All Ireland semi-final
The Down girls started the trip early for the 1.15pm throw in, when they took to the field there were a couple of changes with Saoirse Sands replacing Maria Higgins at corner forward and Blainaid Savage replaced Orlagh Caldwell in the half back line.
The most surprising switch was Fionnuala Carr taking up the full forward position and Dearbhle Magee took the centre half back spot. The girls settled quickly and raced into a three-point lead, Niamh Mallon successfully converting two frees and Dearbhle Magee scoring a fabulous point coming out of defence with the ball.
Tipperary began to come back and converted two frees. At this point Down were guilty of shooting a number of wides and three into the ‘keeper’s hands, Saoirse Sands made great work tackling the ‘keeper and dispossessing her only to be blew up for a free out after she hand passed to the net, the ref penalising her for picking the ball off the ground.
Tipperary drew level at three points all and were starting to capitalise on some errors the Down girls were making and appeared to be nervous and struggled to get the ball under control. Tipperary went a point up before Down equalised after another Niamh free.
It was at this stage Tipperary pulled away scoring a goal and three points to go in at half time winning on the scoreline of 1-07 to 0-04.
As we have seen so many times this year with this team they were a different animal in the second half and slowly but surely they clawed their way back into the game.
At this stage Fionnuala was back in her more familiar position in defence and this seemed to settle the rest of the defence and each defender won the battle with their opponent. Down got the game back to one point when, completely against the run of play, the Tipperary full forward won a ball and raced through to score a goal which was to be their last score and their second score of the second half the other being a free.
This didn’t deter the Down girls and straight from the puck out Sara Louise scored a point. Every Down player stepped it up and blocked and hassled as if their lives depended on it and picked off another two points.
Maria McNally in nets blocked a ball off her line all the way out to the 21 almost Fionnuala picked it up and gave a terrific pass to Niamh Mallon, who looked up and spotted that Sara Louise had peeled off her player one more inch-perfect pass straight into Sara Louise’s hand and off she went drilling the ball past the Tipperary ‘keeper.
At this stage there were five minutes on the clock and Down were one up. The Tipperary players who had been going down quite frequently and were taking their time over every puck out and free, were now playing with a lot more urgency.
The Down defence cleared every ball and Aimee McAleenan sent over a lovely point following a clearance from the defence, this put the Down girls two up with four minutes of injury time played.
Six minutes of injury time were played and it was a very relieved and ecstatic bunch of girls when the referee finally blew for full time.
Team and scorers: Maria McNally, Clare McGilligan, Alannah Savage, Nicole Kelly, Blainaid Savage, Dearbhle Magee 0-01, Catherine Rocks, Paula O’Hagan 0-01, Deirbhle Savage, Niamh Mallon 0-08 (6 frees) Aimee McAleenan 0-01, Sara Louise Carr 1-02, Orla Gribben, Fionnuala Carr, Saoirse Sands 0-01. Subs used: Maria Higgins came on for Orla Gribben.
There is no doubting the heart and passion these girls show each time they put on the red and black jersey for Down. They play with a pride and never-say-die attitude that is both a joy and nerve wracking to watch. They take the old saying ‘play to the final whistle’ literally and leave all they have on the pitch.
At key stages in the match every player stepped up when required with a block, a tackle or a score and this each one took control.
Down will now play Cork in the decider of the All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Championship at Croke Park on Sunday, 9 September.