It's third time lucky as Balbriggan ladies bring home the Cusack Cup
Cusack Cup final: Balbriggan 17 Portlaoise 12
It was a case of third time lucky as Balbriggan ladies eventually got their hands on the Paul Cusack Cup in Clondalkin on Wednesday night.
Having lost to Gorey on their two previous attempts whilst still being in the lower division, the Balbriggan girls will have a lot of sympathy for the Portlaoise girls who pushed them all the way in a very tough encounter.
Portlaoise had beaten Navan in the semi-final, so the Balbriggan girls knew that they were in for a tough match given that they had only scrapped past Navan in the League decider.
Having one final under their belt, the Balbriggan girls were more relaxed in this game and this showed in the fluidity of their play. Both teams looked to play an open game, but it was in the pack that the real firepower existed, particularly for Portlaoise where their tight head prop was a danger at all times. She won numerous scrum penalties throughout and in the loose it always took two or three girls to stop her.
This gave Portlaoise great momentum and would set them up to attack the Balbriggan line.
The Balbriggan pack were well up to defending their territory, though, and great work from forwards Steph Campbell, Karen Heffernan and Davina Doran held the line and led to turnover ball.
Balbriggan out half Dearbhla Sheridan was probably the key difference between the teams. Not knowing what she was going to do next meant defending against her was difficult. The variety in her moves meant that the defence held off that second which created the space that led to her two tries.
The one part of her game that was punished was her kicking as the Portlaoise full back seemed to be always under it and then would take off at pace to cause Balbriggan trouble out wide,
Balbriggan opened the scoring with a try from Karen Heffernan following some good work from the packm, and this score was converted by Sheridan.
Sheridan then scored her first try after breaking a number of tackles, but Balbriggan then lost their winger Joanne Moore to an ankle injury, and as Balbriggan reorganised their back line Portlaoise were able to exploit it as their swift-footed full back scorched up the wing to score. - 12-5 at half-time.
On the restart good play by the Portlaoise forwards was rewarded by a number of penalties which took them close to the Balbriggan line from where they eventually got over for a converted score to draw level.
The match ebbed and flowed, with both sides defending well, and the Portlaoise number 8 dislocated her finger in a tackle but was soon back on the field as if nothing had happened and well deserved her Player of the Match award.
Eventually, though, a Sheridan break split the defence and a couple of dummy passes were bought as she dived over at the corner flag for what would be the winning points.
Portlaoise were not giving up easy and they threw everything at the girls in green. Siobhan Verdon scored the winning points in the league final, but in this game it was her bone-crunching tackles that preserved Balbriggan's lead. Skipper Olivia Malone and Ann O'Brien was also all over the park with their defensive play.
Ultimately, Balbriggan probably benefited by having a stronger bench. The opposition were probably glad to see Tracey McFadden come off after she had run herself to a standstill, but can't have been happy to see Leanne Whyte replacing her! Leanne used her height and strength to get Balbriggan out of trouble on a number of occasions, whilst Lisa Kelly and Lynn Malone also made valuable contributions as replacements.
Eventually the final whistle went after seven minutes of added time and the Balbriggan girls had completed a remarkable 19-0 season under coaches Mick McKiernan and Ivan McFadden.