South Mayo side within reach of first national title
BALLYGLASS came dramatically from behind to book their place in the FAI Women’s Intermediate Cup final at the expense of rivals Castlebar Celtic at Michael Keaveney Memorial Park on Sunday.
In a penultimate round clash rich in character and commitment, goals by the influential Cora Staunton and Karen Lilly put the south Mayo club into a national final for the first time and their opponents at Milebush Park, Castlebar, on September 4 will be Raheny.
It was a result that looked unlikely when Celtic, displaying the early initiative and drive, took the lead three minutes before half time.
A perfectly measured corner kick by Avril Kilkelly picked out the unmarked Emma Mullen whose bullet headed finish found the back of Cathriona Connolly’s net.
But battling Ballyglass got back on level terms before the break with a strike that had a massive impact in terms of changing the course of the encounter.
The home side were awarded a free kick in a wide position over 30 yards from Celtic custodian Ashling Concannon’s goal line.
Up stepped Mayo Gaelic football ace and former ladies GAA All-Star Cora Staunton who spectacularly drove the ball with power and precision into the far top corner of the Castlebar net.
It had a galvanising effect on the Ballyglass players as they trooped off the pitch at half time while the Celtic players were visibly deflated.
Interestingly, Ballyglass had started the match with only 10 players despite having a number of substitutes sitting on the bench.
But the surprise gamble of waiting over 13 minutes for defender Noelle Gormally to arrive was luckily not punished by the visitors.
Celtic went close to regaining the lead early in the second half when Katie Walsh’s long punt found Mullen in space but the Kilmaine-based striker’s effort was inches over the crossbar.
Mullen, Castlebar’s most threatening player, became more isolated as the game wore on and the stubborn marking by Gormally, Yvonne Byrne and the persistent Claire Egan left her struggling to find an opening.
Ballyglass were much more menacing pushing forward, particularly with the imposing Martha Carter and Staunton dictating the pattern of play from midfield.
Carter, to her credit, was exceptionally good at winning possession and using the ball intelligently in her right-sided role.
It was Carter’s penetrating pass in the 62nd minute that created the decisive opening for Karen Lilly, her well-timed run outmanoeuvring Celtic’s offside tactics.
Lilly, who won an FAI Intermediate Cup medal with Kiltimagh/Knock United in 2007, displayed assurance and skill in sweetly firing her right-footed shot past Concannon for the winning goal.
A Mullen free kick from 25 yards moments later went agonisingly close to snatching a Celtic equaliser.
Her splendid effort was saved by goalkeeper Connolly whose failure to hold the ball caused mayhem in her six-yard box. But central defender Byrne took control to deny Marie Harrington’s attempt on the rebound.
There was another anxious moment for the Ballyglass defence before the end when the prominent Kilkelly struck a glorious effort that left Connolly grasping at thin air, but the ball struck the crossbar to let the home side off the hook.
Ballyglass finished very strongly and a brilliant Concannon save thwarted Staunton’s audacious piledriver.
On this form, Ballyglass are more than capable of lifting the title. The side’s hunger, winning mentality and sheer physical strength suggest that it take a very good team to overpower them.
As for Celtic, they simply could not get their passing game going and it cost them dearly.
Ballyglass: C. Connolly, T. McNicholas, A. Lydon, N. Gormally, Y. Byrne, C. Staunton, M. Carter, C. Egan, N. Hurst, D. Doherty, K. Lilly.
Sub used: O. Casby.
Castlebar Celtic: A. Concannon, C. Carroll, A. Kilkelly, R. King, L. Fahy, K. Walsh, M. Harrington, E. Hansberry, E. Mullin, O. Devanney, A. Hopkins.
Sub used: S. Prendergast.
Ref: P. Barry (Galway).
●Star rating: Cora Staunton…inspirational.
FAI WOMEN’S INTERMEDIATE CUP (SEMI-FINAL)
Castlebar Celtic 1