Uniphar Under 18 Girls Interprovincial Final
Munster 1-1 Ulster (Munster win shootout 3-2)
Munster took the Uniphar Under 18 Girls Interprovincial title coming from behind to equalise with the final play of the game and then beat Ulster in a shootout.
The northern province looked to have done enough when Sophie Kidd gave them the lead with only eight minutes remaining but with time expired Sarah Fitzgerald’s effort from a penalty corner found the back of the Ulster net.
“To be honest we were very happy and positive with the way we were playing and we had a number of corners we didn’t convert so to put the last one away, I think we felt we deserved at least one,” said Munster coach Yvonne O’Bryne afterwards.
The former Irish international knows a thing or two about winning and losing shootouts. She was a member of the 2018 World Cup squad who reached the final after beating India and Spain on the way after penalty shuttles and she had a special mention for match winner O’Farrell.
“She actually missed one in midweek in the Schools Cup and St Angela’s went out so she had a point to prove to herself and everyone else and I’d always put my house on her to score.”
When the two sides met in November, Ulster had won 3-2 so the final was expected to be tight but the direct style of play from both teams led to an entertaining opening to the game.
The strong running of O’Farrell and Fitzgerald was causing Ulster’s defence problems while Eva Gaston, a product of Dalriada, the same school as Ireland senior captain Katie Mullan, was controlling midfield and linking well for Ulster with forwards Kidd and Gabriella Scott.
Attacking endeavour, however, was countered by robust defending from both sides.
The best opportunity of the first half fell to Ulster. After winning the ball in midfield, Gaston’s pass found Kidd and the Ards forward stepped into a reverse stick shot that caused Faye Luby to make a great save. From the resulting penalty corner the Catholic Institute goalkeeper stuck out a right boot to deny Alex Byrne’s goal bound effort.
With the last play of the half, O’Farrell forced another penalty corner for Munster but Fitzgerald’s reverse stick shot was wide of the mark.
Aine Power was becoming more of a factor with her stick handling ability cutting in from the right wing and she set Cork Harlequins team mate O’Farrell up for a shooting chance that went wide.
Ulster began the final quarter strongly and turned their pressure into the opening goal with eight minutes left in the game.
Gaston found Scott and after her powerful run into the circle, she picked out Kidd and her effort looped up and over the sprawling Lucy Nixon, now in goal for Munster.
Nixon then stopped Kidd doubling Ulster’s advantage from a penalty corner and it proved crucial.
As time expired Munster won a penalty corner and with the final play of the game, they slipped the ball to Fitzgerald and her shot took a couple of deflections but found it’s way into the goal to equalise.
It was on to a shootout and two saves from Aoife Doyle and conversions for Gaston and Kidd had Ulster ahead 2-1 after three shuttles but Campbell scored for Munster and Nixon produced a vital stop setting the stage for O’Farrell to score. When Edwards missed it was Munster who celebrated a victory at the end of an entertaining game.
O’Byrne added, “I think it’s fairly exciting for Irish hockey. The level of skill and technical ability at under-18 level is so much higher than when I was coming through. The game is getting faster and being played at a higher level which is great to see.”
Her opposite number, Ulster’s Suzanne Evans agreed, “It was a great game of hockey and we are disappointed but I hope there will be some big opportunities moving forward for these girls. This is an important age group with decisions being made about their futures but I hope they keep hockey as a priority and that their game progresses at club and maybe international level as well.”