Two of Ireland’s Under 18 centre tandem squared off in the semi finals of the Irish women’s cup on Saturday. Emmet Ryan on how Rachel Huisjdens and her DCU Mercy side were able to breeze past Maggie Byrne and NUIG Mystics
The summer was great. It really, really, went well. An Irish national side that had the chemistry of a club side secured promotion to a European A division for the first time ever. You may have read about it on this site. Five members of that roster squared off on Saturday as DCU Mercy battled NUIG Mystics for a place in the Irish cup final.
Two of them were more than used to each other’s games. Rachel Huisjdens and Maggie Byrne had tandemed one another and often played together at the four-five in that one but here it was about getting through each other, not working together.
Byrne’s Mystics came to this one with plenty of hope but little expectation. She was joined in the starting line-up by Dayna Finn, who had lined out with her on that U18 squad. Huisjdens was on a deep DCU Mercy line-up, one that had the luxury of keeping Bronagh Power-Cassidy and Maeve Ó Séaghda on the bench for the start. That strength was obvious as DCU cruised ahead in the early stages.
Their games are different. Huisjdens has length and is quick footed, able to make the kind of steps that will leave an opponent on the floor out of nowhere. Byrne learned this the hard way in the first quarter as the Mystics big had to cover up following a bad slip.
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The Galway woman doesn’t have the speed of Huisjdens but her awareness and timing make up for it. She knows how to make space for herself and force people out of her way without needing to ramp up the physicality. Her bravery on the floor would at times put her in awkward spots. Early in the second she had to sit after her second fall of the game.
After a couple of minutes she came back. Mercy were well on top with Huisjdens having finally taken her first break of the game midway through the frame. Instead it was Ó Séaghda on duty to marshal Byrne for a while. Huisjdens and Byrne were both putting up decent numbers, effectively cancelling each other out, while the rest of Mercy defied their name as they poured on the points to run up a big half-time lead. After 20 minutes it was advantage Huisjdens, with DCU leading 47-27.
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Huisjdens drew first blood in the third, with Byrne too late trying to get back on D. The score already felt academic. Mystics just didn’t look like they could conjure up anything to get back in this one. The youngsters kept fighting, with Finn looking determined every time she had to get things going again after another soft Mercy bucket.
The pair of bigs kept on battling. While the atmosphere had left the arena, with the game all but done, these two just kept at it. Every play is about that roadmap, the development. It’s not just the cup final ahead or DCU’s quest for the league title. It’s the next youth tournament they will be lining out together in. It’s the chance to make a statement for a place in the senior squad ahead of the summer’s European Championship for Small Countries. Every step and play matters at this age.
It ended in a facile 92-50 win for DCU. They had more than made up for last season’s disappointment at this stage. The game ended quietly, pleasantries exchanged. The ride home awaits and then back to work for two players likely to be battling each other at this level for the next 15 years of so while also hoping to share the floor in green.
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