Hockey – All-Ireland Schoolgirls Cup 2016 Tournament Preview

Crescent team

This year’s SUBWAY® All Ireland Schoolgirls Championship will be hosted by Crescent College, Limerick, on Thursday 10th and Friday, 11th March. This is the first year that the SUBWAY® brand will sponsor the tournament and teams from across the country will compete for the prestigious title of SUBWAY® All-Ireland Schoolgirls Champions.

These players are amongst the best of young Irish talent coming through the ranks.

The competition features the five regional Senior Cup winners. Munster champions Crescent are the reigning champions from 2015 but will face stiff opposition from Leinster’s Alexandra College, Ulster’s Methodist College, Connacht’s Salerno and the South East’s Loreto Kilkenny.

Check out the full background of each of this year’s competitors:

Crescent College Comprehensive (Munster)

Coach: Sean O’Callaghan, Captain: Aisling Horan. Players to watch: Jenny Clein, Jane Kirby, Aebhfhinn Burke

Route to the Kate Russell: First round – 2-2 vs Mount Mercy, won 5-0 in replay; Second round – 5-0 vs St Angela’s; Semi-final – 3-2 vs Bandon; Final – 0-0 vs Mount Mercy, won on strokes

The reigning champions bring a huge amount of last years’ experience to the table for this year’s competition on home turf as they aim to win back-to-back titles. Fifteen of last year’s panel are available once again, 10 of whom have played on Munster representative sides in recent times, either at Under-18 or Under-16 level. Jenny Clein was part of the wider Irish Under-18 panel and is one to watch, as are Jane Kirby and Aebhfhinn Burke, the latter of whom was the top scorer in the 2015 edition of the competition.

Maebh O’Sullivan and Ciara Murphy are leading the school’s impressive goal-scoring charts this season, scoring a massive 98 times across 22 games this season. Twelve different players scored in their league campaign, showing the width of their attacking options.

Munster-based journalist Alan Good described them as the “epitome of a team” with a quick-passing style as they look to play the game at a high octane pace.

Indeed, this helped the side sweep to the Munster league title but they found the cup a really tough battle. They eventually saw off Mount Mercy in a replay in the first round only to meet the Cork side in the final once again – the province employs a back-door system for its cup. Again, precious little could separate the sides as normal time ended 0-0 with the Limerick side prevailing on strokes.

Coach Sean O’Sullivan is wary of the challenges ahead, saying: “You would have to think Alex are favourites with their five players in and around the Irish panel. I saw their semi-final and finals in Leinster and they were very impressive.”

Alexandra College (Leinster) : Coach: Miles Warren, Captain: Freya McDermott. Players to watch: Katherine Egan, Sophie Roopnarinesingh, Issy Delamar

Route to the Kate Russell: First round – bye; Second round – 6-0 vs Mount Sackville; Quarter-final – 2-0 vs King’s Hospital; Semi-final –  1-0 vs Loreto, Foxrock; Final – 4-2 vs St Gerard’s

Champions in 2012, Alexandra College became the most successful side in the Leinster girls Senior Cup history in February when their 4-2 win over St Gerard’s saw them land their 13th title. They did so with an impressive squad that features five members of the Irish Under-18 panel of 30 players including Freya McDermott, Ava Beatty, Sophie Roopnarinesingh, Issy Delamar and Katherine Egan.

Defensively, they went ten games in the lead-up to the final without conceding a goal with Ciara Nugent in goal outstanding. In attack, McDermott’s corners are a feature as is the pace of Beatty and Egan while Roopnarinesingh’s close skills are superb to watch.

McDermott and Roopnarinesingh are looking to follow in the trail blazed by their older sisters Hannah and Anna who both won the Kate Russell in 2012. Indeed, Roopnarinesingh’s mother Carolanne holds a unique place in the competition history with two All-Irelands with separate schools – 1982 with Loreto Beaufort, scoring two goals, and 1985 with St Columba’s College.

They won the Leinster Premier League title, too, showing their prowess. Looking at the tournament, coach Miles Warren said of the opposition: “Crescent have massive ambition on their side to defend the title, especially in front of their own crowd – they will be massive opposition.

“The Ulster teams are always strong too,” he adds, citing that the northern province has provided the winner three times in the last five years.

“The conditions of the tournament are incredibly tough, playing four games in two days. You have to use a full squad of 18. We have that, players I am happy to rotate and rest in some matches if we have the opportunity to.”

Loreto Kilkenny (South East)

Coach: Aine Connery

Assistant Coach: Michele Morris

Captain: Sarah Browne

Road to the Kate Russell: Semi-final – 2-1 vs Kilkenny College; Final – 2-0 vs Loreto Wexford

It has been an incredible couple of weeks on the sporting front for Loreto Kilkenny. Last Saturday, their camogie side played in the All-Ireland final while their cross-country team claimed silver at senior and intermediate level in Sligo. Their hockey side, meanwhile, will be going for gold having broken Kilkenny College’s stranglehold on the South East title this year.

