A local derby serves up a spectacular volleyball final.
St Mary’s College Naas senior volleyball team, captained by Niamh Bergin, brought their season to a conclusion on a very memorable occasion as they recorded their ninth consecutive win in the Senior A Schools’ Cup Final. The venue was University of Limerick Sports Campus, a very fitting location for a fine exhibition of volleyball skills by all the teams involved. It was a meeting of the volleyball strongholds in the West; namely the Galway schools and the leading schools in the East represented by two Kildare schools.
There was a new departure from the norm this year as the semi- finals were scheduled on the same day as the final. This was a major test of focus and fitness for all the players concerned and they should all be applauded as they treated their respective supporters to a feast of superb and exciting matches. St Mary’s College Naas faced St Brigid’s Secondary School Loughrea in their semi-final. This was an entertaining match with many exciting exchanges but St Mary’s College kept the Kildare flag flying as they were victorious ,winning in three sets. Both teams represented their schools with pride and should be proud of their great effort. The victory for St Mary’s College was a real squad effort with all twelve players contributing on their journey to 2016 Final.
Holy Family Secondary School Newbridge were drawn against St Raphael’s Loughrea in their semi-final. This proved to be a very competitive encounter with the Newbridge school emerging as winners in three sets also.
The final was eagerly awaited by all the supporters from St Mary’s College Naas and Holy Family Newbridge, a repeat of the League Final in December 2015 , the Naas girls claiming the honours in UCD, on that occasion. A local derby situation always brings out the best in both teams and this was certainly borne out in this exhilarating final. The Holy Family players were determined to reverse the outcome in the Cup Final. The initial exchanges were frantic and absorbing and the Newbridge school went into a four point lead but St Mary’s College battled back only to concede the first set on a score line of 25-21. The second set was as intriguing as the first with all the supporters in the Limerick venue on the edge of their seats as rally after rally was closely contested; neither teams willing to concede advantage and every precious point was not won easily. Holy Family managed to hold off a determined Naas challenge and emerged victorious in this second set by the narrowest of margins on a score line of 25-23 giving them a two set advantage. St Mary’s College were now faced with a major challenge as they had to secure the third set to remain in the match. The Naas girls were not daunted and used their experience to battle back with immense determination and self-belief and were duly rewarded with a win in the third set on a score line of 25-18. This was the best set played by St Mary’s College in the final as the players showed great character and spirit on the brink of defeat.
The fourth set was another pivotal set in this final and was keenly contested by both teams, each point resulting from many exciting rallies. Pressure was on the St Mary’s College team to secure this set to bring the match to the deciding fifth set. They regrouped and became more positive and definite in their approach as they maintained their lead and were duly rewarded with a victory in the fourth set. The match had run full course and the winners of this coveted trophy would be decided in the fifth and final set. Holy Family enjoyed an initial lead but the Naas girls were not prepared to relinquish their title without a spirited struggle . This was particularly evident as they gallantly saved four match points as Holy Family were leading on a score line of 14-10 with 15 points the maximum score to achieve in the final set. On a score of 14 points each, both teams had the trophy almost in their grasp but St Mary’s College managed to emerge as winners with a score 16-14, retaining their title, adding to their Senior League title. This team had secured another All Ireland title. It was a tremendous effort by both teams and great credit to all the players from St Mary’s College Naas and Holy Family Newbridge for their truly spirited display of skill, fitness and concentration as these were the hallmarks of both teams on the day. Both teams left everything on the court in their quest of the Senior Cup. Alice Linehan was awarded the MVP award for her great effort throughout the match. These players are true ambassadors of the game and this cup final has certainly helped to promote and raise the profile of volleyball as a sporting activity in schools and clubs throughout the country. It was a particularly poignant day for players in Sixth year in both schools as it was their final occasion to represent their schools in this competition but they all have great memories to savour in the years ahead. Their mentors and teachers should be commended for all their efforts and time spent with the players developing their skills, encouraging participation in sports and promoting volleyball as an exciting sport. This 2016 Cup Final will always be remembered by the players, teachers , officials and spectators as an enthralling and memorable match.
St Mary’s College Cup Squad: Elaine Mc Cullough, Niamh Bergin, Fiona Jacob, Rica Garcia, Mary Creaton, Alice Linehan, Cora Maloney, Eimear O’ Neill, Sarah Behan Cahill, Laura Owens, Ailbhe O’Sullivan and Emma Kielty.
St Mary's Cup Volleyball Team - All Ireland Champions
St. Mary's U14 Volleyball Team - All Ireland Winners