St Andrew's College 2
Alexandra College 0
For defending champions St Andrew's, the label of favourites did them no favours in the opening half of the Leinster Senior Schoolgirls Cup final at Grange Road, Dublin yesterday.
In last year's final the girls in blue and white had beaten Mount Anville, but only after extra-time. Remaining from that team were key players such as goalkeeper Tiffany Ellis, Niamh Atcheler, Laura Stephens, Vera Taaffe, Laura Pinder, Chloe Watkins, Gillian Pinder, Sarah Woodroofe, Sarah Marshall and Hannah Meredith. With six of these players in their final school year, this would be a last chance for them to play for their school and to quality for the All-Irelands, a competition in which they have finished runners-up three times.
They started well, winning the first penalty corner of the match in the third minute. When the switch shot came to captain and Ireland 'A' international Chloe Watkins, she narrowly failed to put it away.
A few minutes later Alexandra had their own chance, but the close-range attempt on goal from Emily Beatty was cleared by a St Andrew's defence well marshalled by Atcheler. Doubtful before play began because of the injury she sustained in last week's semi-finals, Atcheler was a solid presence at the back throughout the match.
With play flowing from one end of the pitch of the other, neither side dominated. Alexandra orchestrated a period of sustained attack, with the towering figure of Deirdre Duke in midfield grabbing any chance to move forward, as well as clearing up in defence. All too often, however, the passes were hit too hard or missed a waiting stick.
Tiredness could have played its part -- key players Emily Beatty and Deirdre Duke were both part of the school's football team which beat Eureka Kells to win the Leinster senior title last Friday.
As half-time loomed, St Andrew's were controlling play, with Pinder creating the chances in midfield and, with Sophie Marshall, Sarah Woodroofe and Chloe Watkins, constantly pushing forward.
After the break, Alex immediately attacked, winning their first penalty corner of the match in the fourth minute. After captain Leah Lenehen pushed out, the ball came to Hannah McDermott. Her shot on goal was easily cleared by Gillian Pinder.
With their hard work resulting in a few near-misses in front of goal and a couple of short corners, St Andrew's were taking control of the match, with Alex making increasingly desperate attempts to hold them off.
Fittingly, the goal which broke the deadlock came from Gillian Pinder after she had set off from deep inside her own half on a jinking run.
With the Alex defenders left flat-footed, she clinically slotted the ball past the sprawling keeper. Only seven minutes were left of play.
To their credit, Alexandra bravely counter-attacked, although they clearly had little left in the tank. When Sarah Woodroofe slipped through the Alexandra defence, everyone seemed to be moving in slow-motion. When the ball skidded into the Alex goal, it put the final result beyond question.
Three minutes later, the hooter went. It had been a great team performance by the Booterstown-based 'Dream Team', with every player on the pitch contributing. Now for the All-Irelands!
* Alexandra will have a chance to avenge their defeat when the two sides meet again, probably next Monday, in the semi-finals of the Senior Schoolgirl's League. Alex are the defending champions.
St Andrew's: T Ellis, N Atchelar (VC), L Stephens, V Taaffe, L Pinder, H Sarratt, C Watkins (capt), G Pinder, S Woodroofe, S Marshall, H Meridith, H Kinsman, S Kavanagh, A Spain, L Gray, L Moran.
Coach: M Hollwey; Assistant coach: L Jacob.
Alexandra College: L Porter, L Lenehan (capt), N Gray (VC), D Duke, E Beatty, A Burke, L Gibney, E Evans, S McDermott, S Gibbons, S Mulkerrin, G Mulkerrin, E Hinkson, H McDermott, K Lenehan, R Traynor.
Coach: M Warren. Manager: G Coe.
Umpires: A Groves, D Acheson.