Loreto strike gold in stellar encounter

ESB Women’s Irish Senior Cup final
Loreto 2 (Nikki Symmons 2) Railway Union 2 (Jean McDonnell, Trish O’Dwyer); Loreto win 4-2 on penalties
Hannah Matthews showed composure beyond her tender years to plant home the winning penalty stroke to secure Loreto’s ninth Irish Senior Cup title, denying Railway Union a debut title in a stellar final encounter this afternoon at Belfield.

Matthews’ input was the final contribution of a see-saw fixture in which the Beaufort outfit stretched a two goal half-time lead through the brilliance of Nikki Symmons – her second effort one of the all-time great goals in this competition – before the Park Avenue outfit stormed back into the tie.

Jean McDonnell’s piledriver and Trish O’Dwyer’s smart re-direction tied the fixture up and a final second penalty corner could have settled the matter. But the chance went awry, giving Loreto the reprieve Nikki Symmons felt was the key motivating moment when asked by the Hook for her feelings following the game:

“Relief! We played well first half but the second went downhill but Railway, fair play to them, played really well to come back. But with that last second corner going wrong, I felt it was going to be our day.”

Extra-time produced no golden goal, leading to strokes. The Beaufort club have struggled in shoot-outs of the stationary kind in the past years in the Jacqui Potter Cup but summoned the nerve of the 2009 IHL one-on-one format to score four of their five.

Louisa Healy, meanwhile, stood tall to deny one and see another rebound off the post for the crucial advantage and Matthews did the rest to secure another year in Europe.

Early on, Railway had begun the final in rude health. McDonnell reversed just wide inside five minutes.
Isobel Joyce – a club player of the year nominee – stole on the left sideline to play in livewire Nikki Evans to earn an innovative corner which the striker battered goalwards from eight yards but Healy saved brilliantly.

But, after the sticky start, Loreto forged a foothold in the tie with Symmons, Nicci Daly and Catriona Tipping to the fore. Aisling Campion was immaculate at the back, seemingly always the stick to pick up the ball as it flew circlewards.

Daly’s slick work created nice channels for Cathy McKean to chase but she took on the defence herself to find a foot in the 22nd minute which Symmons dragged home hard and low past Helen Stevenson’s diving stick to break the deadlock.

Two Railway corners went a begging while Ali Meeke hobbled off with a recurrence of an ankle injury in the aftermath.

But the whites were undeterred and Symmons cracked home the game’s abiding memory. Her auto-pass seemed to be a blind alley but her persistence won her the ball a second time and she duly rocketed a tracer-bullet from the right edge of the circle, a stunning strike to the top left corner from Ireland’s foremost technician of the reverse-stick shot – a truly brilliant strike.

If Loreto were deserving of their lead, Railway showed more than enough character to get their just reward in the second period.

Symmons took one corner move off the line in the 42nd minute but another set-piece ensued. And the Park Avenue outfit summoned another set move straight from Mick McKinnon’s bag of tricks. Switching left then right, McDonnell had plenty of space to drill low and hard and it was game on.

Two minutes later, Evans was denied again by Healy before Niamh Small’s run and cross wreaked havoc, Daly and McKean though were unable to finish off in the ensuing melee. Emer Dillon’s yellow card for an awkward tackle punctuated Railway’s progress though Emma Smyth grew with every minute.

Indeed, her high quality, left-midfield confrontation in the face of Symmons was a joy to behold. And the equaliser was generated from an initial wave down the left, freeing plenty of space for the now-rested Dillon on the right to crash goalwards for O’Dwyer to sweep first time from five yards, wrong-footing Healy.

In the ascendancy of wide-open final ten minutes, Railway earned a further pair of corners – the latter on the final hooter – but skipper Clodagh Grealy blocked brilliantly to ensure extra-time.

The crowd had barely settled again when Cecelia Joyce nurdled inches wide first time 45 seconds into golden goal before Matthews was binned for a high-take.

Chances were scarce but there was time for Symmons to confirm her player-of-the-match title, coming up with the ball after Evans wreaked havoc down the right, coming from nowhere when the yellows were two-on-two. Small clipped an effort into the sideboard but neither side could snatch an open play winner to cap this classic.

Penalties ensued; Loreto prevailed to hand Graham Shaw the first part of a unique coaching and playing double and return the title to Beaufort for the first time since 2003.

Loreto: Louisa Healy, Aisling Campion, Hannah Matthews, Rachel Keegan, Clodagh Greally (capt), Nikki Symmons, Catriona Tipping, Nicci Daly, Cathy McKean, Nikki Keegan, Lizzie Colvin
Subs: Ali Meeke, Niamh Small, Sinead McGirr, Sarah Barnwell, Sarah O’Meara, Carly Baker, Mary Harkin

Railway Union: Helen Stevenson, Eimear Dolan, Isobel Joyce (capt), Holly Jenkinson, Emer Lucey, Emma Smyth, Sinead Walsh, Kate Dillon, Cecelia Joyce, Jean McDonnell, Nikki Evans
Subs: Kate McKenna, Emer Dillon, Patricia O’Dwyer, Ruth Hutchinson, Sarah McDonald, Hannah de Burgh-Whyte, Sinead Dooley

* For more of Adrian Boehm’s photos from the ESB Irish Senior Cup final, click here, for Sportsfile’s set of photos from the game, click here and Inpho’s pics can be found here

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