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15 games, 15 wins, 3 titles: A remarkable year for unbeaten All-Ireland champions Tipperary

The Mary Quinn Memorial Cup, Munster intermediate title and Division 3 trophy will spend the winter in the Premier county.

2017 WILL BE remembered for years to come as an unforgettable one for the Tipperary ladies footballers, and they capped it in style in Croke Park on Sunday.

Tipperary v Tyrone - TG4 Ladies Football All-Ireland Intermediate Championship Final Tipperary finished 2017 unbeaten in Croke Park on Sunday. Source: Cody Glenn/SPORTSFILE

They overcame strong Tyrone opposition in the TG4 All-Ireland ladies intermediate final to lift the Mary Quinn Memorial Cup and make it a clean sweep of silverware in an unbeaten year.

Shane Ronayne’s impressive outfit add the All-Ireland crown to their Munster title and Division 3 Lidl Ladies National League honours, with the three cups residing in the Premier county for the winter.

Looking back through the months, 29 January seems like an age ago.

A chilly Sunday in Enniscorthy was where it all kicked off, with a win over Wexford — who they would be reunited with the decider — in their opening Division 3 league fixture.

From there, they were pretty much untouched on route to the final. Ruthless in victory, the Munster side smashed five goals past Down, Meath and Offaly, before blowing the Faithful county away again in the semi-final, 7-17 to 2-6 the final score.

As summer neared, confidence grew. Younger players like 19-year-old Aishling Moloney and University of Limerick student Aisling McCarthy really stepped up to the mark, while the experience of Jennifer Grant and Mairead Morrissey, among many others kept the ship steady.

Shane Ronayne celebrates winning Tipperary manager Shane Ronayne. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

They were where they wanted to be, a league final with the prospect of Division 2 football in 2018. With two minutes left in the decider in Clane, they were nearly there. McCarthy had just slotted over her seventh score of the day to edge her side one point up.

This was it. Win the ball back, and keep possession. They managed it, and while bursting out of defence, Grant was deemed to be fouled and awarded a free-out.

Delighted of course, she turned to her teammates and settled them. As she carefully mulled over her options, referee John Niland stepped in. He deemed that she had taken too long, overturned the award and gave Wexford a golden chance to level matters.

Of course the commotion that followed ate into the dying seconds. But here they were, last kick of the game. It would take nerves of steel. Fiona Rochford expertly obliged, forcing the replay.

The second edition was every bit as dramatic as Tipperary lost three players to the sin-bin but edged the Model county after another thrilling battle.

There were two points in the difference as double threat McCarthy and Moloney — who finished with five from play — teamed up for 11 points, and Ronayne’s charges secured Division 2 football for 2018.

Samantha Lambert lifts the cup Lambert lifts the Division 3 title back in May. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

One box ticked, two more to go. Back to the drawing board.

In the Munster semi-final they sent out an eerie statement of intent with a 34-point victory over Limerick, and went on to overcome Clare — last year’s beaten All-Ireland intermediate finalists — in the provincial decider.

Five points down at half-time, they showed true character to grind out a hard-earned win and claim a historic first-ever Munster title at this grade.

Two goals achieved, with the ultimate one well and truly in sight.

The All-Ireland quarter-final threw up a tasty fixture, the Slaneysiders the opposition. After a heated 60 minutes of action, they again couldn’t be separated.

But Tipp somehow, someway did it again. 2-15 to 3-11 after extra-time. Next on the agenda was Meath in the last four as the Premier county roared on.

There was a slight doubt going into that game. Moloney had injured her shoulder against Wexford, and looked like she mightn’t be able to start. But against all odds, the Cahir dual star hit a tally of 1-4, while Gillian O’Brien finished with 1-7 — both notched all from play.

13 points up and cruising midway through the second half, players were pulled into reserve with a huge day in Croke Park looking inevitable. But Meath rallied superbly.

The character and resilience was called upon once again, as the lead disintegrated to just three by the final whistle. They held on, just about. But regardless of how, they had done it.

Just 60 more minutes of football stood in their way of a first intermediate title since 2008. Having lost out to Cavan in 2013, there was a real sense around the county that this could finally be their year.

And on Sunday, they finished it in remarkable fashion. Aisling McCarthy starred — her beautifully-lobbed first-half goal the ultimate difference — as her side beat the Ulster champions by three points.

Crowned Player of the Match, her elation was clearly evident at full-time.

“Looking up to the likes of Jen Grant and Mairead Morrissey [from a young age], it’s just unbelievable to play alongside them,” she smiled, speaking to TG4 afterwards.

Aisling Moloney celebrates winning Moloney celebrates winning. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“2013, we have bad memories of that day and it took us a good few years to get back here.

“When we got the chance, there was no way we were leaving here without the cup. It was a massive collective effort throughout the entire year. I don’t know what else to say. It’s just unbelievable.”

From captain and centre-back Samantha Lambert to O’Brien and dual star Roisin Howard in the forward line, everyone who graced the Croke Park stage in the blue and yellow jersey stood up and was counted.

It was clear how much it meant to this team, players and management alike, along with the huge travelling support, as the crowd erupted when Lambert lifted the cup.

An emotional lap of honour with the ultimate prize in toe followed, as warm embraces took place with family members and friends. They had done it.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, to be honest about it,” Lambert told TippFm at the homecoming in her hometown of Ardfinnan last night.

“It’s a dream come true, walking up the steps of the Hogan Stand. It surpassed what I thought it’d be like. The feeling was unbelievable. The happiness, the relief, it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Unbeaten. Undefeated. Undeterred. 15 games with a total 52-206 scored, Moloney clocking a personal tally of 13-41. What a year for this exceptional group.

Of course, they’ll rise to the senior ranks next year. Division 2 football will warm them up nicely, but the real challenge will come in the summer months.

Entering a Munster championship which hosts Cork, Kerry and Waterford, a mammoth task lies ahead. But with the year this side have under their belt, and the admirable youth making their mark on the inter-county scene, anything seems possible right now.

“There’s exceptional talent on this team and when you put that together with the drive and the heart that this team has, we’re nearly unbeatable — at this level anyway,” Morrissey told TippFM after the memorable win on Sunday.

“I hope this team goes on to compete well in senior next year, the young girls are fantastic players and there’s plenty of talent in Tipperary to compete at senior level.”

Gillian O'Brien celebrates with Harry Hayes Gillian O'Brien celebrates with her 6 month old nephew Harry Hayes. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Lambert echoed her words, saying that the younger players were nearly the backbone of the team this year.

“There’s a great future for Tipperary ladies football. We’ll drive on from now. We’re looking forward to playing in senior, we want to be competing against the best.”

Lidl Ladies National League Division 3

  • Tipperary 4-10 Wexford 2-10
  • Tipperary 0-21 Roscommon 1-10
  • Tipperary 5-14 Down 0-3
  • Tipperary 5-10 Meath 2-10
  • Tipperary 5-7 Offaly 0-7
  • Tipperary 4-13 Leitrim 2-12
  • Tipperary 4-16 Limerick 0-6

Semi-final: Tipperary 7-17 Offaly 2-6

League final: Tipperary 0-12 Wexford 2-6

League final replay: Tipperary 0-15 Wexford 1-10

Munster intermediate championship

Semi-final: Tipperary 8-16 Limerick 1-3

Munster Final: Tipperary 4-9 Clare 1-14

TG4 All-Ireland intermediate championship

Quarter-final: Tipperary 2-15 Wexford 3-11

Semi-final: Tipperary 3-19 Meath 2-19

All-Ireland intermediate final: Tipperary 1-13 Tyrone 1-10

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