A HAT-TRICK from the in-form Jenny Clifford helped the Loreto to land another Leinster title.
The school’s junior side were a class apart in Portlaoise, proving they had too much for Clonskeagh’s St Kilian’s to cope with, winning 3-0 writes Trevor Spillane.
However, while the Kilkenny girls were hot in attack they had to remain cool for large stages of the game as their rivals decided on some strange tactics.
Whether St Kilian’s believed they were real underdogs or not, they took on a defensive mode almost from the start. It was a strange game that played out at the Portlaoise Sports Centre, as the Dubliners embarked on a game of cat and mouse with the Loreto – several times they had 10 players behind the ball, almost willing the Kilkenny girls to make a mistake before pouncing.
It was deeply defensive, almost frustrating at times, but the Loreto didn’t rise to the bait. Instead, they probed and pressed for an opening, working the ball across the artificial pitch and back, pushing deep into the corners as they looked for a way through.
After a first quarter where Kilian’s kept their goal locked tighter than a drum, the Loreto got their first glimpse of the target through a familiar threat. Rosin Breen led the way with a diagonal ball that was picked up by Laura Greene. A quick flurry of passes with Jenny Clifford unlocked the defence long enough for Clifford to get her shot off, but Ellen Nolan got down smartly to push the ball round her near post.
That was the encouragement the Loreto needed. Spurred on, they increased their efforts in search of that elusive opener. Clifford was at the heart of their attacks; first she whipped in a dangerous 16th minute cross which Nolan did well to hold, then she let fly with a shot after some good work from Jenna Sherwin, Laura Greene and Laura Murphy, but her effort fizzed past the post.
The pressure which was steadily building on Kilian’s finally told 13 minutes before half-time. In a sign of their dominance, the move that led to the Loreto’s opener started in their defence.
Centre-half Danielle Kenny moved out from the back, releasing Laura Greene down the flank. Skipping past her marker, Greene burst into the box before teeing up Clifford, who had time to spin round and fire a shot that found the bottom right corner of the net via a post.
The Loreto tried hard to double their lead before half-time, but couldn’t find the same magic formula. Laura Murphy had a great chance when Sarah Kent pulled a low ball back into her path, but the striker’s 32nd minute shot flew over.
The one-way traffic continued into the early stages of the second half, as the Loreto stayed on the attack. The Lauras, Greene and Murphy, did well along the right before bringing play back into the middle, but although Murphy found room to shoot her 42nd minute effort was straight at Ellen Nolan.
St Kilian’s finally found their attacking nerve with less than a quarter of the game to play. Ironically, it was a defender who showed her colleagues how to do it, Nina Heisterkamp breaking from the back and advancing as the Loreto stood off, but her long-range shot never troubled netminder Aoife Prendergast.
The Loreto heeded that little scare and hit back to finally make the title theirs with 12 minutes to spare. A clever ball from Olivia Nolan paved the way, Niamh Deely picking up play and sending Jenny Clifford through. She took one step, then unleashed an unstoppable low shot that screamed past Nolan.
Both the Loreto and Clifford were on a roll now and had just enough time to finish with a flourish. The striker completed her hat-trick before the final whistle, pouncing after a half-blocked Laura Greene shot fell into her path before slamming the ball home.
Loreto: Aoife Prendergast, Jenna Sherwin, Aine Fennelly, Kirsty Maher, Danielle Kenny, Laura Greene, Olivia Nolan, Rosin Breen, Jenny Clifford, Laura Murphy, Sarah Kent. Subs: Niamh Deely, Niamh Phelan, Megan O’Keeffe, Niamh Delaney, Aine Whitely.
St Kilian’s Clonskeagh: Ellen Nolan, Tara Junghenn, Diane Cunningham, Nina Heisterkamp, Eve O’Leary, Leah Cullen, Alexandra Gonzalez, Katie Mullen, Rianne Rowan, Rhiannon O’Connor, Anna Heisterkamp. Subs: Maisa Leivshina, Nathalie Henry, Marcella Gonzalez.
Referee: Bobby Kennedy (Laois).