CASHEL were crowned All-Ireland senior camogie club champions for the second time following a titanic battle with Athenry at a rain-lashed Clarecastle on Sunday afternoon last.
The Cashel girls, inspired by the outstanding Claire Grogan, cemented their position as the top club side in the country after braving artic winds and biting showers of driving rain and hail to take the title in determined fashion and lift the Bill Carroll cup for the second time in three years, having previously ascended to the pinnacle of club hurling in 2007.
Although atrocious weather conditions made it difficult for both sides from the throw-in, underfoot conditions were surprisingly good with the firm Clarecastle sod standing up well to the best the elements could muster.
Going into this encounter there was little to separate the sides but the Athenry girls were outclassed at crucial junctures in the game, especially in the second half, and inspired by six points from wing-forward, Claire Grogan Cashel battled back from a slender interval deficit to outstrip their opponents in the second half.
Athenry were bidding for glory in the final in what was their seventh attempt but again Lady Luck deserted them. This was Cashel`s third all Ireland final appearance, having lost to Pearses of Galway in 2001 before triumphing over Athenry in 2007.
Their path to this year's decider saw them play out a thriller in the county final against Burgess/Duharra before overcoming Kileedy (Limerick) and St. Catherines of Cork in the Munster final before Oulart the Ballagh (Wexford) were put to the sword in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Although Athenry won the toss they elected to pay against the stiff south-westerly breeze blowing into the village end and were almost caught on the hop early on when Cashel's Alison Lonergan sniped through the Athenry cover only to see her shot well-saved by Stephanie Gannon in the Athenry goal.
Cashel continued to press and opened their account soon afterwards with Mairad Morrissey grabbing the opener. Athenry responded with midfielders, Sarah Donoghue and Laura Linnane combining before Linnane bisected the uprights from range.
With just five minutes elapsed the first of the heavy showers which dogged the game swept in and Athenry went on the offensive, bagging two points in the space of seven minutes with Brenda Kerins and Therese Maher on target.
Despite the fact that Cashel were under severe pressure, captain Una O'Dwyer at full-back and corner backs, Claire Ryan and Nolette O'Dwyer defended admirably to curtail Athenry's attack.
The 13th minute saw Claire Grogan peg back the deficit to one with a sweetly struck free before Athenry's danger woman, Therese Maher threatened to pierce Cashel's defence with a searing run at goal. Again, Cashel stood firm but conceded a 45' which Linnane duly pointed.
Grogan kept Cashel in touch though, raising the white flag in the 18th minute following great approach play from Julie McGrath and Emily Hayden but back came Athenry with Laura Linnane knifing over a 45' before Noreen Coen picked the sliotar out of a forest of legs and hurleys close to the sideline and fired over a sublime effort to put three points between the sides, 0-6 to 0-3.
However, Cashel responded in style and finished the half on the up with Linda Grogan setting up Claire Grogan for a 28th minute point before full-forward, Emily Hayden almost netted with a first-time effort on the stroke of half-time.
Despite the missed opportunity Cashel continued to raid and were rewarded for their efforts when Cora Hennessy gathered, turned and burned Athenry's full-back Alice Poniard before setting up Alison Grogan for Cashel's fifth point deep in injury time and ensuring the Munster champions trailed by just a solitary point at the break, 0-5 to 0-6.
Cashel emerged determined to get back on level terms and with the aid of a strengthening breeze it wasn't long before Emily Hayden restored parity before Cashel hit the front in the 36th minute thanks to a second Mairad Morrissey point.
Laura Linnane responded with a close-range free as the hailstones thundered down once more but Cashel pulled clear again with successive points from the stick of Claire Grogan, the first a 41st minute free from all of 50 metres before a sweetly struck point in the 47th minute.
Indeed, it appeared that Cashel relished the worsening conditions more than their Galway rivals, steaming three clear in the 51st minute thanks again to the stick of Claire Grogan. Grogan's point proved hugely pivotal after Cashel had surged upfield after goalkeeper Helen Breen had blocked a stinging shot from Athenry substitute, Jessica Gill. The sliotar dropped behind her and only for the timely intervention of corner-back, Nolette O'Dwyer Athenry would have been right back in the hunt.
Credit to Athenry, they gave it all in the closing ten minutes with full-forward, Katie O'Dwyer reducing the deficit to two before Claire Grogan (free) again restored Cashel's three-point advantage.
Athenry threw everything at Cashel in the closing minutes in a bid to grab that all important goal and very nearly did so in injury time when Jessica Gill's close-range free came flew inches over the crossbar.
Cashel had to win possession from the resulting puck-out and they did so with the impressive Jill Horan putting Emily Hayden clean through on goal. Again, Stephanie Gannon was up to the challenge and pulled off a fantastic save but time was up and when referee, Fintan McNamara blew the final whistle it heralded unbridled scenes of relief from the Cashel team and supporters.
In what proved a hugely entertaining encounter, both sides served up a determined hour of hurling but on the balance of things Cashel had the edge in attack while Athenry's forward line struggled at times despite the best efforts of Therese Maher.
Cashel's full-back line was led by the indomitable Una O'Dwyer, who easily had the measure of her namesake, Katie O'Dwyer . She was ably assisted by Claire Ryan and Nolette O'Dwyer while centre-back Philly Fogarty put the shackles on Athenry's danger woman, Therese Maher, particularly in the second half. Wing backs, Paula Bulfin and Julie McGrath provided support while Jill Horan and Linda Grogan provided the platform for so many of Cashel's attacks.
In attack, Cashel's half-forward line, Claire Grogan and Mairad Morrissey (nursing a broken finger from the semi-final) bagged eight points between them while Cora Hennessy provided a constant threat. The inside forward line of Alison Lonergan, Emily Hayden and Cliona Dwyer also battled hard throughout and contributed hugely to Cashel's triumph.
Player of the Match: Claire Grogan.
Scorers: Cashel: C. Grogan 0-7 (0-3f); M. Morrissey 0-2; A. Lonergan and E. Hayden 0-1 each.
Athenry: L. Linnane 0-4 (0-2f, 0-1 45'); N. Coen, B. Kerins and K. O'Dwyer 0-1 each
Teams: Cashel: Helen Breen; Claire Ryan, Una O'Dwyer (Capt), Nolette Dwyer; Paula Bulfin, Philly Fogarty, Julie McGrath; Jill Horan, Linda Grogan, Cora Hennessy, Mairad Morrissey, Claire Grogan; Alison Lonergan, Emily Hayden, Cliona Dwyer.
Subs: Sharon Hayes for A. Lonergan; (61); Sinad Millea for C. O'Dwyer (61).
Athenry: Stephanie Gannon; Katherine Glynn, Alice Poniard, Darelle Coen; Ciara Cunniffe, Regina Glynn, Krystle Ruddy; Sarah Donohue, Laura Linnane; Natalie Jordan, Therese Maher (Capt), Noreen Coen; Brenda Kerins, Katie O'Dwyer, Mary Keogh.
Sub: Jessica Gill for Jordan (47).
Referee: Fintan McNamara (Clare).