Na Fianna vs Fingallians : Spoils Shared in Group Opener

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Na Fianna 0-9 – 0-9 Fingallians

A final score-line, which read a somewhat low nine points apiece, betrays the reality of what was a pulsating, end to end game in Mobhi road.

From the off, the ferocious pace of the respective wing backs and wing forwards set the tempo, with athletic midfielders on both sides making significant line-breaks.

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Sinéad Finnagan frequently broke the line

Owing to Claire Murtagh’s ability to read to the game intelligently and drop behind the ball from midfield, allowing Fingallians to create a zonal defence, and number 9, Sinéad Finnegan’s umpteen possessions with which she inevitably made or threatened to make line-breaks, it was Fingallians who attacked in more ideal circumstances in the opening quarter.

With Muireann Ní Scannail playing a pivotal game conducting role from centre forward, the Fingallians attacks looked promising early on.

However, exceptional “man-marking” from all six Na defenders saw them scupper a number of promising looking Fingallians attacks during this period. It was testament to this individual defensive ability that they would concede just one point from frees throughout.

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Na Fianna’s “man-marking” was superb

Full back, Hayley Ward, in particular, showed impeccable and textbook “man-marking” technique and got out in front to spoil three promising Fingallians attacks early on, while Eimar Nolan at wing back showed equally impeccable tackling technique and footwork to dispossess direct runners in promising positions twice in the first half.

For most of the first half, Na Fianna struggled to clear the lines on their own kick-outs as Fingallians allowed them a spare player in their own full back line, and dropped an extra one into the Na Fianna half back line where the kicks were landing.

With a slightly superior physical presence in the middle to begin with, Fingallians exerted huge pressure from this source, but once again, impeccable defending from Na Fianna saw Fingallians fail to make hay from this potentially promising source.

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Hayley Ward was a formidable full back

If Na Fianna were slightly inferior in the middle third in terms of physical presence, they were slightly superior in terms of athleticism. The incisive and constant angled runs of Lucy Collins were at the route of many Na Fianna attacks, throughout, with both the impish Aoife Malone and lightning Ellie McAleer proving difficult to contain when ball was played in front of them.

Full forward, Orlagh Egan looked the most likely to be on the end of attacks, tallying a total of two from play on the night and being fouled for one of her own converted frees.

At two points apiece, on the quarter hour mark, the clearly pre-meditated Fingallians kick-out would be a key statistical factor in the next four scores.

Firstly, an intelligent and quickly hit kick-out by Emer O’Heafa which by-passed the entire Na Fianna forward line and midfield, allowed Fingallians to break forward quickly and end with a Denise McKenna score.

However, a few subsequent attempts at quick kick-outs were either intercepted by Na Fianna, or saw them quickly dispossess Fingallians after they had initially won them, scoring three on the bounce to lead by five to three.

Most notably of these scores, saw the stand-out performer on the night, Leah Caffrey, fouled for a second scorable free after another superbly powerful and balanced run cut a hole in the Fingallians zonal defence.

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Caffrey made superb forward runs

The flip side of Fingallians’ quick kick-out policy was that in the midst of all of this, another well hit quick kick-out saw Fiona Hudson break the line with a pacey run and set up a one-on-one goal chance for Denise McKenna, which keeper, Sacha Turnbull, saved. The quick kick-outs from O’Héafa certainly had the capacity to create scores on the counter.

The aforementioned chance for McKenna would be one of her last clear cut chances of the night. Such was the threat she posed that, during the first half, Caffrey was sacrificed form centre back to take up a role, familiar to her with Dublin, to mark McKenna from corner back, in what would be an epic and hot-blooded battle.

Trailing by two points after twenty minutes, Fingallians finished the half the strongest scoring three points to one to leave the sides level at the break at six apiece.

Fins’ equaliser was noteworthy in that Fiona Hudson, once again, broke from the line from deep to create it, and it would be McKenna’s second and last score of the game, with Caffrey’s superb “man-marking” to contend with.

