Doughty’s goals guide Cuchulainns to first Junior title in 25 years

Ladies JFC final

Cavan Gaels 2-14

Cuchulainns 5-7

Aideen Coyle at Kingspan Breffni

Cavan Gaels and Cuchulainns met for the fourth time this season on Saturday in the JFC final. Cavan Gaels had advanced to the final unbeaten and after losing at the final stage last season were strong favourites to capture the Junior title in 2023.

Their opponents, Cuchulainns, were back competing at adult level for the first time in a decade and came into Saturday’s tie as the underdogs having previously lost all prior meetings with the Cavan town side. However, the underdog tag suited the Mullagh-based ladies as Cavan Gaels, managed by Finian Farrell, carried the heavy burden of being favourites.

The large crowd that gathered in headquarters were treated to a thrilling seven-goal encounter as both sides threw off the shackles from the outset. Cuchulainns made a blistering start to the tie and opened the games scoring in the fourth minute. After registering two early wides the Mullagh girls found the back of the net through Aisling Doughty after a pass from Eabha Carolan to open their account. The Gaels responded swiftly with a point from Karla Brady but the midfielders score was cancelled out by a point from the boot of Sinead O’Reilly at the opposite end.

The sides were level for the first time in the 12th minute as Cavan Gaels hit three on the bounce. Katie O’Meara got her opening point after a Katie Leddy dispossession and a point from Leddy was followed by one from Emma McIntyre to level the sides.

From the resulting kick-out Cavan Gaels had the opportunity to take the lead but O’Meara’s shot at goal was saved by goalkeeper Rose Smith

A foul on the excellent Aimee Flanagan resulted in a converted free for Doughty. However, last year’s beaten finalists found their feet and hit seven points on the bounce to stretch into a six-point lead. Brady’s second of the game brought the sides level for the second time before they took the lead for the first time with a point from a tight angle from Laura Galligan.

A superb block from Clodagh Doyle on Doughty resulted in another attack for the Gaels which ended with a point from McIntyre, who started strong at midfield. They could have had another score but a brilliant block from hardworking Ruth Smyth denied Rebecca Boyle Drought a score.

Two more from the lively O’Meara and one from a Sarah Clarke free left Cavan Gaels ahead by seven with 27 minutes on the clock. Now 15 minutes without a score, Cuchulainns responded with two points as half-time approached.

Aimee Flanagan was once again fouled and the resulting free was converted by Doughty. In the closing stages of the half there were shouts for a penalty for a foul on the excellent Doughty, however a 13m free was awarded and sent over the bar from Ciara Carpenter to leave the half time score 1-04 to 0-11.

Cuchulainns ladies junior champions 2023. Photo: Adrian Donohoe. Photo by Adrian Donohoe Photography 0863716199

Trailing by four at the break Noel Donoghue’s side made one change with Roisin Flanagan replacing Ciara O’Reilly. The Gaels picked up where they left off and with less than 30 seconds on the clock they stretched their lead to seven as Katie Leddy fired to the net for her sides first goal.

Leddy’s goal set the tone for the second half. Cuchulainns never panicked and within seconds of Rachel Lynch winning the kick-out, they had a goal of their own. A brilliant individual run from Doughty was finished with a cracking strike to the top corner of the net. Emma McIntyre replied with a well taken point to lead by five; however, Cuchulainns responded fantastically with 2-1 within two minutes.

Excellent defending from Bronagh Flanagan sent her side on attack through Smyth who played in Sinead O’Reilly for a goal to reduce the deficit to two. A point from Ruth Smyth after an excellent dispossession from her midfield partner Mia Farrelly left the minimum between the sides.

Two minutes after her first O’Reilly had a second goal chance but this time her effort was saved by Lisa Lynch. The rebound fell favorably to Doughty who hit the back of the net for her hat-trick goal to re-take the lead for her side.

Katie Brady protects the ball from the tackle of Emma McIntyre. Photo: Adrian Donohoe. Photo by Adrian Donohoe Photography 0863716199

It took a moment of brilliance from youngster O’Meara, who was in line for the player of the match award, in the 13th minute to take the lead for the Gaels once again as the tie unfolded. O’Meara soar through the Cuchulainns backline and fired the ball to the roof of the net to take a one-point lead.

Their lead didn’t last long as the sides were level for the third time minutes later as a foul on Aine Stanford resulted in a scoreable free for Carpenter.

Two points in quick succession from Laura Galligan and an O’Meara free put Cavan Gaels ahead by two and they could have been ahead further but excellent defending from Katie Brady on Ciara Farrell forced the forwards shot wide. In an exciting end to end encounter an uncharacteristic error from goalkeeper Lisa Lynch resulted in player of the match Doughty’s fourth goal of the tie.

The county player was outstanding throughout and another point from distance left Cuchulainns ahead by two approaching injury time.

Cavan Gaels had chances but brilliant defending from captain Meabh Flanagan denied O’Meara another scoring chance. In the closing stages there was one more goal chance but it was for the leaders Cuchulainns as a chance fell to substitute Deirdre O’Reilly who shot narrowly wide of the post.

As the full-time whistle blew in Kingspan Breffni, there were scenes of joy for Cuchulainns who lifted their first junior title in 25 years after re-establishing their ladies team this year for the first time in 10 years. Aisling Doughty was deservedly named Player of the Match, finishing with 4-3 to her name, as captain Meabh Flanagan lifted the cup on behalf of her team.

Cavan Gaels: Lisa Lynch, Erin Carolan, Lauren Sheridan, Niamh Briody, Leah Brady, Clodagh Doyle, Éinín Lawton, Emma McIntyre 0-03, Karla Brady 0-02, Ciara Farrell, Sarah Clarke 0-01 (1f), Rebekah Boyle Drought, Katie Leddy 1-02, Laura Galligan 0-02, Katie O’Meara 1-04 (1f)

Subs: Abbie Sexton for R. Boyle Drought, Aoife Monaghan for C. Farrell, Laura Lynch for K. Leddy

Cuchulainns: Rose Smith, Bronagh Flanagan, Meabh Flanagan, Ciara O’Reilly, Katie Brady, Ciara Carpenter 0-02 (2f), Rachel Lynch, Ruth Smyth 0-01, Mia Farrelly, Rachel McKenna, Aimee Flanagan, Aine Stafford, Eabha Carolan, Aisling Doughty 4-03 (2f), Sinead O’Reilly 1-01

Subs: Roisin Flanagan for C. O’Reilly, Deirdre O’Reilly for M. Farrelly, Siofra McGeoghan for A. Flanagan

Referee: Bridget Smith