History was made at The Lakeside on Saturday as the Ballyshannon Ladies team reached their first ever cup final.
City of Derry 0
This was a truly entertaining game with both teams intent on playing running rugby from the start. With only a score between them for the majority of the match, this was a very tense game and it went right down to the final whistle. The importance of a strong squad was evident. The ‘Shannon girls have added a number of new girls to their ranks this season and these girls have really stepped up to the mark especially in the last few games.
‘Shannon played against the wind in the first half, but from the start they expressed their controlled running game on the Derry girls. The pack were working well together, making the breaks and gaining the yards. However space for the backs was at a premium and unfortunately this would continue for most of the game. With 10 minutes of almost constant pressure from the home side, they got on the scoreboard.
After a number of phases, with some good ground gained from Yvette Morrow, Brona Carty and Fodhla Foody the ball made its way to out half Danika Doherty. With the Derry defence drifting left she stopped and found herself with time and space. With a great drop kick she split the posts to put ‘Shannon in the lead. However few would have believed that this would be the only score of the game. But it proved that a strong defence is as important as a potent attack.
As is the case in most games this score awoken the opposing side. Back came Derry. Growing more into the game and even with the wind at their backs they kept the ball in hand at every opportunity. The ball was worked out to the right wing where the Derry flanker made good ground before cutting inside. When she was stopped ‘Shannon were penalised for not rolling away after the tackle. But from in front of the posts the Derry fullback scuffed her effort and the ball was touched down for a ‘22 drop out.
The remainder of the half was played mostly in the middle third of the pitch with neither side able to break down the others defence.
Halftime: Ballyshannon 3-0 City of Derry.
The Derry girls started the second half in determined fashion. A number of nervy moments in the home sides defence almost seen them concede. However they were able to withstand the pressure and clear their lines. By now Shannon had a very effective game plan in action. Any penalties around the middle of the pitch scrum half Michelle Bowring was taking quickly.
Michelle played a real captains role. She took the game to the Derry girls every chance she got. Time after time they were penalised for not retreating. This left out half Doherty with a simpler kick for touch. Kitty Dolan was able to find Dearbhla Fox with her line outs and thus Shannon now had a solid platform to build on.
They owned the ball by now. Centre partnership of Louise Collins and Orlaith Sheridan were making serious inroads into to the Derry defence. There was also hard yards made by Charleen and Lynda Loughlin. However try as they might they could not find that killer final pass to see them cross the line. Frustrated at this perhaps ill discipline crept in for the first time.
Derry were awarded a penalty. Lynda Loughlin not back ten yards tackled her opponent. Considering the Derry girls were doing it all day, the referee harshly sent Lynda to the sin bin for 10 minutes. With just over 10 left the home side would have to hang on a player short.
Derry sensed their chance. For the first time the game really opened up. This was now real end to end stuff. Finally the home sides wingers were able to get clean possession of the ball, but again just not able to score. These two along with full-back Anna Rafferty offer ‘Shannon a serious attacking force. However they done most of their good work in defence. This was none more evident when with the Shannon defence stretched and with the Derry winger almost certain to score Anna came across and tackled her into touch.
With the game now in its final minutes the pace and excitement was frantic. Derry had one last chance. But instead of keeping the ball they kicked. It was returned back into the Derry ‘22 and with the receiver tackled Mairead Carty showed great strength to remain on her feet. The Derry player was penalised for holding on and the referee blew the final whistle. This was met with mass celebration from the girls and the sizeable crowd in attendance.
The pack were immense. Everybody from 1-8 put in a serious shift. The half backs of Bowring and Doherty really put it up to Derry with strong running and kicking. The back line as alluded too earlier looked dangerous but unfortunately was in defence where they were relied upon the most. However the player of the match went to Louise Collins. Being moved from her normal front row position to first centre had no ill effect on Louise. In her first ever game there she enjoyed being out in the open where her ball carrying and tackling had the Derry side in real trouble all day.
This victory and a cup final to look forward too is more than deserved. These girls over the last few years have worked extremely hard. Now they have the chance of getting their hands on some silverware. With the other side of the draw not complete the ‘Shannon girls will have to wait on their final opponents and venue. Next up for them is a home league game versus Carrickfergus on Sunday week.