St Louis and Newpark claimed the Senior and Junior trophies respectively at the Railway Girls Schools 7s on last Friday evening…

Having been beaten in the final last April, St Louis were determined to go one better this time around. They accounted for a strong Muckross side in the semi-final. Muckross, who were ably, led Aoibhin Dwan, made all of the early running with Claire Cashman, Rachel Sparrow and Sophie Farnan dominating the early exchanges. However, the loss of star player Aisling McCann in the group stages turned the tide against them and, with such a high level of competition, this loss proved catastrophic.

The final kicked off under floodlights in front of a large crowd, which included Irish coach Stan McDowell. Stacey Flood, who played a captain’s part all day, claimed two early tries to help St Louis race into a 10-0 lead. With Eve Higgins pulling the strings at halfback, St Mac Daras continued to probe and strong carries from Katie McGowan, Jojo Clune, Roisin Tisdall and Caoimhe Guerin kept asking questions of the St Louis defence, before the excellent Lisa Callan broke numerous tackles to put the score to 10-5 and set up a grand stand finish.

St Mac Daras piled on the pressure and were only kept at bay by a huge defensive effort, with Hannah Hegarty, Emma Young and Eleanor Burke, in particular, to the fore. Despite being kept in their own half for most of the second half, St Louis held out to erase memories of their previous final loss to claim the title in what was a highly entertaining and nail-biting final.

The Junior Competition was extremely competitive, with no little skill on show. St Mac Daras, with Captain Jessica Keating, the big tackling Sinead Aspell, Laura ‘Abercrombie’ Creighton excellent throughout, gave early indications of their promise in the group stages. Muckross, with Caoimhe and Jennifer Heckman, Olibhia Collins, and Grainne McGuill leading the way, meant any team making to the finals didn’t find it easy.

However, St Louis and debutants Newpark emerged from the pack to face each other in the final. St Louis, who were chasing the double, had a very strong team on display with Aifric O’Leary, Claudia Alonso, Nicole landy, Ellie Taylor, Lori Ann Taylor, Susan Iwanowicz, and Emily O’Reilly performing superbly all day.

Newpark, for whom Darerca Lockhart-Keogh, Ciara Young, Katie Somers and Sophie Phelan stood out, had different ideas and raced into a lead which they never gave up to claim victory in their first schools 7s tournament.

The Player of the Tournament awards were hotly contested with some outstanding displays for all teams on the day. However, the referees and coaches decided that Eve Higgins from St Mac Daras and Aifric O’Leary from St Louis were the consistently excellent players throughout the tournament and was fully deserving of their awards.

Irish Coach Stan McDowell was on hand to present the trophies afterwards.

Emma Murphy, who won player of the tournament in last April’s competition and went on to represent Ireland U19s in an International tournament last month, presented her signed and framed Irish jersey to Railway’s Head of Girls Rugby Alison Nolan.

Nolan said she was amazed at the talent on display for all the schools.

We knew we had some skilful teams and players from our time coaching in the schools,” said Nolan, “but we were bowled away today by the talent, enthusiasm and ability displayed by the girls in a competitive environment and I’m sure many of them can follow Emma and gain international honours. I’d like to thank and congratulate all the teams for taking part, their schools and teachers for championing it, and to their parents who supported on the day.”

Railway’s Mere Baker, who devised and led the programme in the schools, said that she believed that some of the girls could achieve Irish and Olympian honours if they chose to focus on the sport.

The level and potential of these girls would compare with anything I’ve seen anywhere in the world at this age grade and development,” said Baker. “These girls, and others like them, could and should be thinking of aiming to compete with Ireland at the Olympics. With the right coaching, development path, and dedication on their part, I am 100% certain some of them can make it to Rio and beyond as Irish 7s players.”

Railway’s Schools 7s Programme involving Railway coaches going into schools in our community to introduce rugby to girls who may never have considered the sport. It is an initiative that promotes women in sport and may be the first step for girls to make Rio 2016 or beyond.

To apply to participate in the next running of the programme, please email girlsrugby@railwayunionrfc.com or see http://www.railwayunionrfc.com/index.php/age-grade-rugby/girl-s-schools-7s-programme. A full gallery of photos from the day are on www.facebook.com/railwayunionrfc and a promotional video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-fRRw4jLLs