Few teams know better than UCC Glanmire that cup finals are about the destination rather than the journey and the Cork side did more than enough in a disappointing spectacle to claim a fourth straight National Cup title last night.
This latest win takes to seven the number of cup titles now housed in Glanmire, adding emphasis onto a record they already held and confirming the club’s place at the summit of the women’s game. And any notions of stopping now were conspicuous by their absence in Tallaght.
Head coach Mark Scannell noted the impact made by a bench that has turned to youth since the loss of a clutch of experienced heads over the close season but just as concerning for everyone else were the familiar faces still dominating the court.
Grainne Dwyer, as is her wont, left the building with the MVP award and the winner’s medal around her neck. It said everything about the forward’s abilities that she landed just seven of her 22 shots and still stood above everyone else.
Her athleticism and sheer force of will stand as a totem for a side that was equally well-served last night by Áine McKenna, Claire Rockall, Casey Grace, and the American Chantell Alford. The usual suspects doing the usual things, basically. Mostly, anyway.
Glanmire ended with a 36% shot success ratio, Liffey Celtics with 10% less, and the winners were guilty of some sloppy turnovers as well as a succession of easy enough baskets. Scannell had little hesitation in acknowledging that it was defence won it.
“It was wonderful,” Scannell said. “We held them to 48 points and you would take that any day.”
It spoke volumes for a side that is known for its up-tempo running game: that they could pull through by relying on a side of their game which Scannell has always believed to be undervalued. And it was ‘D’ built on an unfamiliar feeling.
Unbeaten all season until last week’s visit to Waterford where the Maxol WIT Wildcats had their number, Glanmire swirled the bitter taste around their mouths, spat it out and decided they would do whatever it took to avoid a second helping.
“We must give a big shout-out here to the Wildcats,” said Dwyer. “We went down to Waterford last weekend and we had been scraping through games in the league and I think we didn’t change stuff enough when we had been doing that.
“We needed to up our game in practice and it didn’t happen. We went down to Wildcats and lost by four but it should have been 15 and that was the making of us. With the work effort from the girls in training and the sad faces last week, I just knew we wanted this more than ever.”
Liffey Celtics had found themselves in this final just 13 years after the club’s foundation and on the back of a groundswell of underage success but their inexperience and the relative youth of the roster told against them as they conceded the first 13 scores of the game.
Jazmen Boone, their key guard, was guilty of some overambitious efforts that seemed to betray a collective nervousness and she finished the game with just four of 19 made and 11 points. Her fellow American Emma O’Connor stuttered too.
O’Connor finished as the game’s highest scorer with 22 but a good fist of those landed in the fourth quarter long after the main damage was done and the Kildare side looked to squeeze a deficit that stretched to 23 at its height and got no closer than 13 in the last quarter.
It was some credit to the losers that they even managed to inject the merest hint of excitement into that last stanza given the staccato nature of the game, the lead that Glanmire held for 39 minutes and 21 seconds of it and the lack of offensive glitz.
The nadir, in terms of aesthetics, came in the turn between the first and second quarters when over five minutes passed without a single score and Glanmire even conspired to go another three more before making the basket swoosh again.
None of which matters a jot.
Their four-in-a-row stands as a monument to a team than can win any which way: they scored 93 points to beat UL Huskies in overtime, needed just 62 to repeat the dose 12 months later and then hit Pyrobel Killester for 93 this time last year.
“It comes down to the desire and hunger that these players have,” said Scannell.
“It would be easy after two or three cups to rest on their laurels, and these guys don’t. We lost the game in Waterford last week and that really hurt us.
“You should have seen them in training the last week: there was a new focus and desire there and Jazmen Boone and the other excellent players Liffey Celtics have felt that wrath. The defence was set up and every time they caught the ball they were under pressure.
“It was tough to play against us tonight.” Nothing new there.
J Boone (11), E O’Connor (22), A Pupin (2), L Fortune, C Mullins, S Tiernan (7), K Mealey, C Wheeler, A Tiernan, M Howe, A O’Connor, A O’Connor (6), Erin Bracken
L A Wilkinson, C Grace (8), C Rockall (12), H Lenihan, G Dwyer (16), C Alford (12), O Dupuy, H McCarthy (2), J Fitzgerald, L Scannell, A Murphy, K Keating.