IN the idyllic settings of Michael Davitt’s GAC Swatragh on Saturday past, the Down U16 Camogie Team stunned Derry with a gritty and inspiring performance which has booked them a place in the Ulster U16 Camogie Championship Cup Final.
This was a very physical encounter and Down were quick to exert their dominance over a strong Derry outfit. The Down half back line of Clare McGilligan, Ciara Gibson and Olivia Boyle and the midfield pairing of Aoife Keown and Nuala Carvill worked tirelessly to starve Derry of possession and set up the Down attack.
Down’s blistering work rate was soon rewarded with a fine point from Captain, Aoife Keown, and goals from Deirbhile Savage, Rhea Smyth and Aimee McAleenan. Although Derry responded, they trailed by 4-4 to 1-2 at the interval.
In the second half Down made a few tactical changes in anticipation of a renewed Derry offensive. However, the Down defence of Deirdre McCabe, Clare Cleland and Jenna Boden remained resolute and on numerous occasions ‘put their body on the line’ in order to quell the Derry attack.
Niamh Hazard was outstanding in goals, showing great leadership and maturity and great promise for the future. Meanwhile, Down continued to keep the pressure on Derry who struggled under the high dropping ball. With a great supply of the ball from Niamh Rogers, Down added further goals from Monica McKay and Aislinn McFarland, and their effective use of the overlap ensured that Down maintained their lead throughout the match.
The addition of Dearbhla Magee, Elizabeth Wilson and Anna Rogan introduced some renewed vigour to the Down offence and kept the pressure on Derry. The fact that all of the Down forwards contributed to the scoreline, coupled with the effectiveness of the defence, is testimony to the depth of talent in this squad, the majority of whom have played together under the same management team for the past three years.
Down now look forward to the Ulster Championship final in May, against Armagh or Antrim, and also to the All-Ireland Championship in June.
Down: Niamh Hazard, Deirdre McCabe, Clare Cleland, Jenna Boden, Clare McGilligan, Ciara Gibson, Olivia Boyle, Aoife Keown (Capt) (0-2), Nuala Carvill, Aimee McAleenan (1-1), Aislinn McFarland (1-1), Niamh Rogers, Monica McKay (1-0), Rhea Smyth (1-0), Deirbhile Savage (2-0) Subs: Danielle McCourt, Dearbhla Magee (on for Nuala Carvill), Anna Rogan (on for Rhea Smyth), Lisa McAleenan, Aislinn Brown, Megan Hughes, Elizabeth Wilson (on for the injured Aoife Keown), Michaela Murphy, Molly McMullan, Petrina Lively, Cassie Fitzpatrick, Ciara Tumilty