Naas Community College were crowned All-Ireland Under 16C Girls Schools Cup champions following a tenacious display that earned them a 40-35 victory over an impressive Ardee Community School in Wednesday’s decider in the National Basketball Arena.
While an Eva Langan bucket saw Naas out of the blocks first in this nailbiting showdown, Ardee responded well to open up an 8-3 lead thanks to baskets from Aisling Gormley and Grace Gormley.
A combination of miss-placed passes and shots were frustrating the Kildare side in the early minutes, but two swift scores from Maisie Ryan and Ciara Neilan hauled them back to within a point of their opponents.
Ardee did land another couple of attempts late on to take a three-point lead into the second quarter in which they pushed that advantage out to seven as Anna McCartney and Grace Gormley put up scores.
A superb three-point play by NCC’s Abbey Beirne was answered by an equally impressive effort from beyond the arc by McCartney for Ardee to restore that seven-point cushion.
But Naas were going nowhere and reduced their arrears to four by the half-time interval when Ryan got in for a bucket in the closing minute.
Three early second-half scores by Katie Neilan, Ryan and Katie Maguire nudged the Kildare side two in front, only to see Ardree retake the lead when Gormley drained a sublime three-pointer along with a deuce.
But it was Naas who finished the third quarter on the front foot with Neilan and Langan bagging scores to edge their side 32-31 in front.
Early fourth-quarter baskets by Langan and Ryan opened up a five-point gap for Naas, but Gormley drained two from the free-throw line for Ardee only to see Maguire respond with a basket and Sarah Beirne hold her nerve from the line to leave Naas six-points up with just over four minutes remaining.
With Naas demonstrating huge intensity under their board, the scores dried up for Ardee just when they needed them most and, while Grace Gormley put up another two, time was not on their side and Naas managed the game superbly down the stretch to secure the title.
“The girls have put a lot of effort in this year and it’s a credit to them because when they came into the schools we were in Division D, so to achieve this now, it’s a great achievement” said Naas Community College head coach Chris McNairney.
“There’s 15 girls on the squad and they really stuck together when it mattered.
“We weren’t relying on one or two of the girls, they all came together when it mattered and they really stepped up on defence in the second half.
“I’ll put it out there and say it’s the biggest sporting achievement the school has ever had.
“We’re only in existence nine years, so it’s great to be here, it’s a great feeling and we’re just delighted” he smiled.
Quarter Scores: Q1:12-9, Q2: 26-22, Q3: 31-32, Q4 35-40:
Ardee Community School:
Anna McKenna, Helen O’Reilly, Aisling Gormley, Anna McCartney, Molly Keenan, Sorcha Hughes, Sinéad Fox, Nicole Fitzgerald, Emma Boyle, Aine Dillon, Anna Callaghan, Grace Gormley (Capt).
Head Coach: Sara O’Leary
Top Scorers: Aisling Gormley (14), Grace Gormley (12), Anna McCartney (5).
Naas Community College:
Katie Maguire, Ciara Neilan, Lily McGrane, Abbey Beirne, Katie Neilan, Sarah Beirne, Kym Behan Dempsey, Eva Langan (Co-Capt), Maisie Ryan (Co-Capt.), Eloise Cassidy, Ilva Neza, Rebecca Clarke.
Head Coach: Chris McNairney.
Top Scorers: Eva Langan (13), Maisie Ryan (9), Katie Maguire (6).
MVP: Eva Langan (Naas Community College).