Loreto’s Niamh Small, Hannah Matthews and Ali Meeke celebrate. Picture: Adrian Boehm

Coach Paul Fitzpatrick likened their arrival on the finals scene as akin to Denmark at the 1992 Euros as Loreto came from nowhere to land the EY Champions Trophy.

He was meant to be on holiday but those plans were cut short as the Beaufort club recovered a seven-point gap in the league to sneak into the playoffs.

And they made full use of that reprieve as they beat treble-chasing UCD before producing an excellent final performance to see off Cork Harlequins 2-1 in the final at Grange Road with Nicci Daly and Mia Jennings scoring exquisitely executed penalty corners.

Reflecting on their late season run, coach Fitzpatrick said: “We always felt we could win every game but it became more and more important as Railway Union dropped points fairly quickly. It suddenly became evident we could do it!”

The win over UCD was a special one in the semi, Ali Meeke scoring the only goal to inflict just a second defeat in two years on the students on the national stage.
Loreto did so with their defence in superb form, giving barely an inch with Hannah McLoughlin mopping everything up in the centre while Hannah Matthews – in an advanced sweeper role – came into her own.

Fitzpatrick pin-pointed that move as one of the key changes in their abrupt change of form.

In the final, Cork Harlequins went ahead when Michelle Barry’s snap-shot snuck home in the 14th minute.

But, from there on, Loreto did not give an inch and slowly turned the screw. They were level when Jessica McGirr won a penalty corner which Sarah Clarke brilliantly disguised into the path of Daly who flicked home.

Jennings then got the winner in the second half when she got on the end of another Clarke ball, clipping the ball up and over Emma Buckley.

For the experienced Clarke, it was quite the impact. She was only brought back into the first team at Christmas following a couple of departures on Erasmus while Daly also was on the comeback trail after a spell in the US. Their side held on reasonably comfortably for the 2-1 win and All-Ireland glory.

Loreto will contest European competition in 2019 as a result as Ireland’s top seed with UCD – as regular season champions – taking the second slot.