It took a test of mental and physical strength to finally see off Offaly in the All Ireland Ladies Junior Semi Final in Clane on Sunday afternoon.
Although they went into the clash as favourites The Wee County were made to fight all the way and it wasn’t until the closing stages that they took control of proceedings with an Emma Conlon goal on 60 minutes finally seeing off the Offaly resistence.
Louth may not have played to their full potential against a side that showed a vast improvement from the Leinster Final meeting. However, there were some excellent displays throughout the game from a number of players.
Una Pearson made two excellent saves in the opening minutes as the Faithful County started the brighter, while in defence Marie O’Connell was outstanding along with Anne Marie Lynch who made two vital goal-line clearances.
The attack didn’t function as it did in previous games, but in Anne Marie Murphy and Jenny McGuinness they had two inspirational performers who chipped in with vital scores.
Louth were forced to play without the injured full-back Andrea Carney, while Vikki McGinn was only fit enough to start on the bench.
This may have been a factor in Louth’s slow start and within 30 seconds they were behind to a Mairead Daly point.
Goalkeeper, Pearson then made two superb saves from the impressive Lorraine Keena to keep Louth in touch either side of a Jenny McGuinness equaliser.
Offaly added points from Siobhain Flannery and a Keena free to lead 0-3 to 0-01 by the ninth minute but McGuinness pulled one back soon after and her side got a huge boost on 12 minutes when Anne Marie Murphy cut inside her marker and drilled a the ball low into corner of the Offaly net.
Murphy followed up with a point to make it 1-3 to 0-3 and although the Faithful pulled one back through Daly, Rosanna Heeney restored the three point gap.
Jenny McGuinness added points either side of an Offaly reply to make it 1-6 to 0-5 on twenty minutes.
Louth then enjoyed their best spell of the half and could have put the tie beyond doubt as the woodwork came to Offaly’s rescue on three seperate occassions.
Grace Lynch had a shot come back off a post, then a wonderful 35 yard run by Ciara O’Connor set up Kate Flood who saw her piledriver kept out by a post and AnnMaree Murphy also denyed by a post.
To add to their frustrations Murphy found herself in the clear from a good pass by Rosanna Heaney only for Referee Micheal Henry not to apply the advantage as he ruled Heaney had been fouled.
The Wee County also hit four wides in this spell but were looking good when McGuinness and Grace Lynch extended the gap to six points.
However, Offaly gave themselves hope with the last two points of the half from Daly and Keena to go in trailing by just 1-8 to 0-7.
The Midlanders came storming out in the second half and kicked four points to level the game at 1-8 to 0-11 on 45 minutes, and it could have been better for them but for two brilliant Marie O’Connell interceptions to prevent goals
With the pressure mounting, Louth responded in impressive fashion with Anne Marie Murphy showed her class by landing two excellent points from long range.Gillian McDonnell then shot inches wide as the game buzzed with intensity and excitment.
Offaly replied through Sinead Daly, but Rosanna Heeney and McGuinness pointed to make it 1-12 to 0-12 with just three minutes remaining.
Louth piled on the pressure and again were denied as brilliant play by Kate Flood saw her beat three defenders before cracking a great shot off a post and back into the grateful arms of Offaly keeper Cunningham.
The game was eventually decided in the 60th minute when Emma Conlon fired home the decisive goal from 20 metres. The Ardee star was then denyed a second goal as her splendid effort was kept out by the woodwork.
Incredibly Louth hit the post on five occassions.
Louth’s reward for this hard earned win is a meeting with Antrim in the final in four weeks time after the Ulster side scored a 3-11 to 3-10 win over Wexford.
Louth had fine performers in goalie Una Pearson, Marie O’Conner, Lisa Kelly and AnnMarie Lynch in defence, Sandra and Grace Lynch did well at midfield, AnnMarie Murphy and Jenny McGuinness were a constant threat upfront while subs Emma Conlon and Vikki McGinn made significant contributions when introduced.