Dismal weather conditions in Dundalk Institute of Technology Sports Grounds did not dampen the spirits of the Trinity freshers’ hurling team on Monday night, as it beat Ulster University Jordanstown (UUJ) to secure a historic back-to-back league title.
Incredible teamwork and determination from the boys in red and black, with some tremendous work by the likes of Ger Dempsey and Johnny Walsh, helped the side power through to win by a one-point margin to reclaim the Division Two title.
Trinity went into the clash knowing that this would be its biggest test to date to see who would come out on top as league champions. It was UUJ that got off the mark the quickest, scoring 2–1 within the first seven minutes of the game, the team’s first goal coming from a left-wing ball that was well worked. A second goal moments later went straight through the Trinity defence and past keeper Kieran Kilbane.
It took Trinity a while to get into the game, the wet conditions not suiting the team’s style of play at all. Chances came and went, with Cormac O’ Nuallain missing a chance when the sliotar he grasped slipped out of his hand and was dealt with by the UUJ defence.
Full-forward David Croke finally got Trinity onto the scoreboard with a lunging effort that saw the ball dart past the opposition’s keeper, narrowing the gap between the sides ever so slightly.
Questionable refereeing decisions became a theme of the game, with a point by Liam O’ Flynn ruled wide, which could have aided a quicker return to the game. Trinity began to step it up a gear and look for scores instead of merely defending UUJ scoring attempts, with Ger Dempsey gathering a ball and flicking it over to O’ Flynn, who saw his effort narrowly miss the posts.
Shortly after this effort, Trinity was awarded a penalty after a ball into David Croke from O’ Flynn saw Croke dragged down by his marker in the square. Trinity’s top scorer of the night, Johnny Walsh, stood up to the ball and blasted it past the UUJ keeper. He followed with a point soon after, with his teammates growing into the game and shooting accuracy progressing throughout the game.
Walsh was not done, however, gathering a ball in his own defence and bursting through the centre of the field. When a confrontation came, he quick-stepped around his challenger in order to score a magnificent point. UUJ never showed signs of fading away into the background, adding to the scoreboard regularly. A goal threat came from UUJ in the closing stages of the half, but Walsh got the vital hook in at the last second to thwart a certain goal, having made a very impressive run from centre-field. Trinity nearly saw a goal chance themselves when Eoin O’ Callaghan got on a ball 13 yards out but drove it straight at the keeper. Walsh made up for this after O’Callaghan flicked the next ball to Dempsey who passed it onto Walsh for a point. Trinity would end the half with a goal after Walsh’s free from the 65-yard line dropped in over the keeper’s head, leaving the team 3–3 to 2–4 ahead at the break.
UUJ broke out of the traps in the second-half, putting over two points within the first three minutes of the restart. This was a sure sign that there would be a battle at hand if Trinity had any hopes of retaining its title.
Walsh got Trinity back on track after winning a free for being dragged down in the forward line. UUJ were then awarded four frees in a row, but this never dampened Trinity’s spirit, with O’Flynn and Daniel Long striking over points to try and keep the opposition at bay. Both sides exchanged scores for a while, before substitute Conor Barton won a penalty for Trinity with 10 minutes to go. Walsh made no mistake in slotting the sliotar into the bottom left-hand corner, widening the gap once again.
Pressure began to mount against the title-holder, with Trinity giving away a doubtful penalty in the 27th minute when Naoise Quinlivan met a UUJ attacker just outside the square. But UUJ took its point instead of going for goal. Long got on the tail end of a pass from Barton 40 yards out from the goal, striking over a brilliant point to edge the Trinity boys closer to bringing home the cup.
Even with two minutes extra time and a late UUJ goal, this still wasn’t enough as Trinity pulled away by the bare minimum to win back-to-back titles under the management of Leon Breen, Darragh Horgan, Jack O’Neill and Stefan Ennis on the sidelines. The strength and determination showed by the team proved that it would be more than able to compete in Division One, as even with the immense power of UUJ down the centre of the field, the heart and passion of Trinity prevailed. In the team’s toughest challenge to date, Trinity proved that the hurling culture in the College is strong and shows no signs of fading anytime soon.