Beaufort best in the gales

 

SCHOOLS HOCKEY/Leinster Senior Cup Final/Beaufort 2 Alexandra College 1:TWO YEARS ago Loreto Beaufort coach Mary Barnwell had the task of consoling her players after they lost the Leinster Senior Cup final to St Andrew's, stressing to them that the youthfulness and talent of the squad would ensure their day would come.

Yesterday Barnwell, a former Irish international in hockey and athletics, proved to be as good as her word when her team, featuring six of the players from the squad for the 2006 final, returned to Grange Road to win Beaufort their first Leinster Senior Cup since 1982. And one of the six, Hannah Matthews, got the winner.

What made Beaufort's victory all the more impressive was that they had to come back from a goal down against the cup holders, who had yet to concede a score in this season's competition.

When Alexandra, who fielded just four survivors from last year's starting line-up, opened the scoring after only six minutes, when Chloe McDermott got a touch on Hayley O'Donnell's short corner strike, they had the look of a team set to win their school their third Leinster Senior Cup in four years.

Beaufort's players, though, at times displaying a level of skill and flair reminiscent of their coach in her playing days, rose to the challenge. The team's defence was simply outstanding for the remainder of the game, their midfield was brilliantly marshalled by captain and player-of-the-match Aisling Campion, and the attack's pace and energy was a constant source of worry for an Alexandra defence that have proved to have few peers in schools' hockey.

Zara Delany triggered the fightback. Her surging run from midfield almost led to an equaliser after 10 minutes when the winger squared to Sarah Noonan in the circle, but her attempt on goal went just wide of the left post.

Five minutes later, though, the same combination produced Beaufort's equaliser. This time Delany dispossessed a defender on the right before cutting the ball back for Noonan, who tapped it home.

But Alexandra finished the half on top, forcing three more short corners to add to the two they won in the opening spell - a tally of five, then, to Beaufort's none in the first half.

Once Beaufort took the lead, however, three minutes into the second half, they also took a grip of the game, and despite Alexandra's best efforts it proved to be the winning goal.

A wonderful goal it was too. From Beaufort's first short corner of the game Matthews' initial strike was blocked, but after the ball rebounded to her she hit a quite glorious reverse stick shot that flew into the back of the net.

Alexandra, as ever promoted by Nicola Evans, the competition's top scorer this season, fought courageously to get back into the game, but Campion, in the centre of midfield, was having one of those Thou Shalt Not Pass days, winning so many tackles and intercepting so many passes she broke Alexandra hearts.

Zoe Ennis, too, at the centre of the Beaufort defence, excelled, ably supported by Maria O'Dwyer and Aoife O'Leary, with Sarah Barnwell and Sinéad McGirr in midfield and Rachel Maunsell up front ceaseless in their work.

Beaufort, then, will represent Leinster in the All-Ireland Schools' finals later this month at Grange Road. They will be joined in the line-up by reigning champions Royal School Armagh, Sullivan Upper (Ulster runners-up), Jesuits (Connacht), Loreto Wexford (South East) and Munster champions Laurel Hill.

LORETO BEAUFORT: J Duffy, Z Ennis, M O'Dwyer, V Redmond, S Barnwell A Campion, H Matthews, Z Delany, S Noonan, R Maunsell, S McGirr. Subs: A O'Leary, P O'Dwyer, R Murphy, C O'Farrell, J Redmond.

ALEXANDRA COLLEGE: S J Kearney, H O'Donnell, B Delaney, N Evans, H de Burgh Whyte, C McDermott, A Ward, S McDermott, L Lenehan, N Gray, K Macken. Subs: C Gormley, A Freyne, E Menzies, D Duke, A Burke.

Umpires: Linda Ingram, John Keogh.