YELLOW FEVER The Knockmore ladies senior football squad and management celebrate after winning the Mayo LGFA Senior Club Championship Final. Pic: David Farrell Photography
THERE were emotional scenes at James Stephens Park on Sunday when Knockmore powered to their first Mayo LGFA SFC title by dethroning 21-in-a-row champions Carnacon.
It was the first time since 1999 that the queens of Mayo ladies football had failed to lift the county title, but they had no answer to the pace and power of the new champions.
Knockmore captain Shauna Howley was the star of the show, shooting nine points for the winners and Carnacon — who finished with 14 players after Cora Staunton was shown two yellow cards — finished a distant second best.
“They’ve done everything we’ve asked,” Knockmore manager Cormac Reape told The Mayo News afterwards. “We train in Kiltoom on Thursdays, we have a girl from Donegal doing an eight hour round trip journey. . If we told them to go and climb Croagh Patrick now after this, they probably would.”
And why wouldn’t they – they had just conquered a footballing Everest after all.
For so many years teams had entered the lion’s den of a county senior final against Carnacon and failed to turn up. Many had been beaten before the ball was thrown in, swatted aside as the Carnacon machine rolled on to bigger and better things.
Knockmore know how that feels more than most. A young side took on the champions in 2018 and limped out the other side with a 33-points defeat. How do you turn that around?
“As I said to the girls at half-time, no-one is going to doubt us now,” said Reape. “We told them in the first session at the start of the year, we had something special. We said to people that we had a chance of winning a county title with this team and they said, ‘No way!’.
“They’ve just bought into it, they believed, slowly, slowly they’ve believed and they’ve seen the results, seen how good they can play and believed in it. They’re reaping the rewards tonight.”
From start to finish this was Knockmore’s day. In some ways it was reminiscent of the great Knockmore men’s county winning sides of the past – relentless, suffocating, every ball a battle. They did to Carnacon what the legendary club from West Mayo have done to so many others in the past.
Within six minutes of the first whistle, Shauna Howley had rattled over five superb points. Howley was electric throughout, gliding across the 40, ready to pounce on any half-chance, linking with her midfield and half forward colleagues at every opportunity.
The holders finally relieved some of the pressure in the seventh minute when Cora Staunton won and pointed a free. And when she added another eight minutes later, it looked as if Carnacon were getting to grips with their upstart challengers.
Knockmore though roared back and a brilliant team move ended with Sarah Mulvihill skipping around a couple of would-be tackles and lofting over a wonderful score. Staunton responded but Hannah Reape was on hand restore the advantage with a magnificent individual effort. Mulvihill added a free and wind-assisted Knockmore led by five at the break: 0-8 to 0-3.
With Cora Staunton in the sin-bin, Knockmore looked to capitalise early in the second half but they were wayward and Amy Dowling’s point plus Cora’s return gave the champions hope.
Knockmore were in no mood for letting this slip from their grasp though and Rachel Fox, Howley, Abbie Traynor, Howley again and Laoise Coleman clipped over points, showing both the determination of the outsiders and the strength in depth they have across the field.
Carnacon kept coming, but although Staunton cut the deficit with two points, Lara Sweeney’s lobbed goal in the 49th minute put the result beyond doubt.
Howley added a brace and Sweeney put the icing on the cake in the final minutes to unleash wild celebrations and start a new era for club football in the county.
A Murphy; S Kelly, R Flynn, C Durkin; L Coleman (0-1), E Lowther, C Keane; K Munnelly, S Howley (0-9, 3fs); S Mulvihill (0-2), R Langan, E Reape; R Fox (0-1), N McVann, H Reape (0-1).
Subs used: A Traynor (0-1) for Langan (h/t); L Sweeney (1-1) for Fox (44mins); R Langan for H Reape (51mins); G Naughton for Keane (55mins).
M Corbett; E Cosgrave, S Walshe, S Larkin; Marie Corbett, M Carter, B Hoban; D Hughes, F McHale; H Prendergast, M McGing, A Dowling (0-1); R Twohig, C Staunton (0-5, 4fs), A Brennan (0-1, 1f).
Sub used: B Bruton for Cosgrave (37mins).
Referee: M Kenny (Westport)