Feb 20 2024

Back-to-back All-Ireland Under 19A Girls Schools League titles for Virginia College after victory over Mercy Mounthawk

Virginia College recorded a hard-fought 52-42 triumph over Mercy Mounthawk in the National Basketball Arena on Tuesday to make it back-to-back All-Ireland Under 19A Girls Schools League honours for the school.

Neither side was willing to give an inch in the opening half of this decider and they completed the first quarter deadlocked at eight points apiece.

While Mercy’s Holly O’Brien and Anna Collins combined for seven in that early period, it was game MVP Emma Tolan who spearheaded Virginia College’s charge, as she accounted for all, but one point of their first-quarter tally.

And it remained extremely tight all the way through the second quarter, with three points proving the maximum gap between the two sides right up until the very end of that phase of the tie.

Tolan increased her own total to 10 by the break as Katie Noble, Sinéad Kelly and Katelyn McElhinney also began to get in on the scoring act for the Cavan side.

At the other end of the court, Laura Sugrue was beginning to find her range, as was Emily Flynn, but a big buzzer-beater from outside the arc by Ciara Brady gifted Virginia College a four-point cushion at the half.

And matters grew a lot more ominous for the Tralee side after the break as their opponents strung together a 13-point run that featured buckets from Kelly and McElhinney, together with a superb three-point play by Tolan.

That surge pushed Virginia’s lead out to 17 points, but Mercy were not about to throw in the towel and reduced their arrears to 12 thanks to big threes from Anna Collins and Lucy O’Connor.

Yet they were unable to build on those scores, as the Cavan side took a 15-point cushion into the final quarter after both Tolan and Kelly drew fouls and went to the line.

O’Brien did her utmost to rally Mercy with a brilliant steal and layup at the outset of the fourth after which she delivered from outside the arc to reduce the gap to nine.

A big three-point play by O’Connor helped fuel hope of a possible comeback, but Tolan’s bucket from outside the arc went some way to undermining such a prospect.

And when she then planted another basket and drew a foul which she punished from the line, Virginia College were home and hosed.

“They’re a brilliant group and I think the experience from last year stood to a lot of them” said Virginia College head coach, Niamh Ní Chearra.

“They played for their lives and I’m just really proud of them all.

“Mercy Mounthawk just never gave up and they came back and fought really hard, but, thankfully, we were able to keep control of it for the last bit.

“It’s a huge achievement for the school. We’ve got a great community and we’ve got East Cavan Eagles who have done brilliant work with the juveniles which, thankfully, is paying off as well” she added.

Quarter Scores: Q1: 8-8, Q2: 24-20, Q3: 42-27, Q4: 52-42

Virginia College:

Celia Vigil Garcia, Riona Fay, Ciara Brady, Katelyn McElhinney, Emma Tolan (Capt), Roisin Flanagan, Katie Noble, Sinéad Kelly, Keelin Fay, Ellen Murray.

Head Coach:  Niamh Ní Chearra

Top Scorers: Emma Tolan (23), Katelyn McElhinney (13), Sinéad Kelly (12)

Mercy Mounthawk:

Rachel Griffin, Holly O’Brien, Laura Sugrue, Niamh Collins, Lucy O’Donnell (Capt), Doireann O’Shea, Mary Moore, Lucy O’Connor, Anna Collins, Emily Flynn, Kelly Fitzgerald, Grace Lucid.

Head Coach: Liam Culloty

Top Scorers: Holly O’Brien (13), Lucy O’Connor (7), Anna Collins (7), Emily Flynn (7)

MVP:  Emma Tolan (Virginia College)