MU Barnhall created more history as back-to-back Energia All-Ireland Women’s Junior Cup champions, following a hard-fought 15-6 final win over the Tuam/Oughterard Colts in Mullingar this afternoon.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND WOMEN’S JUNIOR CUP FINAL:
Saturday, January 13 –
TUAM/OUGHTERARD COLTS 6 MU BARNHALL 15, Mullingar RFC
Scorers: Tuam/Oughterard Colts: Pens: Éabha Nic Dhonnacha 2
MU Barnhall: Tries: Lauren Patterson, Rebecca Francis; Con: Ciara Faulkner; Pen: Ciara Faulkner
HT: Tuam/Oughterard Colts 6 MU Barnhall 5
Inaugural winners of the competition last season, MU Barnhall had to dig deep before a late 10-point blitz secured a memorable victory for Niamh Fitzgerald’s side.
Having enjoyed a superb first two seasons in existence as a senior squad, Tuam/Oughterard’s young guns were looking to make a splash at a national level after becoming the first Connacht club to reach the Junior Cup final.
Owen Lydon, one of their coaches, said ‘you don’t know how good you are as a Women’s team until you play the Leinster teams’, and the Colts are right up there judging by how close they ran Barnhall.
Two Éabha Nic Dhonnacha penalties had them dreaming of All-Ireland glory, establishing a 6-5 half-time lead at Shay Murtagh Park, before Barnhall captain Ciara Faulkner kicked her side back in front late on.
With injuries hampering Tuam/Oughterard, Barnhall clinically put the seal on the result with prop Rebecca Francis’ last-minute maul try which was brilliantly converted by Faulkner.
It was the Colts who settled first thanks to a third-minute penalty from Connacht starlet Nic Dhonnacha. However, the lead lasted just eight minutes as Barnhall, who had beaten Malone and Tullamore to reach their second successive decider, quickly hit back.
Faulkner’s strong run inside the opposition 22 sucked in the Tuam/Oughterard defence, allowing winger Patterson to crash over in the left corner for the game’s opening try.
The first-time finalists suffered a further blow in the 20th minute when second row Gráinne Hahessy was sin-binned. In her absence, they almost crossed the whitewash but scrum half Rachel Forkan was deemed to have been held up on the Barnhall line.
With limited scoring chances at both ends, a second penalty from Nic Dhonnacha gave her team a one-point lead at the interval. Barnhall had to soak up some more pressure during the third quarter but their defence was resolute.
Tuam/Oughterard had nothing to show for their dominance of possession and also lost some key players, with Nia Lydon, captain Sarah-Jane Fox, and Abigail Gibbons all coming off with serious-looking injuries.
Lock Gibbons’ injury in the 72nd minute resulted in a ten-minute delay while she was attended to and then stretchered off. When play resumed, it was Barnhall, driven on by the Leinster-capped Katelynn Doran at number 8, who seized control.
While the second half may have lacked scores, the sheer intensity, tackling and amount of turnovers won by both sides certainly made up for it. You could not take your eyes off it as the outcome hung in the balance.
With 76 minutes on the clock, Fitzgerald’s charges were presented with a golden opportunity with a penalty dead straight in front of the posts. Back on her hometown pitch, Mullingar native Faulkner made no mistake to leave it 8-6 on the scoreboard.
It got even better for the reigning Leinster League champions in added time when they put the result beyond doubt with their second try – and it was all about the forwards.
A well-controlled lineout drive into the corner ended with Francis powering over, much to the delight of the Barnhall support. From a difficult angle, Faulkner nailed the conversion before referee Mark Hynes called time on this intriguing encounter.
The silverware certainly marks Barnhall out as the standard bearers at this level. They showed their experience at key stages, but Tuam/Oughterard, having been within minutes of winning, will be even more determined to dethrone them if they meet again next season.
TUAM/OUGHTERARD COLTS: Hannah Clarke; Nia Lydon, Éabha Nic Dhonnacha, Amy Burns, Dominika Lukasik; Emma Burns, Rachel Forkan; Niamh Corless, Sarah-Jane Fox (capt), Holly Daly, Abigail Gibbons, Gráinne Hahessy, Aebha Lydon, Beibhinn Gleeson, Karly Tierney.
Replacements used: Rhona O’Dea, Katie Creaven, Fodhla Ní Bhraonain, Aoife O’Callaghan, Aifric Ní Ghibne.
MU BARNHALL: Ava Gleeson; Alex Casey, Ciara Faulkner (capt), Sinead Farrell, Lauren Patterson; Órfhlaith Murray, Nias Jaime Bouquet; Holly Lowney, Emma Kiernan, Rebecca Francis, Alannah Fraser, Ali Howick, Sarah Haughian, Prudence Isaac, Katelynn Doran.
Replacements used: Emily Byrne, Niamh Quinn, Amy Rushton, Brooke Fagan Merrigan.
Referee: Mark Hynes (IRFU)