Paul Cusack Cup Final
MU Barnhall 28
THE Portlaoise Senior Women’s XV travelled to Tullow RFC on Saturday afternoon to take on MU Barnhall in the final of the Paul Cusack Cup. The day was warm and dry with a light breeze and with a dry pitch everything seemed perfect for playing a cup final.
Portlaoise kicked off, playing into the wind, and when Lynn O’Callaghan’s kick failed to travel 10 metres the referee awarded a scrum to Barnhall on the halfway line. The Barnhall pack produced a solid scrum which allowed their number 8 to pick and break down the blind-side. She made good ground before releasing the ball to the supporting player who broke free up the centre of the pitch and score a fine try under the posts giving Barnhall an early seven point lead.
The Portlaoise women have shown great fighting spirit in the past and it was to be no different on this occasion. From the restart they put pressure on the Barnhall clearance and grabbed a foothold in their half which they would not relinquish without scoring.
Having regained possession, the Portlaoise pack started to squeeze the Barnhall eight in the contact area and after several powerful forward surges prop forward Yvonne Palmer crashed over just to the left of the posts to bring Portlaoise back into the game. Fullback Jenny Keegan kicked the conversion to the leave the teams tied 20 minutes into the first half.
The match was finely balanced with both teams delivering strongly on their set pieces. The Barnhall backline showed real pace and power with strong running centres and real pace on the wings. But Portlaoise centres Patrycia Harassim and Ellen Booth and wingers Rachel Palmer and Sarah Miller were up to the task and Barnhall were unable to breach the defensive line again in the first half.
While the Portlaoise backs did not get as much opportunity to show their attacking skills outside centre Ellen Booth made a storming break on the left-hand side which nearly yielded a try. Rachel Palmer showed tremendous footwork and pace when she broke down the left wing only to be tackled into touch.
Barnhall started to exert some forward dominance in the last eight minutes of the first half and they generated several opportunities to score only to be denied by excellent scramble defence from Portlaoise. However, after a period of sustained pressure Barnhall eventually crossed the line in injury time but the scoring pass was deemed to be forward and Barnhall were denied.
Portlaoise kicked off the second half and again gained a foothold in the Barnhall half and immediately threatened the line. Their pack surged up the left before releasing the ball for the backs to attack down the right wing which was only stopped when full back Jenny Keegan was bundled into touch metres from the Barnhall line.
Barnhall cleared their lines and worked their way up the pitch and Portlaoise were not to threaten the Barnhall line again on the day. Eight minutes into the second half Barnhall worked their winger into space and scored a second try which was also converted to leave the score at 14–7.
The Barnhall pack was now in the ascendancy and Portlaoise were unable to generate the quality possession needed to attack with any threat.
As the game entered the last quarter Portlaoise were still clinging on to hopes of scoring the try needed to bring them back into the match. However, they coughed over possession and a sweeping move saw the Barnhall winger streak away and score under the posts leaving the score 21–7.
Portlaoise, having already lost fullback Jenny Keegan and out half Lynn O’Callaghan through injury, were dealt a further blow when scrum half Sandy Keegan was injured in the middle of the pitch five minutes from the end. After a long delay Sandy was removed by stretcher and checked out in the ambulance.
When play resumed, Barnhall turned over Portlaoise possession again and scored a fourth try.
On the day Barnhall were too strong for Portlaoise and were deserving of their victory. Ellen Booth was the player of the match for Portlaoise on a day when they spent much of their time on the back foot.
On a positive note, club captain and out half/full back Amy O’Callaghan made her comeback from injury and played 15 minutes in the second half.
Next week the league campaign starts with a game away to Longford.
PORTLAOISE: Jenny Keegan, Rachel Palmer, Ellen Booth, Patrycia Harassim, Sarah Miller, Lynn O’Callaghan, Sandra Keegan, Yvonne Palmer, Stephanie Gleeson, Rosie palmer, Catherine Delaney, Aoibheann Egan, Emma Smith, Richenda Delahunty (captain), Rebecca Mullins
Replacements: Lynne Percy, Robyn Mullins, Denica McGrath, Charmaine Gardiner, Sarah O’Loughlin, Amy O’Callaghan, Haley Fitzgibbon