Leinster Schoolgirls Senior Cup final
Loreto Beaufort 1 (E Kealy) Newpark Comprehensive 0
Emily Kealy wrote her name in Leinster Schoolgirls Senior Cup folklore as she whipped home a penalty stroke five minutes from time to earn Loreto Beaufort their first title in a dozen years at Belfield.
For Beaufort’s Hannah Matthews, she already had her place in the record books thanks to her winner in the 2008 final and she now has a head coach’s medal to her name.
“It is so much worse watching, let me tell you!” she said of the emotions with her nerves well and truly shredded.
“I wish I was out there on the pitch! The girls did brilliantly, they held their nerve all the way through. Newpark were really tough to play against and it could have gone either way.”
Matthews was one of two young female coaches marshalling their sides with both her and counterpart Anna Richardson under 30, probably the youngest coaching rivalry in this storied competition and the first all-female one since 2009.
And it was a largely tactical battle that played out with Milly Lynch and Lauren Moore propelling Newpark’s moves from the spine of their side while Beaufort were more expansive via Kealy and Olivia Brady.
Nonetheless, it was entertaining fare. The decision by the schoolgirls committee to move the tie to a Sunday from its regular midweek slot caused something of a stir.
The plan was to open the marquee event up to a wider cross-section of the hockey public and they were rewarded with a vibrant Sunday afternoon crowd who came in big numbers, providing constant noise and colour.
And they almost had a goal to savour in the first minute when Zoe Watterson’s upright reverse went inches wide as Loreto keeper Ciara Griffin showed ice-cool judgement to shepherd it by the post.
It was part of a big start from the Blackrock school but it was a tie marked by phases of dominance and Beaufort soon had their spell and won the game’s first corner in the 13th minute.
Erika Gallagher booted it away, drawing chants of “ooh, aah, Erika” as the transition year student continued her outstanding run in the Senior Cup.
Incredibly, she had not conceded in four rounds to date, including two shoot-outs in the quarter and semi-finals and she was to be a rock between the posts. Two more corners were repelled before half-time.
Again, Newpark started the second half the stronger with Watterson’s baseline skills causing consternation. At the far end, Ana Kennedy’s crash was deflected across the face of goal by Olivia Meagher while Kealy’s rasper was saved against by Gallagher.
The tension heightened, the songs got louder and cheekier as Newpark had their big chance. Watterson’s ball in fell between Orla Gul and Jennifer Sheeran and it would not sit just right for either, allowing Griffin to get a vital tip around the post.
Into the last 10 minutes, they earned their first two corners but, from the latter one, Beaufort created their winner as Eilis O’Neill retrieved the ball from the breakdown and lashed it out to the left wing to her captain Aisling Murray.
She tore at the heart of the Newpark defence, twisting one way and the next where her bobbling reverse-stick shot came up and into a defensive body. It led to a corner which Murray took on herself at the left edge and her shot hit Lauren Moore’s foot in the goalmouth.
A stroke ensued, the crowd hushed as Kealy took centre-stage to win the day. She struck two crackers in the semi-final and coach Matthews said “she has everything in her arsenal, a great goalscorer”.
It has been quite the run for Beaufort who have missed out on the Senior Premier semi-finals and could even miss out on a place in the Claudia Tierney playoffs.
But, on the biggest stage, they have produced the goods; Matthews, though, has clearly imbued some of the self-confidence gained from her time with the Irish women’s squad into her squad.
“Even when I’m playing no matter, who we come up against, there is always a little person on my shoulder who says ‘it could be us’. We always believed and in cup anything can happen.
“It was nervy from both teams at the start but, after the first quarter, we showed the hockey we could play, opened the game up really well.”
Beaufort follow Loreto Kilkenny into the Kate Russell All-Ireland Championships with Matthews hoping to outdo the school’s runners-up title from 2008.
“Anything’s possible! Hopefully we can go one better this time!”
Loreto HS, Beaufort: C Griffin, S Dalton, R Flynn, G Wright, K Quinlivan, E O’Neill, R McLoughlin, E Kealy, G O’Connor, H Kennedy, E Tobin, A Kennedy, C Evans, O Meagher, O Brady, L Hayes, A McCabe, A Murray
Newpark Comprehensive: E Gallagher, A Paul, M Lynch, J Whelan, M O’Connor, A Grogan, L Adams, L Moore, D Rankin, J Sheahan, O Gul, L Bennett, Z Watterson, S Hamilton, I Hamilton, L Tierney, S Hudson Fowler
Umpires: L Daley, S Canning