By Patricia Sheridan
New York 1-12, Waterford 1-11
WATERFORD — After running out to a convincing first-half lead, the New York Ladies GAA all-stars faltered a bit in the second half, then overcame a two-point deficit to beat Waterford, 1-12 to 1-11, and thus reach their first All-Ireland Junior Final.
The New York women go on to play Tyrone on Sunday, Oct. 3, at Croke Park.
In Saturday’s thrilling Junior semifinal the Waterford, New York broke a four-season skein of frustration. After attempting to win this semifinal four times (1995, ’97, ’98, ’99) the despair that was felt after losing by a point to Roscommon last year was somehow washed away. The stunned, joyful faces of the players after the final whistle said it all and there could be no better news for the Ladies GAA as they enter the new millennium.
Saturday morning began with torrential rain that seemed to get heavier as the morning progressed. Being accustomed to 100-degree weather and dryer conditions in New York, there was naturally some concern by manager Philip Sheridan and his selectors as to how the team would respond to the weather and to the challenge by the Munster champions.
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But never was a team more focused and ready to play. From the moment they arrived in Dublin on Thursday there was the belief that they could beat this Waterford side and a little rain wasn’t going to stop them.
The game started at 3:30 p.m. and, as luck would have it, the skies cleared. It was evident from the start that a lot of families and spectators had come to cheer on the New York side, with American flags visible throughout the crowd.
With the teams lined up and ready to go an anxious five minutes passed when goalkeeper Mary McEvoy had to change jerseys because of the similarity with the blue colors of Waterford.
"The five minutes’ late start didn’t help us as it gave Waterford an opportunity to see how the team lined out," said Sheridan.
Despite the jersey problem, New York, playing with the wind, got off to a great start with a point from Joanne McKenna. Further points followed from Gillian Bennett, Ger Mahon and Catherine McAteer before Waterford registered their only point of the half. New York now with a five-point lead were playing great football, picking up their players with precision. Ellen McGrail was having a stormer in the half back position, picking up every loose ball and passing them off to the attacking McAteer at full forward. There was little, it seemed, McGrail could do wrong as she was having her best game this season. With the intensity of the game at full pitch, New York went up a further three points, with Dineen putting her name on the scoreboard before the half ended, with New York in the lead by seven. In fairness, New York were unlucky not to have scored at least two goals in this half, with Mahon getting straight through on one occasion but narrowly hitting the ball over the bar. It could just as easily been in the back of the net.
When the second half got under way, there was no doubt that this game was anything but over when Waterford quickly scored four points in succession.
New York, now struggling and showing some tiredness, were in for the fight of their lives, but a point from McKenna 10 minutes into the half helped to ease the nerves of both the players and the anxious spectators on the sideline.
Back came Waterford with another point, which was followed with a long ball from midfield that went over the heads of the New York backline and left McEvoy little chance in goal.
"I thought about coming out, but with the ball on the 21-yard line, I thought she would flick it over my head," McEvoy said.
With Waterford now in control and the teams tied it looked like New York were in for another disaster.
Substitutes were quickly made, with McCarthy entering the game and Mahon registering another point to put New York in the lead again. Back came Waterford to tie the game.
"It looked liked there were blue jerseys everywhere," Clifford said of Waterford’s aggressive play.
Waterford picked up all the loose balls and finally went up two points for the lead for the first time. Now fighting on all cylinders, the veteran Olive Wilson in the fullback position was taking control.
"All I was thinking about was how I felt last year," Wilson said. "It wasn’t going to happen again."
Another point attempt by Waterford was caught brilliantly under the crossbar by McEvoy to keep the deficit at two.
Then, with almost 10 minutes to play, Rosie O’Reilly took the field and immediately made her presence felt. Getting straight through for a goal, she was fouled, which resulted in a free taken by McMahon. New York dug deeper, with McAteer brilliantly coming out to midfield to catch balls and push her way into scoring position sending a beauty over the bar with the score now one point in favor of Waterford and two minutes remaining in the game. One was wondering could this be Roscommon all over again.
Russell was substituted and the pressure was now on. The bench were on their feet. Indeed, Sheridan, Peter Brennan, Pat Meade, Mary Touhey and trainer
James Lovett were all over the pitch, shouting instructions. A long kick out by McEvoy somehow found the hands of McGrail running down the left sideline. She sent a brilliant pass to the feet of Mahon whose first attempt at goal was blocked slightly but not enough for her to recover the ball and put it in the back of the net. The crowd went wild, but the game wasn’t over as Waterford continued to fight attempting goals and points from every angle.
But Wilson and the New York defense continued to hold tough and allowed only another point. With 10 seconds to play, there was just enough time for McEvoy to kick out the ball and the game was over.
New York had won. Families and spectators rushed on the field. Players hugged each other.
"I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it. We’re going to Croke Park," O’Reilly said through tears.
"I’ve been in an All-Ireland before, but I’ve never played with a bunch of girls that wanted to win it more," McAteer said later.
The last words were left to Terry Connaughton, who founded women’s football in New York in 1991.
"I had a dream that one day New York would play in Croke Park and today that dream finally came through, he said.
New York scorers: Joanne McKenna 0-3, Gillian Bennett 0-2, Ger Mahon 1-3, Catherine McAteer 0-3, Mags Dineen 0-1. Bank of Ireland Player of the Game: Joanne McKenna.
The team: Mary McEvoy, Fiona Ward, Olive Wilson, Louise Fox, Ellen McGrail, Colette McElligott (captain), Caroline O’Sullivan, Justine Clifford, Alison Lineen, Mags Dineen, Gillian Bennett, AnnMarie McMunn, Joanne McKenna, Catherine McAteer, and Ger Mahon. Subs: Sharon Levins (goalkeeper) Norma McCarthy, Rosie O’Reilly, Cathy
McKenna, Catherine Russell, Sharon Gallagher, Helena Campion and KerryAnn Galvin.
For anyone wishing to attend the Oct. 3 final, Tara Travel is arranging a special packed. For details, call Mary Toolan at (718) 884-2379.