by Liam Maloney
First-half goals from Amy Curtin and Julia Curtin were the key scores for Kerry in their three-point triumph over a gutsy Sligo side in a thrilling ZuCar All-Ireland U-18 B final at MacDonagh Park in Nenagh.
This B decider was a first for both Sligo and Kerry, although the Munster county have pedigree at A level, having won three titles in the top tier in 1980, ‘81 and ’95.
The counties recently contested an All-Ireland U-16 B final, with Kerry earning the bragging rights on that occasion.
In blustery conditions at the Nenagh venue, wind-assisted Kerry, who enjoyed early possession, put pressure on the Connacht champions.
Having opened the scoring through Julia Curtin’s converted free after five minutes, Kerry put a stamp on the game with a well-taken goal from Amy Curtin in the ninth minute.
Sligo got their first score after 12 minutes through their only first-half scorer, free-taker Rianne Smith, as Kerry’s disciplined defending kept Sligo at bay.
A fortuitous second goal for Kerry – Julia Curtin netted with a hooked effort that looked like a point attempt – gave the Kingdom a six-point lead, 2-1 to 0-1, after 14 minutes.
Sligo improved in the latter stages of the first-half and added two more points, both frees, from Smith but it was Kerry who took a five-point lead into the break at 2-2 to 0-3.
Both sides had a player sent to the sin bin in the last 10 minutes of the opening period – there were sanctions for Sligo’s Lauren Normanly and Kerry player Kelly Enright.
Sligo were much-improved during the second-half, with substitutes Ellen Kelleher and Eimear Hunt doing well, while Smith kick-started the revival with a 41st minute goal from a close-range flick.
Good points from Blaithin Lavin, Lauren Normanly and Sarah Feeney brought Sligo to within a point of Kerry, 2-4 to 1-6, with 16 minutes of normal time left.
But determined Sligo didn’t score again for the remainder of the contest that included six minutes of added time.
Kerry, for whom captain Roisin Rahilly impressed, as did Enright, kept in front and vital converted frees from their top scorer Julia Curtin and Leah McMahon got them over the line.
Scorers – Kerry: J Curtin 1-3 (2f), A Curtin 1-1, L McMahon 0-1 (f), K Enright 0-1.
Sligo: R Smith 1-3 (3f), B Lavin 0-1, L Normanly 0-1, S Feeney 0-1.
KERRY: A Looney; K Furey, R Smith, L Reilly; C Gannon, R Rahilly (c), O McKenna; E Ni Laighinn, K Enright; A Curtin, L McMahon, N Quinn; J Gill, J Curtin, K Doe. Subs: C Daly for L Reilly (45), T Murphy for J Gill (51), K Enright for C Gannon (56), G Kennedy for J Curtin (60).
SLIGO: M Burke; H Redican, C King, E Boland; I Henry, K Walsh, J Gabbidon; T Breheny, C Walsh; A McDaniel, R Smith, B Lavin; L Foley (c), L Normanly, S Feeney. Subs: E Hunt for K Walsh (ht), E Kelleher for L Foley (39), C Brennan for L Normanly (56), E Cawley for S Feeney (59), J Monaghan for A McDaniel (60+4)
Referee: Gavin Finnegan (Down).Tweet