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Down ladies edge past Limerick to triumph in Junior Final

Monday 14th August 2023

Louise Gunn at Croke Park

TG4 All-Ireland Junior Championship Final: Down 1-7 Limerick 0-8 

ORLA Swail was Down’s goal-scoring hero as the Mourne County made an immediate return to intermediate football after a two-points victory over Limerick in the All-Ireland Junior Championship Final in Croke Park. 

The game was in the balance at 0-6 apiece with just over a quarter of it remaining when substitute Swail found the back of the net in the 43rd minute, just as she had done in the semi-final win over Carlow.

It was, as expected, a hard-fought battle between the two sides and Limerick, no doubt, will feel it was one they let go, having had periods of dominance but failed to reflect that on the scoreboard and even when Down did get the decisive goal, they still had chances but did not take them. Down, on the other hand, will be delighted to achieve their goal of an All-Ireland title - a first since 2014 when they won the intermediate crown - but more importantly getting back up to intermediate football at the first time of asking where they will join Antrim, Tyrone, Monaghan and Cavan in the provincial competition next season.  

Natasha Ferris, who led the race for the Golden Boot award for the top-scorer across all three championships going into the final, opened the scoring from a free in the third minute as Down enjoyed the better of the opening few minutes.  

Limerick, however, settled and three unanswered points from lively corner forward Caoimhe MccGrath, the first from play followed up with two from frees, saw the Shannonsiders move 0-3 to 0-1 ahead after 10 minutes. They appeared to be getting the better foothold in the game with McGrath, full-forward Amy Ryan and their number 11 Karen O’Leary looking dangerous while at the other end, Down’s final pass looked to be letting them down. 

Ferris though was keeping Down firmly in touch and she levelled the game at 0-3 apiece after 18 minutes with another free and her first from play, that point a very well-worked team move that started from an Amy McGivern kick-out with Niamh Scullion heavily involved as she linked between the defensive and attacking lines. 

The game’s first real goal chance fell to Limerick in the 20th minute. Deborah Murphy played a superb ball in from the right that found her captain Roisin Ambrose incoming on the far edge of the square, though she could only find the side netting but it was a let-off for Down as they failed to track her in. 

At the other end, Viv McCormack’s connection on the end of a high ball wasn’t strong enough to cause Carol Bateman any real problems a minute later while immediately down the other end, Limerick stretched the Down defence again but McGrath’s effort flashed across the face of the goal and wide. 

McGrath got Limerick’s first point for some 15 minutes when she converted a free to edge them back in front but an inspiring point from the boot of Mourne corner forward Aimee O’Higgins drew the sides level again, 0-4 each. 

That sparked Down into life and from Limerick kick-out they overturned possession and Ferris was on hand to put the Ulster champions in front for the first time since the third minute and as the tempo increased in the final minutes of the half, Down’s defensive especially held firm, Natalie McKibbin with a notable interception seconds before the whistle when Limerick had found themselves two on one, the wing half back biding her time and standing tall to win possession as her side held the most slender of leads at the break, 0-5 to 0-4. 

Deborah Murphy had the sides level for the third time within 30 seconds of the restart before O’Leary put Limerick back into the lead but O’Higgins brought Down level for a third time in the 38th minute after she reacted quickest to the ball coming back off the upright.

Orla Swail of Down celebrates after scoring her side's goal. Photo by John Sheridan/Sportsfile


The goal came after substitute Kate McKay, with her first touch, won possession from a hot ball about 30 metres out, was fouled, took a quick free into fellow substitute Swail, who had only been on the field a matter of minutes, and just as she did in the semi-final against Carlow, took one two defenders, found the little bit of space she needed and struck the ball low and hard into the bottom left corner of the Limerick net.  

Limerick substitute Irish Kennelly pointed in the 49th minute to put two between them but crucially then then lost O’Leary to the sin bin with nine minutes remaining meaning they would see out the game with 14 players. Ferris, bringing her tally to five, got the next sore to put Down back into the lead by three and although corner back Meadhbh O’Leary made it a two point game again with two minutes remaining, Down had done enough.  

Down: A McGivern; A Greene, C Byrne, O Boyle; N McKibbin, M Doherty (capt), O Duffy; A Laverty, A Brogan; N Scullion, V McCormack, L Duffy; E Fitzpatrick, N Ferris (0-5, 0-2f), A O’Higgins (0-2) 

Subs: C Mulvenna for McCormack (ht), O Swail (1-0) for Fitzpatrick, P Smyth for Laverty (38), K McKay for O’Higgins (41), E Martin for Doherty (57) 

Limerick: C Bateman; A Quaid, Y Lee, M MacNamara (0-1); G Lee, L Walshe, L Ryan; R Ambrose (capt), F Bradshaw; D Murphy (0-1), K O’Leary (0-1), C Mee; L Coughlan, A Ryan, C McGrath (0-4, 0-3f) 

Subs: K Heelan for Bradshaw (32), I Kennelly (0-1) for Ryan (39), A O’Sullivan for McGrath (51) 

Referee: Angela Gallagher (Dublin)