Hockey in UCD currently finds itself in one of those golden eras which don’t come round too often. The ladies team proved dominant in 2018, winning the University Championships, the Irish Senior Cup and the domestic EY Hockey League; throw in the vast number of UCD silver medalists at the Hockey World Cup last summer and it was a truly magical year. The ladies are also well on course for a successful 2019, recovering from a relatively slow start in the domestic league to sit in third place at present, and well inside the top-four playoff positions. Construction of our new state-of-the-art pitch is also well underway. Its projected completion later this year provides further cause for celebration on campus. And while the UCD Men’s team have not quite scaled such heights recently (they currently sit third in Leinster Division One having been crippled by an injury crisis), that is not to say that the campus is not littered with talented hockey players of the opposite gender. Indeed, a strong contingent of UCD students will form part of the Three Rock Rovers team that heads to the Euro Hockey League (EHL), the premier competition in European hockey, taking place over Easter in Eindhoven. To compete in the EHL is to dine at Europe’s top table, for it is the hockey equivalent of soccer’s Champions League.
Like the UCD ladies, 2018 was a year in which the Rathfarnham club ruled the roost, amassing a remarkable haul of six trophies. Rather perfect overall then, yet there was, even more, to cheer about; Rovers also secured their berth in the EHL by virtue of a heroic and nerve-wracking qualification campaign in October. The qualification story was a tale in itself. First, there was the last minute equaliser from former History & Geography student Luke Madeley to salvage a draw against Spanish group rivals, Junior FC. What followed was an anxious wait to see if Junior FC could overtake Rovers on goal difference, which looked distinctly possible at one stage. A shootout was also on the cards if the teams finished level on points difference. Ultimately though, Rovers prevailed, defying the rankings by finishing top of their qualification pool.
The nation’s standard-bearers of late, Rovers represented Ireland in last year’s edition also. Last time out, they were eliminated by French outfit Saint-Germain by a single goal. A defeat in the subsequent ranking match to current Belgian champions, KHC Dragons followed- the score was an utterly bizarre 20-10; however, the scoring system whereby field goals count double offers a partial explanation. Thankfully, this year normal practice resumes where one goal counts as one goal, whether scored from the field or via penalty corner.
Ironically, the team faces Dragons again in the last 16 this time out, and the Belgian champions represent a stiff test, for they count several winners of the recent World Cup in India among their illustrious panel of players. Business & Law graduate, Kirk Shimmins will be among those featuring in Dragons’ colours having moved from the EY Hockey League this season. Anything other than a win for the Belgians would be regarded as a cup upset, yet there is still hope for Rovers. Dragons’ have played far below their usual level this season, currently sitting in seventh place in their domestic league. Indeed, the fire they breathe this year is not as torrid last year, and Rovers will feel quietly confident about a possible slaying this time.
So what about the UCD representation in Eindhoven then? Well, many UCD students- past and present- will up sticks to the Netherlands for the week. Among the past students are Ross Canning, Ravin Nair, and the recently Irish-capped Madeley, Of the current students, Jamie Carr, Alex Flynn, and Harry MacMahon will make the trip. Also travelling to Eindhoven will be Ben Walker and Conor Empey (both BComm students). Both have been capped internationally at senior and under-21 level respectively and will be eager to impress on club hockey’s biggest stage. Walker for one is upbeat about his team’s chances: “We know Dragons are a quality side with many World Cup winners but we’re confident that we can go one better than last year and cause an upset.” The team’s recent upturn in form is also something that bodes well, and Walker is fully aware of the importance of maintaining momentum: “We’re looking forward to finishing the domestic league and cups strongly to build up some momentum before we travel to the EHL.”
If Rovers can replicate their phenomenal form over the last year and benefit from a sprinkling of Irish luck, securing passage to the quarter-final is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility. Indeed, this golden era on campus could very well extend a little further. We wish them well.
By Neil Stokes – Sports Writer