Five former Kate Russell All-Ireland Championship winners from the past decade will convene in Booterstown on Thursday and Friday to try and win back the biggest prize in schoolgirls hockey.
Leinster champions St Andrew’s will act as hosts as they bid to win back the trophy they won in 2010. They do so with one of that vintage at the helm with World Cup star Gillian Pinder leading the coaching team while one of her team mates from that era, Chloe Watkins, will be on hand to present the trophy to the eventual winners this week.
Andrew’s earned the right to host when they won their provincial crown in early February when they won a shoot-out against Wesley College. Underage international goalkeeper Iseult Cambay was a star that day behind Katie-Jane Marshall who won the player of the match nomination for her work from sweeper and her ice-cool nerve to score twice in the shoot-out.
Cricket international Gaby Lewis captains the side while Amy Elliott has been part of the Irish senior women’s hockey setup, giving the side plenty of dynamism.
They open up their campaign against Munster winners Crescent Comprehensive. The Limerick side were champions once before in 2015 and they also have World Cup inspiration in their support team with Roisin Upton helping out the side this year at her alma mater.
Crescent produced three big wins in their cup run, seeing off Ashton, Midleton and Ursuline Thurles to reach the final, scoring 25 goals along the way. Irish Under-18s Anna Horan and Leah Clery power things with Robyn Leahy getting through a wealth of work in midfield along side Eimear Lane and Sophie Clein.
Their provincial final was a nail-biter against Mount Mercy, going the distance to a shoot-out with goalkeeper Amy Ahearne excelling in goals and Ella Sorensen scoring the vital goal.
Game two sees Kilkenny College begin their title defence following their victory on home turf a year ago – their second Kate Russell win – with a tough opening tie against Banbridge Academy, the 2017 champs.
Kilkenny were yet another winner via the shoot-out method as they beat city rivals Loreto Kilkenny. It was their third successive South East win, their most intense yet as it went to 11 rounds of shoot-out before they eventually prevailed before captain Izzy Bourke got the winner.
In goal, they have Irish Under-18 talent Ellie McLoughlin as an effervescent presence at the back while five of the squad had Irish Under-16 trials earlier this season. Megan Telford Kelly and Jessie Wagenaar are other strong performers who will be hungry to be the first side to retain the title since Lurgan in 2013 and 2014.
Banbridge will be a tough opponent, one with lots of know-how with a couple of players still around from their 2017 side including captain Nadia Benallal who will likely be a central figure.
In what was their fourth successive Ulster final, they won the crown by coming back from a goal down to win out 2-1 with Ellen Reid playing a pivotal role.
For coach Neil Madeley, he said of that final that it “was even sweeter than the one in 2017 because we had to work a lot harder for it and we probably had a slightly stronger squad back then.”
For Benallal, she says they are driven to adding the big trophy this week: “It doesn’t stop here though because we are back in the all Ireland tournament now, so we have enjoyed Ulster and then got straight back to work again.”
Colaiste Iognaid will be the last side to enter the fray in game three of the competition when they come up against hosts St Andrew’s. The two sides have met before in the Kate Russell, the Galway side famously eliminating this week’s hosts in the semi-finals in 2009 on strokes en route to their maiden success.
They won the Palmer Cup a fortnight ago courtesy of captain Aoife McGovern’s winning goal against Salerno. The side are coached by Richie Malone – who has coached Irish Under-18 and 16 teams before – and Clodagh Mitchell.
The games come thick and fast with each side playing four group games over two days in a round-robin format with the ultimate champions decided on Friday afternoon.
All matches will be live streamed by Sporting Limerick, click here to watch all the action.
Fixture schedule (all at St Andrew’s College, Booterstown)
Thursday, March 21: St Andrew’s vs Crescent Comprehensive, 9.30am; Kilkenny College v Banbridge Academy, 11am; Colaiste Iognaid v St Andrew’s College, 1.30pm; Banbridge Academy v Crescent Comprehensive, 3pm; Colaiste Iognaid v Kilkenny College, 4.30pm
Friday, March 22: Colaiste Iognaid v Crescent Comprehensive, 9.15am; St Andrew’s College v Banbridge Academy, 10.45am; Crescent Comprehensive v Kilkenny College, 1pm; Banbridge Academy v Colaiste Iognaid, 2.30pm; Kilkenny College v St Andrew’s College, 4pm