Hockey: No stopping Ulster reign
There was plenty of singing in the rain at Stormont yesterday as Ulster retained their ESB Electric Ireland Under-18 interprovincial title with a decisive 3-0 victory over Leinster.
The appalling conditions failed to dampen the celebrations after an outstanding display from Ali McNeill's girls.
Their Under-16 counterparts failed to make it a northern double after going down 1-0 to Leinster in a game they needed to win in order to lift the silverware.
The Under-18 squad had the luxury of going into their final game knowing that a draw would have been sufficient to retain the trophy.
They took the title in style though with an excellent second-half performance, after a scoreless first-half.
Ulster went through the tournament without conceding a goal and scored 18 in the process over the course of their four matches.
“I thought it was a very good performance from the whole squad and we are delighted to have retained the title.” said McNeill.
“It was particularly pleasing to have kept a clean sheet in all the matches and all credit to the defence.
“We also scored some good goals and despite winning all our games we had to work very hard to achieve that.”
Ulster had a star performer at the heart of their defence in Hannah Grieve while, up front Katie Mullan and Chloe Brown looked the part.
Though as McNeill pointed out it was Ulster's overall team play which swung the balance in their favour in the decider.
Mullan had a couple of early penalty corners saved by the Leinster goalkeeper and then Brown's shot thundered into the side-netting.
Ulster continued to pose most of the questions after the restart when their dominance became more and more evident as the game progressed.
It took them just two minutes to score the opening goal when a great run by Serena Barr created the opportunity for Brown to deflect the ball home.
That left Leinster needing to score twice if they were to spoil the party and their hopes were dashed when Mullan drilled home a set-piece in clinical fashion with just 10 minutes left on the clock.
The Ballymoney player then turned provider eight minutes later when she dashed into the circle and looked certain to shoot.
Instead she unselfishly picked out Penny Joyce who was lurking at the far post and the Lurgan player swept the ball home from close range.
That sparked celebrations among the Ulster contingent as Joyce’s goal put the destination of the interpro crown beyond all doubt.
Earlier in the day Brown and Katie Morris were on target in a hard-fought 2-0 win over South East.
Meanwhile the Ulster Under-16 squad had to be satisfied with the runners-up spot in their competition after losing 1-0 to Leinster.
The hosts seldom looked likely to get the three points they needed to be crowned champions and Leinster just about had the edge throughout.
A 21st minute goal from Ailbe Marsh, who squeezed the ball home from an acute angle, proved to be decisive.
Ulster did have the ball in the net in the second-half through Zoe Wilson.
However, her ‘goal' was disallowed though, with the umpire deciding that her penalty corner had been struck from just outside the shooting circle.
And with that decision went Ulster’s hopes of snatching a win and the title.
“Looking back, drawing with Munster on Saturday was the result that cost us but the girls did all we could have asked of them all weekend,” said Ulster assistant coach Julie Doak.
“We were pleased with the effort they put in and their overall performance over the course of the weekend,” she added.