Although some late withdrawals due to Covid contacts and clashes with other games among other reasons meant that there were just five teams in Castledawson for the Ulster Schools’ Sevens competition, the standard was nevertheless very high and ultimately it proved extremely difficult to find an overall winner.
After the round robin games, St Patrick’s Maghera, St Louis Ballymena and St Killian’s Garron Tower were all unbeaten, the games between each of the three finishing in draws.
A decision was then made to play a further round robin series between the three unbeaten sides.
The first game up was between St Louis and St Patrick’s Maghera. The Ballymena school went 0-3 to 0-1 ahead, but a goal from Carla Collins edged Maghera ahead with just a minute left. However that was just enough time for Anna McKillop to snatch a draw with a late pointed free for St Louis.
In the second game of the series, St Killian’s made the early running and were unlucky not to be further ahead than 0-2 to 0-1, both points coming from Orla McAlister. With the last attack, Maghera surged forward and Ellen McCormick won a free that was converted for another draw.
That meant that the last game between St Killian’s and St Louis was a winner takes all decider. The Garron Tower side seemed to sense it more than the Ballymena girls and they imposed themselves on the play from the start with McAlister shooting an early goal.
Clodagh McPeake added a second and, although St Louis scored a point in reply, McPeake pulled a ground shot to the net after several saves by the St Louis goalkeeper. With McAlister adding a late free, St Killian’s were home and hosed with Abi McNeill a commanding presence in defence in front of the excellent Louise Mulholland in goals.
Although St Killian’s, and before that St MacNissi’s, have appeared in the All-Ireland Sevens series over the years, this is the first time they will travel south to contest the A grade.
St Patrick’s Maghera will play in the B All-Ireland and St Louis Ballymena in the C grade.
All three schools, as well as Cross and Passion Ballycastle, who also gave a good account of themselves in Castledawson, will be in action in the provincial semi-finals over the next few days with St Louis Ballymena taking on holders Cross & Passion in the Corn Eimhear semi-final on Monday. Maghera play St Mary’s Magherafelt in the first semi-final on Friday in Castledawson (2pm).
Also on Friday at midday in Castledawson, St Killian’s take on St Patrick’s Keady in the Liatroim Fontenoys’ Cup semi-final with St Pius X Magherafelt waiting for them in next week’s final.