The impressive setting of the University Of limerick arena was the venue for the WSCAI indoor soccer Intervarsity tournament on Saturday last. This is a gathering of the best talent in third level education in the country and always provides great entertainment on a day packed with action.
GMIT @ Castlebar progressed easily through the group stages to make their third appearances in four years in the Plate semi-final. Up against an in form IT Tralee, who raked up impressive wins against Cork IT and GMIT Galway to book their semi-final place, the Castlebar girls knew they would have a good fight on their hands.
Starting with a strong defence of Karen Aspell, Caroline Fox and Christina Sheridan Tralee were reduced to half chances and snap shots that Mary Burke in goal ensured were kept out.
Holding onto a draw at half time the girls were confident of being able to move up a gear in the second half. The introduction of Sarah O’Regan further strengthened the already impressive defence and within seconds Lorraine Coen showed sublime skill to leave two Tralee players chasing shadows, strength to hold off the challenge of a third and presence of mind to coolly slot the ball past an advancing keeper to grab the lead.
Sarah took a hefty knock to add to the injury she had picked up in the group stages and had to make way for Caroline. Moments later the Lorraine bandwagon was rolling again, robbing a defender caught in possession she swiftly turned defence into attack and unleashed an unstoppable shot past an awestruck keeper. Mary Burke was forced into a succession of fine saves to repel the final onslaught of Tralee, she coped admirably and the slot in the final was secured.
The opposition in the final was provided by the University of Limerick “A” team, a daunting task for the girls playing a college of such pedigree in their home venue. They were definite underdogs but also crowd favourites, with virtually all of the other attending colleges putting their support behind the smaller college in this David and Goliath battle. Attacking from the word go Castlebar caught the U.L. defence off guard and they conceded a penalty for their lack of concentration. Karen Aspell played a captain's role taking on the pressure kick and placing it coolly to the bottom right of the keeper leaving her with no chance.
The message was clear to the Limerick girls – “Underestimate us at your Peril”, and this wake up call sparked them into action. But if it did it also prompted the very best out of Castlebar keeper Mary Burke who pulled of a string of amazing saves to show that she was probably the best shot-stopper on display at the tournament. Despite being clawed back to level terms just before half-time Castlebar were growing in confidence.
They started the second half much as they did the first and had U.L. firmly on the back foot. When Lorraine played the ball back into the path of the onrushing Karen, she finished in a fashion her hero Steven Gerrard would have been proud of, meeting it first time to send it crashing in to the top corner with a little swerve for good measure. There was no need for conferring it was unanimously acclaimed as goal of the tournament, (but to have scored it at such a vital juncture, was a mark of true class).
Despite the Limerick girls playing two divisions higher in the outdoor league, Castlebar have developed the happy habit of inflicting defeat on this, the flagship sporting college in the country. In a run going back to the outdoor Intervarsities last March Limerick were staring at a Fourth successive defeat to Castlebar in all competitions as well as losing a final that they had almost considered won when they heard who their opponents would be. They then put on a show demonstrating the obvious quality in their side and played some breathtaking football, but their best efforts were thwarted time and again by Christina and Caroline in defence. To add insult to injury Lorraine again stole possession on the halfway line, beat two defenders, drew the keeper and dinked the ball into the far corner to sign seal and deliver the title. UL could only look on in amazement as they realised what was happening before their eyes. There was a giant killing of epic proportions taking place and they were the victims; they had again paid the price for refusing to learn the lessons history should have taught them. Despite having massively superior numbers to draw from, despite having the benefit of the best sporting facilities in the country-bar none, despite their glowing list of trophies and titles they forgot that when it's five against five and the game starts victory will often go to those that want it most, that are prepared to work and fight for every last ball, that have a never say die spirit. That Castlebar had this was evident, but when it is allied to excellent ability and the all-important quality of producing the goods when it mattered most, Victory when it comes, (though it may be a surprise to some), is no accident.
On Saturday GMIT @ Castlebar finally got the reward for several years of close calls, heartbreak and near misses. They brought home the silverware and celebrated in fine style as their impressive performance had earned them the right to do.
Perhaps the biggest smile of the day was worn by Coach Louise Mulready. Louise has been at the heart of women’s soccer in the college for the last four years. This year as Student's Union President she was deemed ineligible to play . Hugely disappointing for her she plunged her energy into coaching and now has reaped the reward she has been due for all her hard work. To Louise and all the Girls, everyone in the college is incredibly proud of your amazing achievements.