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Third time lucky as McGrath-inspired Sarsfields edge tight battle for first All-Ireland title

Galway kingpins end Slaughtneil’s four-in-a-row dream at the death.

Sarsfields (Galway) 1-8

Salughtneil (Derry) 0-10

IT WAS A case of third time lucky for Sarsfields as they finally reached the Holy Grail, and Siobhán McGrath’s injury-time goal sealed the Galway side’s first-ever All-Ireland senior club championship crown. 

In doing so, they also ended Slaughtneil’s remarkable four-in-a-row bid.

sarsfields-players-celebrate-with-the-bill-agnes-carroll-cup Sarsfields celebrating their win. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Beaten by the Derry outfit in both the 2017 and 2018 finals, this was Sarsfield’s day in the sun as the deadly McGrath sisters, Siobhán and Orlaith, combined for 1-7 and Maria Cooney put on a Player of the Match-winning performance at centre-half back.

This one went right down to the wire and was a truly dogged battle, but it was ultimately McGrath’s stunning major that settled matters and allowed another of the four sisters, Niamh, to lift the Bill & Agnes Carroll Cup.

While Niamh’s fellow midfielder, Clodagh, is the fourth, the team is managed by their father, Michael ‘Hopper,’ a multiple All-Ireland senior hurling winner with club and county 

3,705 watched on at HQ, and while former Offaly star Tina Bradley (neé Hannon) and Louise Dougan were immense for Slaughtneil, it wasn’t to be. After a second-half fightback, they led as the game entered injury time, and may feel hard done by given dramatics at the end.

The ever-present Dougan opened the scoring for Slaughtneil — who won their first All-Ireland crown in 2017 — two minutes in, before Siobhán McGrath responded with a free at the other end. There was no love lost from the get-go, as both sides settled into this physical, and tactical, battle. 

Eight minutes in, last year’s Player of the Match in the final, Tina Bradley (neé Hannon) thundered in on goal but blazed her effort over the bar. From there, the McGrath sisters — Orlaith and Siobhán — took over at the other end. 

Orlaith hit the first point to level matters, before Siobhán nailed two lovely efforts in quick succession to put Sarsfields into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead midway through the half. Centre-half forward Orlaith was pulling the strings, despite being substituted temporarily.

A Bradley free then ended Slaughtneil’s 15-minute barren spell as the clock stuck 23, but the McGraths combined again for a pair of scores before half-time.

siobhan-mcgrath-and-eilis-mcgrath Sarsfields' Siobhan McGrath facing Eilis McGrath of Slaughtneil. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The Westerners led 0-6 to 0-3 at the break, though the game was yet to really catch fire.

On the restart, an excellent individual Shannon Graham effort got Damien McEldowney’s Slaughtneil up and running again, while Bradley created another goal chance three minutes in. Instead though, she opted to take her point.

We went another 13 minutes or so without a score, as the game turned more stop-start. After a lengthy stoppage for an injury, Bradley stepped up with a sublime point to tie matters in the 46th minute. That came after both sides had squandered goal chances.

It was she again who lifted the roof off Croke Park as the clock ran into the final 10 minutes, her monster effort sending the Robert Emmets into a one-point lead.

Roars of Slaughtneil, Slaughtneil from excited kids drove the Derry side on, but a Rachel Murray point stopped them in their tracks to level the game again in the 53rd minute. And almost immediately after, Orlaith McGrath edged Sarsfields in front once again. 

The narrow lead was short-lived, however, with Sinéad Mellon splitting the posts to make it 0-8 a-piece as the clock turned 55. Bradley had a chance to make it a one-point game again with a scoreable free from the left, but she mishit, and it was as you were.

That was until Dougan landed an absolutely massive long-range number herself from midfield as the clock turned red, and five minutes of injury time were announced. 

The game that hadn’t caught fire had turned into a blaze all of a sudden, as the Canal End net rattled in injury time for the second time today. One point down at the time, Niamh McGrath found Orlaith, who in turn, played Siobhan off her shoulder, and the third sister buried it in the 61st minute.

That made it 1-8 to 0-9, but sure as day, the game wasn’t over just yet.

Bradley, as cool as ice, and as she had been throughout, made it a one-point game once again, and Slaughtneil did their absolute utmost to dig deep and find something. They had done this so many times before: come out on the right side of close results.

But with the clock in the 65th minute, Sarsfields did enough to dominate a scramble in their own half and were awarded a free out. They had done just enough to hold on.

Up the field it went, the whistle sounded, and Sarsfields reached the Promised Land. 

Scorers for Sarsfields: Siobhan McGrath (1-4, 2f), Orlaith McGrath (0-3), Rachel Murray (0-1),

Scorers for Slaughtneil: Louise Dougan (0-2, 2f), Tina Bradley (0-6, 1f), Shannon Graham (0-1), Sinéad Mellon (0-1)

Sarsfields (Galway)

1. Laura Glynn

2. Sinéad Cannon
3. Laura Ward
4. Kate Gallagher

17. Sheena Ward
6. Maria Cooney
7. Joanne Daly

8. Clodagh McGrathh
9. Niamh McGrath (captain)

10. Cora Kenny
11. Orlaith McGrath
12. Sarah Spellman

13. Aoibhe Deely
14. Siobhán McGrath
15. Rachel Murray

Subs

21. Ciara Ward for Orlaith McGrath (temp) (21)
11. Orlaith McGrath for Ciara Ward (23)
5. Erica Leslie for Sheena Warde (52)
23. Jasmine Scully for Aoibhe Deely (62)

Slaughtneil (Derry)

1. Jolene Bradket

2. Cait McEldowney
3. Gráinne Ní Chatháin (joint-captain)
4. Eilis McGrath

5. Bridin McAllister
6. Aoife Ní Chaiside
7. Clare McGrath

8. Cliona Mulholland
9. Shannon Graham

10. Siobhán Bradley (joint-captain)
11. Tina Bradley (neé Hannon)
12. Louise Dougan

13. Sinéad Mallon
14. Josephine McMullen
15. Therese Mallon

Subs

17. Olivia Rafferty for Cliona Mulholland (42)

Referee: John Dermody (Westmeath)

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About the author:

Emma Duffy  / Reports from Croke Park

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