Battered and bruised Crescent made to wait before landing deserved Kate Russell crown on goal difference

Crescent Comprehensive endured a nerve-wracking two-hour wait to finally be crowned the Kate Russell All-Ireland Schoolgirls Champions on goal difference.

They edged out Banbridge Academy at the head of the table as well as St Andrew’s College and Kilkenny College. It means the two All-Ireland schools titles will reside in Munster at the same time – following Newtown’s October win on the boys’ side – for the very first time.

They shared the lead with Kilkenny overnight but stormed clear early on the second day of the campaign.

Leah Clery scored a hat trick – including two penalty strokes – for a confident 6-1 win over Galway’s Colaiste Iognaid. Her first came in the third minute and it set the tone for a comprehensive victory as first half goals from Sophie Clein and Aoife Hickey were augmented by Clery and Clare O’Meara.

That left them clear at the top and they could have won the title had they taken one of their chances against Kilkenny College in the second game of the day.

Crescent could only draw 0-0, though, as they found the final touch just missing as they held most of the play – in a similar style to their tie with Bann – while Ellie McLoughlin showed her ability between the posts.

The winning Crescent Comprehensive side. Pic: Rob Micallef

It left the door just about ajar for Banbridge Academy and Kilkenny to overhaul the Limerick school on goal difference.

First up, Bann needed to beat the Jes by at least five goals and were 1-0 up at half-time but only two goals came in the second half and so their challenge ended unbeaten on eight points.

Kilkenny, then, needed to beat St Andrew’s by a comprehensive margin but classy goals from Martha McCready and Alex Orr saw the hosts win out 2-0 to nick bronze.

For Crescent, it meant they could finally celebrate their second success in five years and was achieved in spite of horror injuries to Sarah Barry, Aoife Hickey and Elle Sorensen during the tournament.

“It was horrible to be honest!” coach Cathal Duggan told the Hook of the wait. “I couldn’t even watch the second game. It’s was nerve-wracking, I have no nails left. Eight points is a ridiculously low total to win this competition but it shows the quality and this was a serious standard across the board.”

Reflecting on the two days, Duggan – who was assisted by Limerick hurling legend Gary Kirby – said there a number of key moments.

“Our whole tournament hinged on that opening win over St Andrew’s and we had everything set towards that. We edged that and it set us up. We felt a bit down after the draw with Banbridge at the time but it was a huge result in the end.

“Sarah Barry – who broke her jaw – spoke last night about what it meant to her for the side to go on the next day. It felt just like everything was clicking and a speech like that really set us on our way.”

“It’s massive,” Duggan said afterwards. “Not just for us and Limerick but for Munster, it shows we are well able to compete on the national stage at such a good tournament.

“Last year, we lost in the Munster final but we had a lot of predominantly transition years so I thought we might have a chance this year or next but we snuck it through.

“We took a really heavy league defeat to Mount Mercy before Christmas and it forced us to re-evaluate who we were as a team and all the players stood up. The other thing is our three senior teams are in the Senior A, Senior B and Senior C finals – there is such competition at training which has massively helped us achieve what we have.”

Kate Russell All-Ireland Schoolgirl Championships – day two results
Colaiste Iognaid 1 Crescent Comprehensive 6 (L Clery 3, S Clein, A Hickey, C O’Meara); St Andrew’s College 0 Banbridge Academy 1 (K McDonald); Crescent Comprehensive 0 Kilkenny College 0; Banbridge Academy 3 Colaiste Iognaid 0; Kilkenny College 0 St Andrew’s College 2 (M McCready, A Orr)

Standings: 1. Crescent Comprehensive 8pts (+6) 2. Banbridge Academy 8pts (+4) 3. St Andrew’s College 6pts (+3) 4. Kilkenny College 5pts (0) 5. Colaiste Iognaid 0pts (-13)

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