VOLLEYBALL: Last year, at the Irish Schools Volleyball cadette finals, a battling team from Coláiste Bhríde in Clondalkin made the final of the 'C' grade for the first time.
They lost to Sancta Maria College, Louisburgh, but after they had got rid of their big-occasion nerves, played their hearts out and knew they could have turned the match around. There were tears at the end.
This year, promoted to the 'B' grade, there were tears again for the girls from Coláiste Bhríde, but this time there were tears of joy.
In easily the best match of the day, the team from Clondalkin won a first volleyball title for their school when they beat St Raphael's, Loughrea in a gruelling three-setter that forced the team to call on all its reserves.
The backbone of the team, captained by Patrycja Laskowska, was a battle-hardened group of girls who had lost so narrowly a year earlier.
Added to them was the fresh talent of big server Emma O'Brien, aged only 16 and the youngest member of the squad, as well as all-rounder Megan Guthrie.
Both teams came out fighting and it went point for point in the opening set, and only in the final few points did St Raphael's pull away to take the set 25-22.
Coláiste Bhríde showed they meant business in the second, racing away to a 7-1 lead. They then kept up the momentum, with great play from outside hitter Klaudia Kowalska, middle players Emma Breathnach, Julia Kolodziej and Sarah Brett, setters Jagoda Lis and Justyna Polaszek, and outside setter Klaudia Kielbasa.
After a long rally at 24-15, Kielbasa tipped the ball over the net to even the score at one set apiece.
Tiredness became a factor in the tie-breaking third set, with both sides making errors. At 13-20 down, it looked all over for Coláiste Bhríde, but the team clawed its way back into the match, inspired by brilliant play from Laskowska.
At 20-23, she took the ball to serve. If she could hold on to her serve for five points, the Clondalkin team could pull it off. She did -- and they did!
Cue a court invasion from relieved supporters and a huge smile from coach Bernadette Bishop. It was a first victory for a Dublin team in this competition since Portmarnock won in 1997 and 1998.
In the 'A' final, a St Mary's Naas team that included Karen and Sarah Benn from the Irish junior squad retained the title they won last year when they beat St Leo's Carlow in straight sets.
Not so fortunate was the Naas school's 'C' team, losing a close-fought final to St Louis Kiltimagh.
Schools Cadette Volleyball finals, UCD
Girls - A: St Mary's College, Naas bt St Leo's Carlow 2-0 (MVP: Karen Benn (Naas). B: Colaiste Bride, Clondalkin bt St Raphael's Loughrea 2-1 (22-25, 25-16, 25-23. MVP: P Laskowska (Colasite Bhríde). C: St Louis Kiltimagh bt St Mary's College, Naas 2-0 (25-22, 25-21). MVP: L Whyte (Kiltimagh). Boys - A: St Brigid's Loughrea bt St Raphael's Loughrea 2-0 (25-22, 25-21). MVP: A Finnerty (St Brigid's). B: St Brigid's Loughrea bt St Louis Kiltimagh 2-0 (25-18, 23-25, 26-24). MVP: S Walsh (Kiltimagh).