Scoil Chríost Rí 3-13 Loreto Wexford 2-9
They say it's the hope that gets you. There was plenty of that going into this Lidl Ladies Post Primary Schools Leinster Senior 'A' football final in Eire Óg, Carlow, on Monday afternoon last.
Loreto had beaten their opponents, the defending champions no less, just two months earlier. Almost to emphasise the good vibes, the Wexford school got off to a blistering start, shredding Scoil Chríost Rí time and again.
Vitally though, during that purple patch in the opening minutes, when the Portlaoise school were almost exclusively camped in their own half, Loreto only managed three points. They kicked four wides, took some bad options and lost a lot of energy on a heavy pitch.
On the contrary, Scoil Chríost Rí had their burst right after half-time. It was a period that saw them score 1-7 in eleven minutes. Loreto couldn't stem the flow, they couldn't get out, they suffocated under the brilliance of Erone Fitzpatrick and Emma Lawlor.
Do the math, 1-7 to 0-3 in their powerful spells - seven points - the winning margin. Still, other things hurt Loreto too, their opponents took their chances and sometimes they only needed a sniff of goal.
The goals that dip under the crossbar are killers. They are invariably unstoppable for the goalkeeper and a big feature of the ladies game. Portlaoise got one through Sarah Larkin right at the end of the first half, it was a monumental blow at a time when Loreto were looking good.
Overall, there is little comfort to be taken losing a final, especially one that was there for the winning, but the Spawell Road girls can at least be satisfied that gave it all they had, deep into added-time, with the game beyond them they kept pushing and never gave up.
They had three wides on the board before they opened the scoring in the fourth minute through Emma Codd. The St Martin's clubwoman went on to have a fantastic first half, attacking in tandem with Rachel Bennett down the right.
Following another Loreto wide, Bennett made it 0-2 to nil after strong work by Lettie Whelan to win back possession. The Wexford girls summed up their start when roving sweeper Niamh Dunne raced back forty metres to dispossess Fitzpatrick before starting a move that Bennett ended with a score.
The only time Scoil Chríost Rí burst past the Loreto '45 in the opening stages, Fitzpatrick fed Lawlor and she smacked a rocket from outside the twenty into the top corner of Sally Walker's net. It was the first goal she conceded in the campaign, an unstoppable shot.
It rocked Loreto for a few minutes but they regained the initiative.
Becky Hamilton ensured they had the lead right at the end of the first quarter with a nice score from the right before Dunne again started a move that went through Emma Cousins and Hamilton before ending with Rachel Bennett firing home past Jasmine Burke.
From the resulting kick-out, Codd won possession and drilled her second point of the game to make it 1-5 to 1-0. The contest was more even at this stage; Lawlor and Fitzpatrick did respond at the other end to put a goal between the sides.
Back came Loreto. Lettie Whelan tapped over from close range before Codd picked off a stunning point from the right wing. Despite leading 1-7 to 1-2 after 25 minutes, Loreto failed to take the lead in at the break.
Sarah Larkin was let run too far without a proper tackle, however, she was wide on the right and was probably going for a point before it dipped under the crossbar to really damage Loreto.
Two quick minors from Lawlor levelled the contest and from nowhere Scoil Chríost Rí were back in it (1-7 to 2-4).
The message at the interval from the Portlaoise mentors was that the first ten minute period after half-time was crucial. In fairness, Paudge Brennan and David Crowdle were probably delivering the same message to their charges but it was Portlaoise who responded to it.
Loreto had put a lot into the first half and looked jaded as six points in a row, from Jennifer O'Neill (twice), Isabella O'Toole, Orla Hennessy and Lawlor (2) sent Portlaoise into the lead. Such was the pressure that a goal seemed inevitable and it came - again made by Fitzpatrick, scored by Lawlor - in the 42nd minute.
When O'Toole registered her second point in the 43rd minute, her school had scored 2-9 without reply, either side of half time. There was sure to be a Loreto response but now down by ten (2-11 to 1-7) it needed to be big.
Michelle Carty performed admirably after her introduction, she was involved as Ciara Banville found enough space to sneak home past Jasmine Burke. Tails up, Carty won a penalty seconds later and suddenly Loreto looked to be back in the game.
Carty was one-on-one with Burke when she was denied a goal but the 'keeper wasn't sinbinned. To make matters worse, the goalmouth was in an awful state, making the penalty takers job far more difficult than usual.
After referee Jonathan Murphy walked out the distance to the spot, Sarah Harding Kenny stepped up to the kick in the mud-bath, she made a good connection but it was straight at Burke and the 'keeper made the save.
Lawlor went up and pointed at the other end to add salt to the wound. Emily Coakley returned from over a year-long injury absence with a point in the 51st minute before Harding Kenny fired a close range shot wide.
Lawlor again made the gap eight (3-13 to 2-8) as the game ticked into the final minute. Bennett tapped over a free and Loreto laid siege to the Portlaoise goal but there was no way back for the Wexford girls as Scoil Chríost Rí retained their Leinster title.
Scoil Chríost Rí: Jasmine Burke; Niamh Crowley, Rebecca Reddin, Ciara Byrne; Zoe Keegan, Elaine Daly, Julia Cahill; Sarah Larkin (1-0), Erone Fitzpatrick (0-1); Isabella O'Toole (0-2), Emma Lawlor (2-7, 0-3 frees), Jenna Murphy; Amy Byrne, Jennifer O'Neill (0-2), Orla Hennessy (0-1). Subs: Aoife Daly for Keegan (41), Kiahara Dempsey for Crowley (54), also, Aoife Conlon-Hyland, Ellen Miller, Shauna Dooley, Lisa Keane, Aishling Fitzpatrick, Charlie Walsh, Amy Keane.
Loreto Wexford: Sally Walker; Clodagh Jackman, Sadbh McCarthy (joint-capt.), Annie O'Gorman; Aisling Halligan, Sarah Harding Kenny, Megan Carty; Emma Cousins, Lettie Whelan (0-1); Emma Codd (joint-capt., 0-3), Rachel Bennett (1-3, 0-1 free), Julia Dempsey; Niamh Dunne, Becky Hamilton (0-1), Ciara Banville (1-0). Subs. - Anna Hennessy for Carty (38), Michelle Carty for Cousins (38), Emily Coakley (0-1) for Hamilton (42), Aisling Gouldson for Dempsey (52), also, Caitlin Carroll, Liadh Dwyer, Eva Creane, Maura Molloy, Niamh O'Connor, Mollie Bates, Ann Marie Bennett.
Referee: Jonathan Murphy (Carlow)