Fearghal Kerin previews UCD’s Ladies chances of downing Pegasus in the Irish Senior Cup Final.
CUP RUNS are generally fi lled with unforgettable moments and clashes that live long in the memory, and for this UCD Ladies Hockey side, their run to the fi nal of Irish hockey’s blue ribbon event, the Irish Senior Cup Final has been no differnt. However, for Mary Logue’s side to take the trophy, it will involve dethroning Pegasus, who themselves are going for their own slice of history with what would be a third Cup victory in a row.
What makes the side’s achievement in reaching the fi nal all the more noteworthy is its rarity. While Pegasus may be Cup specialists, the same cannot be said for the Belfi eld side. Not only have they not won the trophy since 1951, that victory also comprises their one and only appearance in the fi nal. This novelty factor adds to the lure of the fi nal, with a mixture of the freshness of the Students’ contrasting starkly with that of Pegasus.
The Belfi eld side will fi nd themselves going into the game as underdogs against their northern opponents. Pegasus have had an unprecedented dominance in this tournament in recent years. A haul of seven victories in 20 years gives them a historic basis and feeling of entitlement to the trophy. This begs the question, will this breed complacency and a lack of urgency amongst the Belfast ladies, comparing with the desire of UCD? Or nerves on what will be the biggest stage of them all?
Though UCD have experience of taking out Trinity in this year’s colours clash, there is frankly no preparation for the Senior Cup Final available to Logue’s girls in advance of their late April clash. Having already won the Ulster Premier Division, the impetus will certainly be with the northerners. Add to this the form of Pegasus star Claire McMahon, who has been the catalyst behind Pegasus’ march to the fi nal. It was Julie McKnight who opened the scorer for Pegasus in their semi-fi nal clash with Ballymoney, but after ‘Money equalised, as always, it was McMahon who netted the winner and allowed them advance to their date with UCD at the National Stadium.
McMahon is one of the country’s most consistent and impressive performers, and has lit up the Irish Hockey League again this season. Having last year been crowned Irish Hockey’s Player of the Year, few would bet against her potentially regaining her crown this year, particularly should she lead Pegasus to victory over UCD. Michelle Harvey and Alex Speers are also danger players in what is generally an experienced side, many of who already have at least a couple of medals in this competition.
“UCD have not won the trophy since 1951, but that victory also comprises their one and only appearance in the final”
While their opponents in the final are favoured over UCD, this is no different to their path to the National Stadium. Logue’s charges have had the more diffi cult route, having had to negotiate several of Irish hockey’s marquee names. The early rounds could scarcely have been less kind to College, yet they managed to dispatch of Loreto and Hermes in the opening rounds.
This gave them progression to the quarter-fi nals, and a scent of the fi nal, and the fi rst of what will be three Ulster opponents in a row. Belfast Harlequins gave strong competition to UCD, but a controlled second half performance, with Orlagh O’Shea and Megan Tennant-Humphreys in particular shining on the occasion gave them the edge as they moved on to play fellow college side, the Ulster Elks.
The battle of the students’ was probably the toughest game yet for UCD, with Emma Clarke gaining the upper hand in midfi eld early on. However, the sides captain Lisa Jacob proved a thorn in the Elks’ defence and a fi ne run and low shot gave UCD the lead.
However, a lack of concentration in the wake of the goal was fatal for College, as they failed to keep their composure and allowed the Elks off the hook, with an immediate equaliser. Lyndsay McNeish’s scrappy goal however, proved unimportant, after a set-piece move from a well worked corner saw Rachel Burke score the winner and allow UCD advance.
For UCD, a victory in this competition would cap what has been a largely successful season. Though they were eliminated from the Leinster Cup at the hands of Railway, they still fi nd themselves in contention for an important top four fi nish in the inaugural Irish Hockey League, which would be impressive in light of them only gaining entrance to the League after victory in a Wild Card tournament.
Though victory is unlikely, big performances from UCD will give them a chance. Captain Jacob will need to stretch Pegasus’ defence, while skills from her international team-mate, Roisín Flinn is also key.
That the fi nal will be played in the National Stadium at Belfi eld is advantageous to UCD without doubt, but it will decide very little, given that it is a fi nal.
In Logue, UCD have a coach who has seen and done it all as an Irish hockey player, and has added new organisation to the side. Much of the success has been built on solid defence, and this will be key in stopping Pegasus. Logue made her name as a competitive and ambitious player. Whether she has successfully passed these attributes on to her players will only be evident as UCD take on Pegasus in their fi rst ever meeting in this competition.