Belief and trust drive NUIG girls to quadruple cup glory
This year's crop of NUIG rugby women will graduate with more than fancy letters, having stocked their sports cabinet chock full of silverware.
Four trophies contested throughout the country will holiday out west this year, comprising a purple patch for coach Simon Lawless, captain Lizzie McKeever and colleagues.
The IURU Kay Bowen Trophy, hosted pre-season in Terenure and contested by Ireland's oldest universities, yielded NUIG's third title in as many years. NUIG's defensive record makes remarkable reading - they conceded just three tries in three tournaments, and beat UCD 48-5 in the final.
A fresh squad following hefty postgrad departures opened the local Connacht League with a win against Tuam, and continued in a similar vein beating Sligo and Portumna. By virtue of walkover wins against Carrick and Galwegians and bonus point losses to Castlebar and Buccaneers, NUIG booked a grand final berth against hotly favoured Castlebar.
McKeever, Rach Buckley, Clodagh Carroll and Faye Drohan's experience stood the college girls in good stead ably backed by standout rookie arrivals Karen Douglas, Shannen Lane and Tara Buggie.
Focus straddled the remaining College League fixtures, run concurrently amid provincial league schedules. Seven games in three weeks tested Lawless' and the girls' ability to front up with competitive squads in each league setting, but NUIG dropped just the one, to UCD away. They beat UL 10-0 in the semi-final to set up a decider against UCC.
Lane, Connacht flanker Edel McMahon and Galway footballer Orla Dixon were outstanding against Cork side, Buckley and Drohan both crucial at kick-off and lineout time in the air to inspire a 45-5 victory.
The intervarsity Easter tournament was NUIG's most recent highlight, beating UL2 in game one 19-0 but succumbing within minutes 12-10 to UL's First XV in the second. A convincing victory over Carlow IT progressed NUIG to the final, against perennial nemeses UL1.
Tied nil-all at full-time, additional minutes followed. NUIG's season-long weekly strength and conditioning sessions bore fruit, and the Dangan students posted two unanswered tries in extra-time to win 12-0, Buckley putting the result beyond doubt with the second try late in the picture.
Skipper McKeever put the unprecedented rake of successes down to trust and preparation.
"Success this year was a pleasant surprise. We've been there or thereabouts for so long but always miss out on the cups," she said in her fourth year with NUIG rugby.
"Belief is huge; Simon always said it to us, this year and others. This season, we started winning and kept winning and if you believe winning is not only possible but the likelihood when you start a match, and you believe in your friends either side of you, then it becomes a lot easier to get things right. We trust each other. It's simple."
And they will remember each other too. Four cups in the groaning NUIG trophy cabinet this season suggests history will remember them as well, and fondly.