Loreto Beaufort and Newpark Comprehensive provide an intriguing Leinster Schoolgirls Senior Cup final duo with both seeking a first title in quite some time after they both snuck through via a shoot-out at Grange Road.
For Beaufort, they are through for the first time since 2009, gunning for a first title since 2008, after they got by the challenge of Muckross Park.
Robin McLoughlin was the hero, holding her nerve with the last shoot-out, swerving to escape the attentions of Ava Russell – an expert in this phase of the game in the past – and slotted for a 2-1 success.
Normal time ended 2-2 after a cracking affair. Muckross had most of the play throughout the tie but found Beaufort a supremely spirited opponent who gave them little for free.
The Marlborough Road side – with Irish star Anna O’Flanagan in their coaching team – did take the lead in the second quarter when Sarah McAuley flicked home a penalty corner rebound into the top of the net.
Beaufort, however, stormed back into contention in the second half with a penalty corner of their own worked around the circle to Emily Kealy, switched right to Olivia Brady and then back into the middle, to make it 1-1.
And Kealy added a peach of a second goal 10 minutes later, a brilliant solo effort as she took a sideline ball out on the left, weaved by a few tackles and then cracked home a perfect angled hit into the corner.
From there, it was all hands to the pump as Muckross camped in the Beaufort 23-metre zone, winning three corners that were repelled.
Their equaliser came just four minutes from the end with McAuley, an Irish Under-21 panelist, providing the magic, taking on a quick free on the edge of the circle and she whipped home a reverse-stick shot.
That sent the tie to a shoot-out where Kealy netted the only goal of the first two rounds for an initial advantage. Alex Gallagher’s gorgeous stick work got Muckross level going into the final round of the shoot-out where Ciara Griffin made her fourth save for Beaufort.
That left it in McLoughlin’s hands and she smartly swivelled out of Russell’s reach, providing the queue for a pitch invasion.
Their coach Hannah Matthews, another of the Olympic hockey squad, said it was as nerve-wracking as anything she has been involved in.
“I was trying to keep a game face there but I was just so nervous. The girls are amazing the way take on that pressure,” she said.
Matthews was part of the Beaufort side that won back in 2008, scoring in the 2-1 final win over Alexandra College and she is encouraging the players to “just enjoy every second”.
“They have worked so hard to be there. I said before to the girls that these are still the days – even in the Irish team – that we look back on so much.
First game of our Bumper day of Schools hockey will start at 12noon in @TRRHC . The first semi final of the Secondary schoolgirls Senior cup is between @MuckrossCollege & @LoretoBeaufort pic.twitter.com/9YnbTNo7Uv
— leinsterhockey (@leinsterhockey1) January 15, 2020
“We didn’t do well against them in the league and Muckross are a quality side. We went in as underdogs but that is always a nice position to be in and the girls relished that.”
Matthews heads off today with the national team to South Africa for a warm-weather training camp but the side will be in good hands with ex-international Niamh Small joining the coaching team in the interim.
Newpark’s last final was even further back, winning the crown in 1991 before losing the next year’s decider against St Joseph’s of Cluny in ’92.
They saw off Newbridge College who bowed out for a third successive year at the semi-final stage.
Normal time was an attritional battle with precious little by way of goalmouth action with neither side giving an inch in defence.
The best opening fell to the Kildare outfit’s Mary Enright but Erica Gallagher – a calming influence throughout – cleared well.
She kept her clean sheet in normal time and then saved all four of Newbridge’s efforts in the shoot-out. Lauren Moore and Millie Lynch nailed theirs for a 2-0 success and the final spot.
It was a tough end for Newbridge for whom Caoimhe Byrne and Roisin Sexton excelled with Moore the key Newpark performer.
Goalkeeper Gallagher, meanwhile, extended her incredible run in shoot-outs. Between this semi-final and their quarter-final success against Loreto Foxrock, the fourth year student has now kept out nine shoot-outs in succession.
They can now look forward to a big Senior Cup final date on February 2 at 2pm in Belfield.
Leinster Senior Cup semi-final: Muckross Park 2 (S McAuley 2) Loreto Beaufort 2 (E Kealy 2), Beaufort win shoot-out 2-1; Newpark Comprehensive 0 Newbridge College 0, Newpark win shoot-out 2-0