In crisp and foggy Castlebar conditions, NUIG eked out a hardfought five-nil victory over a vastly-improved Carrick-on-Shannon contingent.
Throughout, both teams logged immense defensive performances and confined much of the play between the 22ms. That said, some enterprise (from both sides) allowed occasional expansion, Hannah Smith largely responsible for the NUIG width plundering the blindside several times.
On three occasions she found loose forwards Edel McMahon and Lou Kelly who kept the movement alive but found their efforts scuppered by poor handling in the fourth or fifth phase, or in the contact situation.
Carrick, by contrast, found their gaps on counter attack. No longer can they be described as rookies, the Leitrim ladies are every bit a formidable threat comprising solid, fast and physical rugby players. Last season’s Connacht Development Cup finalists may have given eyebrows cause to rise last winter making the Sportsground final, but this year present a very viable threat for the other final spot.
While Sligo have emerged clear favourites, little separates the other four, and the five-nil fairly reflected the effort on show Wednesday night.
It took NUIG the best part of 65minutes to break the nil-all deadlock, and did so through a partial kick charge from player-of-the-day Smith whereupon flanker Lou Fitzgerald gave scant thought to self-preservation and leapt on it amid flailing legs and bodies.
Whereas both Carick and NUIG vied equally for possession in the first half, the second was weigthed 90percent in favour of the students. Bizarre then that NUIG was unable to post any more points. Heather Cary proved useful around the park both on attack and defence but unforgivably lost control of the ball crossing the line for what would have been a straightforward second try.
That said, prodigal part-timer Sharon Moran fronted well in her comeback match, and pint-sized centre Kate Kerrane emerged as a genuine contender for inclusion in the starting backline.
The victory cemented NUIG’s third-place league finish, and they focus now on the College League competition and the CUSAI Intervarsities Tournament in Belfast in March.
By Luke O’Donnell.