By Gavin Cooper
GRAIGUECULLEN have been crowned Laois Ladies Junior champions after a hard-fought victory against a dogged Ballyfin side in Annanough on Tuesday last.
Graiguecullen were well deserved winners as they took control of the game from the off. Ballyfin were slow off the mark and only scored one point in the opening quarter.
Sally Almond got things underway from a placed ball while Lauren Walsh got the first point from play for Graiguecullen. Walsh then turned provider as she laid the ball off to Kelly O’Neill, who kicked the ball over the bar to give Graiguecullen an early three-point lead.
Ballyfin got their first score of the game as Chloe Scanlon slotted over a free. The first goal of the game came soon after as a free into the square was palmed into the net by Essmay Murphy to give Graiguecullen a commanding lead early on.
Player of the match Sara Kerfah pointed along with O’Neill as Graiguecullen led by seven points at the water break.
Ballyfin came out firing after the break as they rattled in 2-1 before half-time. Midfielder Sinead O’Rourke notched Ballyfin’s first point from play while O’Neill replied with a score for Graiguecullen.
Jade Nolan raised a white flag to give Graiguecullen an eight point advantage as the game looked to be slipping away from Ballyfin. However, Ballyfin drilled two balls into the back of the net to leave the game in the balance at the break.
Scanlon’s effort struck the crossbar and it fell to Rachel Walsh who smashed the ball beyond Chelsie Nolan. Full-back Aine O’Rourke then made a dazzling run to assist Eden Finn for Ballyfin’s second goal in as many minutes.
Graiguecullen bounced back following the resumption firing over three points without reply – Sinead Smith, a free from O’Neil and substitute Courtney Forbes.
Scanlon made it a three-point game again as she tapped over a free. The next score would be the game’s most important as Graiguecullen scored their second goal. Smith delivered the ball into the square and O’Neill was on hand to blast past Ella Dunphy.
Scanlon scored another three points (two frees) for Ballyfin but that second goal from O’Neill seemed to have killed the game off. Graiguecullen tapped over three more scores as O’Neill took her tally to 1-6 with points from play and a free. Substitute Caoimhe Fitzpatrick raised a white flag as Graiguecullen ran out seven point winners in the end.
Graiguecullen will now return to the intermediate grade after being relegated last year. For Ballyfin, it’s another county final loss having been in the last few finals.
Graiguecullen: Kelly O’Neill 1-6 (0-1f), Essmay Murphy 1-1, Sinead Smith 0-2, Sally Amond (f), Sara Kerfah, Courtney Forbes, Caoimhe Fitzpatrick 0-1 each
Ballyfin: Chloe Scanlon 0-5 (0-3fs), Rachel Walsh, Edel Finn 1-0 each, Sinead O’Rourke 0-1
GRAIGUECULLEN: Chelsie Nolan; Isabel Humphries, Sarah Doogue, Sara Kerfah; Niamh Smith, Laura Byrne, Georgina McManus; Jade Nolan, Christina Middleton; Sally Amond, Sinead Smith, Essmay Murphy; Lauren Walsh, Rachel Doyle, Kelly O’Neill.
Subs: Courtney Forbes for Amond, (ht), Caoimhe Fitzpatrick for Doyle (ht), Evelyn Bolton for Humphries (50m), Maggie Doogue for Walsh (55m)
BALLYFIN: Ella Dunphy; Cathy Hogan, Aine O’Rourke, Emma Stephenson; Orlaith Meade, Emma Kealy, Eva Culliton; Christine Wren, Sinead O’Rourke; Michelle Lynch, Liadon C-Fennell, Rachel Walsh; Chloe Scanlon, Edel Finn, Maeve Carroll.
Subs: Rachel Wheeler for Meade (ht), Odie Fitzpatrick for Wren (40m), Niamh O’Rourke for Culliton (44m), Sarah Bergin for Hogan (46m), Eva Culliton for Walsh (56m)
Referee: Ronan Devaney (Camross)