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Caffrey made life tough for McKenna in the full forward line

It was also noteworthy in terms of how Hudson would clinically break the line from the back throughout the night, and how she, from full back, and Finnegan from midfield would occasionally interchange with centre back, Lauren Farrell, allowing for their most efficient use of energy.

With Fin’s looking like they were set to up the ante going eight points to seven up early in the second half, Na Fianna made the tactical switch which would account for the lower scoring, though equally enthralling, second half.

Danielle Pugh would replace a forward close to the forty minute mark but would take up a position as sweeper, changing Na Fianna’s shape from a 6-2-6 to a 7-2-5. She would give an exemplary libero performance, typically positioning herself in the most efficient defensive spot and carrying the ball intelligently and methodically out of the defence.

Such was the individual defensive ability of both sides, especially Na Fianna, it would become particularly difficult for each side to etch out scores with a spare defender at each end to contend with.

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Claire Murtagh would score her second point from outside a zonal defence

For the most part, the game would come to be a contest of which side could find holes, where no holes appeared to exist, in zonal defences, or which side could manoeuvre a counter-attack or two before the opposition organised their shape.

On two occasions in the final quarter, Egan tried and appeared to have taken on and beaten Hudson, yet Hudson and co never let her get the shot off.

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Hudson marked Egan from full back, in key duel, but got up-field too

Na Fianna’s running, however, forced three frees in a short period of time, which saw the sides draw level at nine points apiece in the final ten minutes, one dispatched by Shauna Halpin and a long-range effort from Egan.

The final stages were frenzied as both sides looked for the winner, and each were denied by the upright. Had Na Fianna won with their late effort, it would have been a fitting score for them to have won with, involving their two key players on the night.

Relieving herself briefly of her “man-marking” duties in the full back line, Caffrey burst forward from the half back line and made fifty yards of ground, which included taking on and beating the typically impassable Finnegan, before handing to Collins who took the ball with a typically athletic run. The 35 or so yard shot, however, would come of the upper post.

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Collins hits the upright at tied scores

This was shortly followed by a cutting run from wing back by Aoife Ward, at the other end, through a tight defence, which brought her within goal shooting range.

The raw percentages definitely added up to the goal shot being the right choice and the goal would surely have sealed it. In such a low scoring second half, however, there was an argument that taking the point and lead would have been more frugal, close to the death.

She went for it and hit the under-side of the bar, saw it bounce off the keeper’s head and land under McKenna’s feet inside the square. Once again, however, Caffrey and others, got between her and the goal before she could re-arrange her feet, and saved the day.

Even the late introduction of Amy McGuinness in the half forward line, who scored Fins’ final point, couldn’t break the late deadlock, as the sides had to be content with sharing the spoils in this enthralling opening group match.

Fingallians :  Emer Ní Éafa, Catherine Keaney, Fiona Hudson, Jordan Trayor, Aoife O’Reilly, Lauren Farrell, Niamh Ward, Claire Murtagh, Sinéad Finnegan, Niamh Rickard, Muirean Ní Scannail, Emma Colgan, Niamh Cunningham, Natasha Barnwall, Denise McKenna Subs Lorna Colgen, Caroline Nee, Amy McGuinness Scorers D McKenna 0-3 (1 free), N Rickard 0-2, C Murtagh 0-2, F Hudson 0-1, Amy McGuinness 0-1.

Na Fianna : Sacha Turnbull, Sarah Quinn, Hayley Ward, Niamh Gleeson, Eimear Nolan, Leah Caffrey, Ciara Lundy, Lucy Colllins, Sarah McLoughlin, Aoife Malone, Aideen Lynch, Shauna Halpin, Ellie McAleer, Orlagh Egan, Claire Kelly Subs Danielle Pugh Scorers : O Egan 5 (3 frees), Claire Kelly 0-1, A Malone 0-1, E McAleer 0-1, S Halpin 0-1 (0-1 frees).

By Stephen O’Meara