Mighty Muckross in seventh Senior Cup heaven

Leinster Schoolgirls Senior Cup final
Muckross Park 2 (N Shaw, A Flynn) St Gerard’s 1 (M O’Toole)
Ninety-nine years since they won the very first schoolgirls Leinster Senior Cup crown, Muckross Park landed their seventh title – and first for 20 years – with a thoroughly composed 2-1 win over St Gerard’s.

At the heart of it were numerous key elements: an aggressive press that worked throughout, a composed back four who gave up precious few inches and some star turns from Niamh Shaw and Katie Fitzgerald, much to the delight of a capacity crowd at Grange Road.

Shaw bagged the first goal before Megan O’Toole equalised with a superbly taken penalty corner touch. But Aoife Flynn sealed the deal in the second half with seriously sharp reactions to pot a second half goal that ultimately got her side over the line.

They were good value for the win, penning St Gerard’s – in their third cup final in succession – into their own 23m area and forcing pressurised mistakes from their out-letting. Fitzgerald was instrumental, running tirelessly, allowing the likes of Louise McGrane and Rachel Cuddy to pick up the pieces.

Muckross celebrating their victory. Pic: Adrian Boehm

From this route, they won a first corner as Cuddy’s shot wreaked havoc with Niamh Longstaff’s vital stick-save bouncing onto a defensive foot. The corner was swept by Shaw but charged down to eventual safety.

The second corner, though, was powered home by Shaw with real venom, Longstaff getting a strong touch on it but not enough to keep out the chance.

Muckross fans enjoying the day. Pic: Adrian Boehm

Shaw – one of two Leinster Under-18 players on display – was a pivotal figure. Whenever balls broke beyond their forward press, she was on hand to clean up the pieces. Clodagh Ferry, Ellie Fitzgerald and Sarah McAuley, they laid an awesome

St Gerard’s did, however, strike back two minutes before the half-time break from their first shot on goal. It was cleverly worked, switching the ball left to Robyn Murray who fired a disguised pass to Megan O’Toole at the right post to touch home for 1-1.

The midfield battle between St Gerard’s vs Muckross Park. Pic: Adrian Boehm

It came from their most fluid move with Hillary Gallagher’s graceful spin and exchange on the right wing key in the build-up.

Muckross regrouped quickly and always looked the more likely to land the win. It came from a fast break, instigated by captain Rachel Cuddy. Flynn’s first up shot was saved by Longstaff but her quick reactions retrieved the ball to scramble home.

St Gerard’s defence had proven a stubborn nut to crack with Eleanor Dunne, Leonie Delaney and Robyn Murray making key tackles while Lara Burke was dynamic from left-back.

St Gerard’s celebrate Megan O’Toole’s goal. Pic: Adrian Boehm

The Bray side endeavoured to bounce back as the game became more fractured with Phoebe Norwood pushing them on but no clear sight of goal came. Muckross, meanwhile, almost stole in a trio of times but the insurance goal proved elusive.

It was not required, though, and the Donnybrook side take their place in the All-Ireland Kate Russell Schoolgirls Championships in Banbridge in a fortnight’s time.

Niamh Longstaff gets a crucial touch to deny a Muckross attack. Pic: Adrian Boehm

There they will meet the hosting Academy, Galway’s Colaiste Iognaid, Ursuline Thurles and Kilkenny College who won the South East Cup on Wednesday with a 5-0 win over Loreto Kilkenny.

Muckross Park: A Russell, C Ferry, R Cuddy, N Shaw, S McAuley, L O’Byrne, S Maleady, K Duddy, E Fitzgerald, A Flynn, L McGrane, K Fitzgerald, I Maleady, C Browne, F McNulty, G Lanigan, L Murphy

St Gerard’s: N Longstaff, L Delaney, R Murray, R Rock, E Dunne, L Burke, L Warde, H Gallagher, R Cullen, E Moroney, J Magee, M O’Toole, M O’Connor, L Geraghty, K Glenanne, E Malone, L Fahy

Umpires: A Keogh, R Abbott

Aoife Flynn celebrates her winning goal. Pics: Adrian Boehm

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