Having secured the U-14 girls Midland league title in the previous weeks, Portlaoise Panthers represented the Midlands in the U-14 ‘A’ section of the All-Ireland Club Championships in Cork over the weekend.
Portlaoise were drawn in a very strong pool including teams from St Marys Castleisland, Fr Matthews Cork, Maree Galway and Liffey Celtics representing Dublin.
The first two games played against Castleisland and Fr Matthews, the eventual winners and runner ups, were bruising encounters. Never the less the girls battled hard through these two games and learned a great deal from these two superb sides.
Portlaoise faced Maree in their third game of the day. This, like the others, was also going to be a tough game for the midland side. Portlaoise worked hard in the first and second quarter with Jasmine Burke and Seona McKittrick battling under the boards to keep their side in touching distance at the half on a scoreline of 13-18.
The girls got stuck in again in the third quarter with some well taken scores by Maria Carroll and Sophie Delahunt which rattled Maree confidence.
The last quarter was a tough battle with scores coming quick and fast for both sides but Portlaoise failed to take advantage of foul ridden Maree and at the final whistle Maree took the victory on a scoreline of 38-28 points.
Portlaoise didn’t have long to dwell on the game before they were on the court again against Dublin representatives Liffey Celtics. This was a tight affair from start to finish with never more than a few points between the sides throughout the game.
Celtics were the quicker team out of the blocks notching up three scores in quick succession before Ciara Byrne turned in five points for her team and they trailed by four at the end of the first quarter.
Great teamwork in the second quarter by Chloe Grant O’Shea and Sarah Fleming coupled by superb defensive work by Lauren Dwyer and Grainne O’Reilly pushed Portlaoise closer to Liffey Celtics. Amy Byrne kicked into a higher gear notching up eight points before the half giving Portlaoise the lead 21-18 at the half.
Fatigue was understandably starting to show in the third quarter as Portlaoise defence was stretched at every opportunity. Shannon Carroll O’Reilly and Rebecca Reddin worked tirelessly all over the court and with only one quarter to play the midlander trailed by three points.
The last quarter saw sisters Amy and Ciara Byrne link up fantastically to keep Portlaoise in the game and on the final buzzer the two teams were level on 42 points apiece. Three minutes of extra time ensued with the girls maintaining their hard work.
Amy Byrne put in a well worked score to bring her tally to 22 for the game but with Portlaoise on team fouls, and clinical free throw shooting by the Dublin side, that saw them take a one point lead with 11 seconds on the clock.
Try as they might the Portlaoise girls couldn’t find a way through and at the final buzzer the girls lost by the narrowest of margins 44-45. It was a great display by the girls against an excellent Dublin side that the girls can take great heart in.
Sunday saw the girls play their last game of the tournament against Galway side, Corrib. The midlanders were determined to take home a win and this was epitomised by Shauna Dooley and Grainne O’Reilly with well worked moves to give the Portlaoise girls a two point lead at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter started in the same vein as Amy Byrne kept the Portlaoise scoreboard ticking over with ten points from play and at the half Portlaoise lead 22-15.
The second half saw Corrib apply a full court press and defensive errors by the Portlaoise girls quickly shortened the lead to just three points.
Portlaoise had to use all their experience and battled hard all over the court under a great deal of pressure but the hard working Byrne ably aided by Burke and Delahunt saw them take a five point win over the westerners on a score line of 36-31 points.
A great weekend of basketball and well done to everyone involved.
Team: Grainne O’Reilly, Amy Byrne, Ciara Byrne, Chloe Grant O’Shea, Jasmine Burke, Lauren Dwyer, Maria Carroll, Rebecca Reddin, Sarah Fleming, Seona McKittrick, Shannon Carroll O’Reilly, Shauna Dooley and Sophie Delahunt.