Gutsy Kildare dug deep in extra time to secure promotion back to Division 2 of the LIDL LGFA National League for the first time since 2017 with a thrilling one-point win over Clare in the Division 3 final at a sunny Parnell Park this afternoon.

A game that was gritty and tough for the most part took on an exhilarating life of its own after the three-quarter mark as Clare reeled in a six-point deficit to draw level at the end of normal time.

At that stage, The Banner looked the most likely winners in extra time and when Neasa Dooley became the second Lilywhite player to go into the sinbin eight minutes into the additional twenty with her side trailing by two, it seemed to be panning out that way.

But Diane O’Hora’s side dug deep all over the field and three incredible scores from player-of-the-match Róisín Byrne turned the outcome on its head, despite suffering two further yellow cards in a frenetic finale that saw Clare’s top scorer Fidelma Marrinan shoot wide from a very scoreable late, late effort.

Kildare had started the brighter and shrugged off Gráinne Kenneally’s yellow after only two minutes for a high challenge on Clare captain Caoimhe Harvey to score 1-2 without reply during her period on the sideline. Sarsfields’ Byrne, who ended the game with ten points, half of those from play, popped over her first two in the fourth and seventh minutes.

In the ninth minute, Ellen Dowling’s pass sent her Suncroft clubmate Trina Duggan bearing down on goal and when she was fouled, Dooley stepped up to find the net from the penalty spot with a top-corner strike that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Premier League.

Clare got into their stride after that though and their direct running caused the Kildare defence problems for the remainder of the half with two points from Marrinan and one from their outstanding midfielder Aisling Reidy pulling the gap back to two points at half-time (1-2 to 0-3).

Kildare seemed to take a decisive six-point lead in the 43rd minute though. Immediately after Dowling had a goal disallowed for over-carrying, harshly perhaps, a slick move ended with Byrne’s handpass cleverly deflected to the net by captain Grace Clifford.

Clare narrowed that gap to three but when Byrne tapped over a free for her sixth point, Kildare must have sensed the trophy was within their grasp. But Reidy had other ideas, her long ball setting up the move that ended with substitute Laura Griffey palming past Mary Hulgraine.

With two minutes remaining, Clare’s comeback was complete, Marrinan levelling from a close range free after Aoife Clifford had fouled while in possession.

Byrne pushed Kildare ahead again early in extra-time, but they were dealt a hammer blow when Marrinan stole in behind the cover to fire a second Clare goal past Hulgraine.

Despite Dooley’s yellow card, Kildare found the strength to come back from the two-point deficit with Byrne firing over three unanswered points, two of them superb long-range efforts to edge them ahead by a point.

In a dramatic finale Róisín Forde was yellow carded just as Dooley was about to come back in, Byrne made a brilliant and decisive catch in midfield from a pinpoint Hulgraine kick out and after Lara Gilbert joined Forde in the sinbin, Marrinan had the misfortune to see her late effort tail wide.

Grace Clifford lifted the trophy as Kildare repeated their 2016 All Ireland Intermediate Final success over the same opponents.

KILDARE: Mary Hulgraine; Lauren Burke, Laoise Lenehan, Gráinne Kenneally; Lara Gilbert, Ruth Sargent, Sarah Munnelly; Grace Clifford 1-0, Aoife Rattigan; Claire Sullivan, Róisín Byrne 0-10 (5fs), Trina Duggan; Ellen Dowling 0-1, Neasa Dooley 1-0 (pen), Lara Curran. Subs: Mia Doherty for Duggan 37, Ciara Price for Curran 45, Aoife Clifford for C Sullivan 47, Orlaith Sullivan for Price 72, Róisín Forde for Kenneally 64, C Sullivan for Sargent 74, Curran for Burke 79.

CLARE: Amy Lenihan; Orla Devitt, Síofra Ní Chonaill, Gráinne Harvey; Louise Griffin, Caoimhe Harvey, Áine Keane; Aisling Reidy 0-2, Chloe Moloney 0-1; Eimear Keane, Fidelma Marrinan 1-6 (5fs), Amy Sexton; Lizzy Roche, Clíodhna Blake 0-1, Ciara McCarthy. Subs: Sinéad Considine for McCarthy 37, Megan Downes for E Keane 40, Caolinn McCormack for Griffin 45, Joanna Doohan for Roche 52, Laura Griffey 1-0 for G Harvey 52, Roche for Blake ET, Blake for Sexton 70.

Referee: Siobhán Coyle (Donegal)

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