Sunday 25 February 2018

Hopkins cuts loose with four tries as Connacht girls end their campaign on a historic high

Rachel Browne on the charge
Rachel Browne on the charge
The Connacht U-18 girls squad ahead of their victory over Munster in Westport Newsdesk Newsdesk

Mairead Hopkins bagged four tries as Connacht U-18 girls concluded their season on a massive high with a historic first victory over Munster.

Connacht were disappointed at the previous Saturday's results in Westmanstown.

Having lost both games to Leinster and Ulster, the girls in green knew they were due a big performance at Westport

Connacht had their final mid-week training session on Wednesday in Tuam RFC. The mistakes from Westmanstown were discussed and new tactics played out.

It was always going to be a huge ask - not only was history against them, but Munster had beaten them 25-5 in a pre-season friendly.

But the Connacht girls bolted out of the dressing-room, focused, determined and with a furnace raging inside.

From the first blow of the whistle, the team hit hard, played cleverly and most importantly took their chances.

The first try was scored by Mairead Hopkins. Munster hit back almost immediately but the heads didn't drop.

Connacht got three more tries before half-time - two more from the unstoppable Hopkins and one from Westport's Niamh O-Grady - to lead 20-5at the break.

Connacht knew Munster would throw everything at them in the second half, but the hosts had the perfect start with yet another try from Hopkins.

The girls in green conceded a try soon afterwards which was converted, and then another - 25-17 and Munster were gaining momentum. But our girls dug deep and didn't panic.

The lively home crowd cheered on the girls even more loudly, and Grainne Hamill crossed to make the game safe, with the final score 30-17.

The crowd erupted and the shrieks of delight could be heard on top of Croagh Patrick which was keeping an eye on us in the background.

The tears shed were for a totally different reason than those shed after the bitter disappointment of losing to Ulster.

It was an immense squad performance - tactical substitutions were made at opportune moments.

The pack were powerful and the tackles made by the relatively small backline were ferocious. It was the perfect ending to the U-18s season.

Unfortunately the squad have to say goodbye to O'Grady, Hamill, Sarah-Jane Fox, Aine Gavin, Ellen Grehan, Rachel Tierney, Hopkins and our Captain Fantastic Elizabeth McNicholas as all are over age next season.

All involved hope to see them lining out with the Connacht senior squad in the not too distant future.

Connacht have every confidence in the younger girls coming through and the future looks very bright for this bunch of girls. We are hugely proud of the effort put in by all the girls and the coaching staff.

Sincere thanks to everyone who came to support the team, the decibels were off the charts at times.

Thanks to all at Westport RFC who helped stage a memorable occasion for all.

Irish Independent

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