By Daire Walsh
Martha Byrne landed a superb stoppage-time point at Lawless Memorial Park on Saturday to finally give Cuala a place in senior football.
Having lost narrowly to Clanna Gael Fontenoy in the 2019 decider, the Dalkey side looked set for similar heartache when an Aoife Whelan goal edged Castleknock in front with just three minutes remaining.
There was a steely determination in the Cuala ranks, however, and they rose to the occasion in a nail-biting conclusion.
After Jennifer Dunne had brought them back on level terms, her inter-county colleague Byrne stepped forward to split the posts in clinical fashion, denying Knock a second championship in three years after 2018’s junior success.
Whelan and Hannah Hanlon impressed throughout in attack, while centre-back Sinead Comerford also led by example in a powerful Castleknock effort.
The Dalkey side, though, got off to a roaring start as Molly Basquille – first cousin to Byrne – had the ball in the Castleknock net with just 40 seconds gone. The corner-forward fired home after a surging run by Dunne. a feature of Cuala’s play in the opening quarter.
Dublin camogie star Sinead Wylde went close to another goal in the sixth-minute, only for netminder Amy Mahony to turn away her strike.
Dunne and Wylde were showing a telepathic understanding with the latter kicking a fine point on 10 minutes.
Directly preceding the first water break, Hanlon converted a free to open the Castleknock account. Molly Lewis responded with a point of her own for Cuala, before ‘Knock came roaring back into contention
On 20 minutes, Eimear Griffin picked up possession deep inside the opposition ’45’. Clodagh Sheehan got her fingertips to the inside forward’s high shot, but it ultimately trickled over the line.
The southsiders quickly reinforced their authority. The tireless Wylde discovered a gap and unleashed a left-footed drive into the bottom right-hand corner.
Despite a commanding position, Cuala were subjected to sustained pressure for the remainder of the half. Hanlon, Caitlin Coffey and midfielder Lauren O’Neill raised white flags in quick succession to reel in the gap to one, 2-2 to 1-4, at the interval.
Hanlon levelled early in the second half from a free and they moved in front for the first time soon after.
The longer the tie wore on, the more comfortable they were becoming in defence. After generating a series of goal chances in the opening period, Cuala were now finding space was at a premium in attack.
The Caitriona Murphy-led side didn’t panic, though, and substitute Jennifer Sheeran halted their lengthy scoring drought with a point on 40 minutes.
They had benefited from Dunne’s excellent approach work and the dynamic centre-fielder finally added her name to the scoresheet with a routine close-range free, the first of two within a minute.
It put them back in the driving seat but, with Aisling O’Donnell and Hanlon posting points either side of the water break, Castleknock were firmly in the reckoning.
Mahony came to the rescue of her side once more in the 52nd-minute, tipping over Dunne’s goal bound shot.
Instead, Castleknock turned the tables with a second goal five minutes later. A camogie compatriot of Wylde at inter-county level, Whelan rattled the opposing net with a low finish.
The gauntlet had been thrown down to Cuala, but they delivered in spades during a frantic finale. Dunne wiped out their deficit with a trademark score and after Wylde’s effort rebounded off the woodwork, Castleknock had substitute Jess Comerford sin-binned.
Cuala fully utilised their numerical supremacy and, when the opportunity arose for Byrne to dissect the uprights, she did so with both style.
Scorers – Cuala: Jennifer Dunne 0-5 (3f), Sinead Wylde 1-1, Molly Basquille 1-0, Martha Byrne, Molly Lewis, Jennifer Sheeran 0-1 each. Castleknock: Hannah Hanlon 0-5 (5f), Aoife Whelan, Eimear Griffin 1-0 each, Lauren O’Neill, Caitlin Coffey, Aisling O’Donnell 0-1 each.
CUALA: Clodagh Sheehan; Gráinne Fitzsimons, Sinead Murphy, Anna Moran; Cliodhna Kelly, Martha Byrne, Emma Ryan; Jennifer Dunne, Caitriona Murphy; Cathy Brock, Grainne O’Driscoll, Molly Lewis; Jess Tobin, Sinead Wylde, Molly Basquille.
Subs: Ellen Deegan, Blaithin Lane, Roisin O’Toole, Rena Mullally, Ciara McKeown, Jennifer Sheeran, Ciara O’Shea, Ciara Byrne, Kate Kirkwood, Rachael Hartnett, Orlaith O’Sullivan, Cara Sullivan, Alison Hickey, Laura Dunne, Leanne Doyle.
CASTLEKNOCK: Amy Mahony; Laura O’Hare, Jenny Hickey, Louise Mahony; Nicola Fagan, Sinead Comerford, Denise Convery; Lauren O’Neill, Laura Carolan; Aoife Whelan, Aisling O’Connor, Caitlin Coffey; Hannah Hanlon, Aisling O’Donnell, Eimear Griffin.
Subs: Ciara Murray, Orlaith Higgins, Jess Comerford, Aoife Douglas, Emma Finney, Sinead Cremin, Sophie King, Cara Feeney, Lelia Ryan, Mired Griffin, Tara King, Claire Nulty.