marie Corbett, A Loftus, S McGing; C Egan, M Carter (0-2); N Tierney, F McHale, C Connolly; M Hallinan, C Staunton (0-10, 6fs), M Staunton (0-1). Subs used: A Geraghty for Tierney; M Higgins for Michelle Corbett.
Referee: T Clarke (Dublin)