Sport

Lilies still standing tall to keep Kildare’s All-Ireland dream alive

SportBy Cliona Foley
Lilies still standing tall to keep Kildare’s All-Ireland dream alive

Kildare’s All-Ireland hopes now lie firmly on the shoulders of their ladies footballers after their men’s minors and camogie players both lost All-Ireland semi-finals in the past week.

“Yes, we’re the last ones standing!  That’s what everyone has been saying to us since,” said delighted captain Aisling Holton after the Lilywhites’ dramatic 3-17 to 2-14 victory in last Saturday’s TG4 All-Ireland intermediate semi-final.

They needed extra-time to edge past Sligo having been two points down towards the end of proper time, and the sides were still level (2-14 each) mid-way through extra-time. Victory secured Kildare a place in back-to-back All-Ireland intermediate finals so, was their desire to reverse last year’s final loss to Waterford a factor in winning across this epic battle of inches?

“I’m not sure because we have made a very conscious effort this year to just take it one game at a time,” Holton said. “Obviously you have your ultimate goal but we just took it one match at a time and Saturday was no different. It was all about Sligo in the last few weeks, especially as they’d beaten us in the league.

“But there’s four or five of us who are coming towards the end of our careers and felt we didn’t do ourselves justice last year,” the midfield star admitted.

A Maria Moolick goal gave Kildare vital momentum in the second period of extra-time and as the clock ticked down Holton had one teammate especially in her thoughts – full-forward Noelle Earley – who is back juggling both codes after concentrating on the small ball last year.

“Noelle had only lost a camogie semi-final a week ago so I was thinking ‘there’s no way she’s going to lose two All-Ireland semi-finals in a week!’” Holton revealed. “Maria got a really vital goal at the start of the second period of extra-time. At that stage there was a lot of tired legs so whichever team could get a goal then was going to get a huge lift.”

Holton struggled to remember when Kildare were last involved in extra-time – “probably against Clare in a championship match a few years ago,” – but felt this latest cliff-hanger reflects just how evenly matched a lot of women’s teams are right now.

“Both games on Saturday were real end-to-end stuff and a really good advertisement for the game. That’s great if you’re a neutral but not if you’re in the middle of it!” she quipped. “We started very strong, which is something that we’ve been doing all year, but we also dwindled as well for a while.

“We’ve done that a lot too this year, got back from drawing, or being one or two down. We only won the Leinster final in the last 10 minutes.

“But, as our manager Alan (Barry) says, that’s shows there’s a lot of character in the team which is really good.  We had to dig very deep and it was a real panel effort. A lot of girls who came in made a huge impact as well.”

The match, refereed by Maggie Farrelly, included a whopping eight sin-binnings and one late red card (a double yellow for Kildare’s Tara Hallinan), which seemed excessively harsh.

“To tell you the truth things were happening so fast, it was only afterwards when we got talking that some of us realised who had got sin-binned, on either side,” Holton said. “It was hard to keep up with who even scored in the game because it was just pure hell for leather.

“The referee was consistent for both sides but I didn’t think there was any real dirty stuff going on. It was just two teams going for it.”

Last weekend’s victory came at the perfect time for the primary school teacher whose little three-teacher school in Brannockstown re-opens this Wednesday.

“It’s definitely going to be a lot easier to go back when you’re looking forward to an All-Ireland final,” she laughed.

“We’ll be playing the winners of next weekend’s Tipperary and Clare game. I think that’s going to be a really tight battle as well, which reflects that it’s really the most competitive intermediate championship in a few years.

“We’ll just focus on what we do, we’ve another hard four weeks training ahead of us before the All-Ireland final but it’s just great to know you’re in that position.”

Show your #SeriousSupport at the TG4 Ladies All-Ireland Football Championship Final on September 25th in Croke Park.