It was a fine turnaround for Loreto, especially having lost to College in the league final earlier in the season. The team showed great character to rise from that defeat and build on the positive aspects from the match to turn things around against the same opposition in the cup semi-final. It was their first win over Kilkenny College in five seasons and their sixth regional title in total.

Captain Sara Browne said of the win: “We’ve been attempting to get into the Kate Russell since I first stepped onto the hockey pitch in Loreto Kilkenny. We decided in our pre-season development that it was time for change, and it was up to us senior players to bring about that change.

“We have worked incredibly hard to achieve South East glory and we are not about to sit back and let this opportunity at the All-Ireland pass us by.”

Ten players will be able to draw on experience of representing the South East in the interprovincial competition. They are guided by an Irish great, Aine Connery, as head coach and she is looking forward to seeing what her side can do.

“The team have worked extremely hard during the year and I was delighted that their efforts paid off with a win in the South East Cup Final,” she said.

“They have shown great character and strength during the year. Their success is due to great team performances. Every member has had an impact on our journey to date. The team are looking forward to the challenge and the experience the Kate Russell will give them. I remember playing in the Kate Russell when I was a student and it was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my hockey career. I hope the same for this team.”

Methodist College

Coach: Fiona McIlwaine

Assistant coach: Carmel Hart

Captain: Katie Larmour

Player to watch: Katie Larmour

Route to Kate Russell: Quarter-final – 3-2 on strokes vs BRA; Semi-final – 1-0 vs Royal School Armagh; Final – 1-0 vs Sullivan Upper

While Methodist College are the most decorated school in the Ulster schoolgirls Senior Cup, their victory was a huge surprise in the northern province as they beat Sullivan Upper 1-0 in the final last week.

It was their first final since 1993, long before any of the current vintage were born, and their first victory since 1988 with the vast majority of their success coming either side of World War I. Their route to glory was an especially hard fought one, getting through the quarter-final on strokes against BRA before Holly Bennison scored the only goal in a 1-0 semi-final win over Royal School, Armagh.

Katie Larmour scored the only goal in the final with just four minutes to go from her side’s eighth penalty corner. There was no more fitting player than her to score the winner after a player of the match performance; she is their star player having represented the Irish Under-18s last summer.

Reflecting on the final to the Belfast Telegraph, Larmour said of the success: “The Ulster final was a difficult one for us. We went in as the underdogs and that’s not always a bad thing. Credit to Sullivan who made it hard for us throughout.

“Overall, it was an enjoyable day for us, and our coaches, and one we all won’t forget in a hurry. And now that we have won, we can look forward to going to Limerick for the Subway All Ireland Schoolgirls Championship.”

Susie McCollum provides another scoring threat up front while Jodie Savage and Madison Bowyer are also players to watch.

Salerno (Connacht)

Coach: Gerry Heaney

Captain: Rebecca Gilligan

Players to watch: Sarah Dunleavy, Kate Matthews

Route to the Kate Russell: Semi-final – 3-1 vs Taylor’s Hill; Palmer Cup final – 2-0 vs Colaiste Iognaid

Despite having just one Leaving Certificate student in their ranks, Salerno already have plenty of Kate Russell All-Ireland Championships experience with this being their third successive shot at the national competition.

They have had a fine season to date, drawing just one game and winning the rest from their league and cup campaigns to date in Connacht. Sixteen of their 18 players in the squad have provincial caps while coach Gerry Heaney has previously worked with the Irish Under-18 coaching team and was the Connacht Under-18 coach this term, too.

Sarah Dunleavy was part of the Irish Under-16 panel last summer and will once again line out for Ireland later this month in a series against Scotland. Goalkeeper Kate Matthews is also part of that extended panel. Indeed, six Salerno players were involved in Under-16 trials for the national panel, showing they have time on their hands.

And Heaney says harnessing that energy will be key for his team: “We may be at a bit of a disadvantage because we are so young but that youthful exuberance will also be key for us. It is a very physically and mentally draining tournament and mistakes will be punished as the standard is so high.”

His side go into the tournament with knowledge of Loreto Kilkenny and Crescent – who Heaney considers favourites – but adds he knows little about Methody.

Speaking ahead of the Championship, Muriel O’Grady, Marketing Board Chair, SUBWAY® Ireland said:

“The best of luck to all the teams taking part in the 2016 SUBWAY® All-Ireland Schoolgirls Championship. The SUBWAY® brand is proud to be supporting Irish schools hockey and we are looking forward to this year’s tournament in Limerick”.

Tournament Schedule

Thursday 10th March

Game 1      9.30am      Crescent  V Methodist

Game 2      11.00am    Alexandra  V Salerno

Game 3      12.30pm    Loreto  V Crescent

Game 4      2.00pm      Salerno V Methodist

Game 5      3.30pm      Loreto  V Alexandra

Friday 11th March

Game 1      9.30am      Loreto  V Methodist

Game 2      11.00am    Crescent V Salerno

Game 3      12.30pm    Methodist  V Alexandra

Game 4      2.00pm      Salerno  V Loreto

Game 5      3.30pm      Alexandra  V Crescent

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