Electric Ireland Women’s Irish Senior Cup final
UCD 3 (N Atcheler, R O’Reilly, A O’Flanagan) Loreto 2 (H Matthews, N Daly)
Just three years since their last win, an overhauled UCD side claimed their third Irish Senior Cup title courtesy of Anna O’Flanagan’s cool finish five minutes from time.
The inside of the post came to the students rescue as Niamh Small delicately deflected Nikki Symmons’ artfully crafted through-ball.
It was just an ounce too delicate and the metallic ding fell kindly for UCD who countered brilliantly. Niamh Atcheler got a hold of the ball and launched it to Chloe Watkins on the right edge of the Loreto circle, behind the cover defense.
O’Flanagan raised up in support and while the cross did not eliminate Louisa Healy, it had a welcoming angle to dink up and over a sliding keeper, scrambling to get across. It piled on the pain for Loreto seven days after they fell in the Irish Hockey League decider in controversial fashion.
But what Johnny Harte and his team has achieved this term, winning a treble, is made all the more impressive as he only had the experience of one player of the 2009 vintage – captain Laura Wilson – to call on.
Five others had experience Senior Cup finals before but all had been on the losing side. Fittingly, Wilson was to lift the trophy in what could prove to be her last game in a College jersey.
They started in flying form as Nicola Gray swept the first corner of the game left of the Loreto goal where injector Atcheler waited gleefully to push home.
Loreto’s first half form was disjointed but, with Nikki Symmons switched to a midfield role, found a stuttering increase in rhythm by the break. Hannah Matthews capped it with a brilliant ramped touch to Symmons’ slap-shot for 1-1.
And the panache and momentum held true after the turnaround. Nicci Daly almost created the perfect narrative riposte when she finished off a superb interchange with Cathy McKean to put Loreto ahead.
She had been denied a brilliant equaliser a week ago that would have forced extra-time against Railway Union. It felt like a redemptive moment of sorts.
But the students had other ideas, getting back on terms in the 49th minute when Rachel O’Reilly was the last woman off the floor in a goalmouth melee to claim the equaliser, Deirdre Duke and O’Flanagan the instigators.
The closing phase was played out at break-neck pace with Loreto looking the more likely to nab a winner as Daly probed down the right wing. But Brenda Flannery picked off a series of brilliant tackles, protecting her back four from the base of midfield.
And the winning came in that fateful minute. Symmons’ disguise pass picked out Small for a deft touch but the post was kind and Niamh Atcheler retrieved the ball. Her lengthy overhead fell to Watkins and her pass was weighted for O’Flanagan to steal the show.
For coach Harte is was a moment to savour, too, having missed out on the title when coach of Pembroke and he paid tribute to the manner of his side’s victory.
“There was nothing easy all season in our Irish Senior Cup run, really hard and competitive teams throughout. Today could have gone either way in the last 10 or 15 minutes and luckily enough, we got on the right side of it.
“Thank God they hit the post rather than it going in because, at that stage, whichever team scored, it was going to be very difficult to come back so late on.”
UCD: S Davis, S Greene, R O’Reilly, N Gray, L Wilson, C Watkins, B Flannery, N Atcheler, A O’Flanagan, D Duke, D Gorman
Subs: L Ewart, C Hill, K Collins-Smyth, N Farrell, J Deacon
Loreto: L Healy, A Meeke, N Daly, S McGirr, N Symmons, C McKean, R Keegan, L Colvin, N Small, S Clarke, H Matthews
Subs: N Keegan, S Barnwell, O O’Shea, H Mulcahy, J McGirr
Umpires: M Flahive, C Metchette