Sarah McAuley’s incredible upright reverse-stick shot saw Leinster somehow get on course for interprovincial glory, nicking the title from Ulster at Under-18 level via a shoot-out.
It meant a blue double with the Under-16s storming to four wins from four without conceding throughout, Zoe Watterson’s single goal against Ulster providing the crucial moment.
At the higher age group, the tournament looked set for an Ulster-Leinster showdown on Sunday afternoon from early enough in the tournament following some strong wins.
Ulster got off to a flyer on Friday with a 5-0 win over Connacht and a 3-1 success against Munster. Leinster backed up an opening 2-1 win over South East before winning 5-1 against Connacht and 3-0 against Munster. The northern province kept pace with a 1-0 win over the South East, leaving both sides on nine points after three games, making the last game all or nothing.
The tournament this year has done away with goal difference and so neither side could rest on their laurels, playing for a draw, with a shoot-out required in that eventuality.
And so it came to pass in the most dramatic of fashions. Ellen Reid’s fine reverse-stick goal in the first half gave Ulster the advantage, a 1-0 lead they took into half time and beyond.
Leinster ratcheted up the pressure a notch in front of a large crowd at Grange Road but the northern province looked to be weathering the storm with some solid defence around the circle with dangerous counters.
The home side kept plugging away, though, and won a penalty corner with nine seconds left on the clock. Lisa Mulcahy’s first up shot was charged down but the ball popped up into the swing of McAuley who lashed at it on her backhand, a breathtaking strike that thundered into the bottom corner.
The 1-1 draw meant a shoot-out lifeline for Leinster. There, the first series of five ended 2-2 while the first round of sudden death did not advance the scoring. Martha McCready converted a very composed effort to pile the pressure on and goalkeeper Ellie McLoughlin stood her ground – as she did throughout – to keep out Ulster’s last effort, sparking the celebrations.
At Under-16 levelt, Leinster bossed things from the start with back-to-back 3-0 wins on Friday, seeing off Connacht and Munster. With Ulster and South East drawing 0-0 – the red hands winning the shoot-out – it left Leinster four points clear after day one.
Crucially, they beat Ulster 1-0 on day two thanks to Watterson’s goal, a result which maintained that four-point lead, this time without having played an extra game.
Munster were the only side that could catch the blues but needed to win both of their Sunday games and get a favour from elsewhere. They did the first half of their target with a 3-1 win over Connacht but any late drama was avoided when Leinster ran up a 4-0 win over the South East with Milly Lynch on the double.
Girls Inteprovincials (all at Grange Road, Rathfarnham)
Under-18: Ulster 5 (M Dougan 2, H Dougan, J Hood, O Mullan) Connacht 0; South East 1 (R Gardiner) Leinster 2 (G Lewis, E Dawson); Munster 1 (A Horan) Ulster 3 (N Benallal, O Mullan, E Reid)
Under-16: Leinster 3 (L Moore, S Dix, O O’Brien) Connacht 0; South East 0 Ulster 0, Ulster win shoot-out; Munster 0 Leinster 3 (S Dix, A Naughton, A Purcell)
Under-18: South East 1 (R Kelly) Connacht 0; Leinster 3 (M McCready 2, G Keane) Munster 0; South East 0 Ulster 1; Leinster 5 (N Torrans 2, K-J Marshall 2, E Dawson) Connacht 1 (Kelly)
Under-16: Ulster 2 (Craig, Armstrong) Connacht 0; South East 1 Munster 3 (O’Shea 2, Hally); Leinster 1 (Z Watterson) Ulster 0; South East 1 (A Williams) Connacht 0
Sunday, September 23
Under-18: South East 0 Munster 2 (L Clery 2); Leinster 1 (S McAuley) Ulster 1 (E Reid), Leinster win shoot-out 3-2; Munster 2 Connacht 0
Under-16: Connacht 1 (Kelly) Munster 3 (L Cripps, L O’Shea, A O’Rourke); South East 0 Leinster 4 (Lynch 2, Purcell, Griffin); Ulster 1 (Craig) Munster 0
Under-16s: 1. Leinster 12pts 2. Ulster 8pts 3. Munster 6pts 4. South East 4pts 5. Connacht 0pts
Under-18: 1. Leinster 11pts 2. Ulster 10pts 3. Munster 6pts 4. South East 3pts 5. Connacht 0pts