“IT’S OVER! WE HAVE WON! WE’RE GOING TO THE EYHL!” If you were following our journey through the EYHL Provincial Playoffs over the weekend – these were the magic words. The words we were all waiting and wishing to hear; the words our club has worked so hard for. Just after 5:30PM on Sunday evening, we got to say them. We can’t quite believe it.
What a difference 12 months makes. This time last year – Scottie, Freda and our gals in green n’ white stood dejected on the pitch in Rathdown as their season’s efforts and EYHL Playoffs journey ended in tears. Yesterday, they stood in that familiar post-match team huddle together again – as the Leinster Champions, having just booked a direct ticket to the national league.
It was a weekend of high-intensity hockey action to get there – five teams, four matches, one winner. Muckross started the weekend strong on Saturday morning, beating the Connacht champions NUIG 3-0 in their opening game – the goals coming from Natasha Twomey, and Yasmin Pratt on the double. A few hours of recovery and it was on to the next challenge – our provincial rivals Old Alex. The pace of the match was relentless – but after 50 minutes and a number of heart-stopping moments, it ended all square. A win and a draw for the day. Two clean sheets. A solid start.
Saturday evening was spent on recovery in the team hotel, getting good grub on board, analysing the day’s performance, and doing the homework on what was to come. Two more matches – win them both, and we’re in the EYHL. Simple as. A good night’s sleep, and a breakfast of champions – time to rise and shine.
Munster title holders, the hosts UCC, were up next. We went ahead early in the second quarter thanks to another Yasmin special, and it looked like we’d be taking the lead into half-time – until the Cork side struck back, right on the whistle. “SHINE A LIGHT.” Into the dugout. Re-group, re-focus. Keep working, keep fighting, keep creating chances – it’ll come. Except it didn’t… and another quarter passed, still deadlocked. Into the final quarter – we needed to find a winner, and we needed it quick. A well-worked free set-piece found Gilly in the D – no better woman to stick it in the net. GOAL. Muckross leading with 7 minutes to go. UCC had their chances to equalise in the closing minutes – but the green n’ white wall of defence shut them out. Full time whistle. The points belonged to Muckross.
Top of the tournament leaderboard with only one more game to play. A win and promotion would be ours – simple as. A draw, and we’d be in for an agonising wait, reliant on other team’s results and goal difference. Nodoby wanted that. Our destiny was in our own hands – time to make sure of it.
The final match against Ulster champions Lurgan will be remembered as one of the most tense that our club has ever been involved in. Immense pressure applied from the get-go – and eventually they broke through at the end of the first quarter. 1-0 down. Don’t panic; keep working; we’ll get back into this… and we did. A penalty corner halfway through the second quarter was perfectly executed – Laura Hanlon picking one hellova time to score her first goal of the season, as she pounced from the back post to put it away. All square; GAME ON. Lurgan upped the pressure again. Two minutes to half-time, they won a penalty corner, and we went down to 10 players for the infirngment. They set up to take it. Then… down came the hailstones.
Time stopped; teams sent to the dugouts; supporters sent scrambling for shelter. A 20 minute weather delay followed – time to cool down, talk tactics, and re-focus. Back out onto the pitch to defend that penalty corner – cleared straight out, no getting through. The follow-up phase brought a stunning save between the sticks from Rachel. Half-time whistle. All square.
The third quarter came and went with more end-to-end action but no score to be found by either side. Into the fourth, we go again – 12.5 minutes to find a winner. Four minutes into it, we did. A penalty corner at a crucial juncture – no time for fancy stuff – straight strike from Yasmin and BOOM the backboard is rattled. Muckross go ahead. An agonising eight minutes followed, full of thrills n’ spills. We keep calm. We hold our nerve. This is our day. Full time whistle. Elation.
IT’S OVER. WE HAVE WON. WE ARE GOING TO THE EYHL!