The Irish Hockey League (IHL) 2 and the possibility of a return to the EY Hockey League (EYHL), the top tier of Irish club hockey, must feel like a constant distraction for Dublin University Ladies Hockey Club (DULHC).
Bossing Division 1 of the Leinster League, where they sit atop the table, DULHC are well aware it’s the IHL that offers a route back to the EYHL, and the visit of of Queen’s, the leaders of Pool A of the IHL, offered Trinity a chance to both inch closer to the finals weekend that decides what team are promoted and lay down a marker in the process. And after a feverishly dramatic final quarter, they did just that, emerging 2-1 winners and sparking frenzied celebrations among the home supporters.
Queen’s, though, did start the brighter, winning a number of short corners in the first quarter. Trinity grew into proceedings, but things looked rather ominous for the home side. Queen’s had easily swiped DULHC aside at Intervarsities earlier in the year and it looked like this game could be a repeat of that defeat.
Trinity began the second quarter with greater impetus, Sally Campbell and Ailish Long harassing the Queen’s defenders and forcing mistakes. This purple patch did not last. Five minutes into the quarter, Queen’s were one up, as some very loose marking allowed Tori Hastings to control a long ball deep inside Trinity’s half. She found Emily McStea, who stormed into the D and whipped the ball across to Rebecca Quinn to steer home. DULHC coach Brian Scully looked apoplectic as his team marched back to halfway.
DULHC rallied, winning a short corner a minute later. The execution was poor but the ball landed at Rachel Burns’s feet and her effort flashed inches wide of the Queen’s post. At the other end, Queen’s almost doubled their own advantage moments later, as McStea – whose skilful dribbling caused problems for Trinity all afternoon – slapped a dangerous ball across the D that Jessica McMaster nearly directed into the net. It was after this that DULHC curbed the visitors’ dominance and began to create meaningful opportunities, but half-time came and went with no equaliser.
And judging by the beginning of the third quarter it seemed unlikely that Queen’s would give up their lead. They picked up three short corners early on, though none came to fruition. Sally Campbell was shown a green card for dissent, and Ruby Keating fired over a golden opportunity to level the game against the run of play.
But one of Trinity’s strengths this season has been their tenacity, their ability to keep plugging away despite missed opportunities. After surviving the Queen’s onslaught they began to play some attacking hockey of their own, to the extent where they would have felt hard done by not to be level by the close of the third quarter.
And Scully clearly thought so too, given his visibly animated team talk before the game’s final period. Whatever Trinity’s coach said had the desired effect, as DULHC produced some of the best hockey they’ve played all year, creating drama and delirium in the process.
It wasn’t last-minute goals that saw DULHC over the line, but the type of incisive hockey that characterises Trinity at their best. Two minutes into the quarter, a clever pass from Campbell found Long, who won a short corner from which she smashed home a cracking equaliser. For most of the game Queen’s had been in the ascendancy, yet now it was Trinity playing all the hockey, looking hungry for a vital winner. And they got it soon after. Captain Long was again intricately involved, twisting and turning through a maze of sticks before slipping in Burns, who deftly snuck the ball underneath the legs of the onrushing Sarah McCabe.
A quickfire double had turned the game entirely on its head, but there were still 15 minutes to play. Queen’s threw everything at Trinity, but the hosts were resolute and in truth most of the visitors endeavours were pennies against a battleship. DULHC’s defense moved cohesively, blocking off attacks, and began, almost rugby-style, to play for territory. A long clearance from Burns, bobbling over the sideline deep in the opposing half, drew rapturous applause from the sideline.
Moments later, when the final whistle sounded on a 2-1 DULHC win, the crowd was uproarious, a reflection of the gravity of what is a huge win. It’s unlikely that Trinity will catch Queen’s at the top of the pool, given the Belfast side’s five-point advantage, but the win will give Scully’s players immeasurable confidence and begins to make secure their place in the top two of the group and the qualification berth for the finals weekend that comes with it.
Despite being outplayed for long sections of the game, this win feels like a watershed moment for Trinity in their bid for immediate re-promotion to the EYHL. They showed an abundance of skill and grit in the final quarter and looked like a team exceedingly hungry for promotion.