Cork Harlequins rolled back the years to record a fairytale men’s Irish Senior Cup victory at Belfield yesterday.
Their stunning 4-3 win over Railway Union in the decider matched the scoreline of their semi-final defeat of Instonians less than 24 hours earlier, completing one of the unlikeliest hockey success stories in recent years.
Back in the 2000s, Quins lost three ISC finals in four years before finally breaking their duck with victory over Lisnagarvey in the 2006 decider, the first title in their history.
But since reaching the semis in 2007, the Leesiders seemed to be in a major decline, relinquishing their stranglehold in Munster to Cork C of I while failing to make any impression in either of the showpiece national competitions.
With half the squad in their 30s and little in the way of youth emerging, it seemed like their goose was cooked. But Phil Oakley came on board as coach and, in his first attempt at coaching a men’s team, masterminded the return of the Munster title to Farmer’s Cross over the past two seasons. Yesterday, though, was the coup de grace.
Quins wouldn’t have been in anyone’s reckoning for a spot at the finals weekend, let alone to win it outright. But consecutive home victories over Annadale and Banbridge in the earlier rounds got them there, still considered rank outsiders but with a relatively favourable draw against Instonians.
The Belfast side led three times on Saturday, but Paul Gleghorne’s pair of drag-flicks were matched by two from John Hobbs, while Quins’ David Egner and Inst’s Mark Irwin swapped tap-ins.
But Dan Hobbs won it five minutes from time to send Quins into a decider against Railway Union, who had shocked Irish Hockey League winners Lisnagarvey 3-2 in the other semi.
Nine of the Quins panel were survivors of the 2006 win, a marked contrast to a Railway side fielding four teenagers and renowned for the speed of their counter-attack.
Quins had privately feared they wouldn’t have the legs to survive two high-octane games in 24 hours but, somehow, they did it. Rob Abbott gave Railway an early lead but David Egner tapped in for 1-1 after Paul Lombard capitalised on an error. When Karl Chapple picked up a rebound off Chris Daunt’s pads for 2-1, it seemed like Railway would pull away. However, the Cork side mugged them at the other end as Dan Hobbs slung two penalty corners in as many minutes through Stephen O’Keeffe’s defences in for 3-2.
It got even better as Colin Ross tucked home a third-phase rebound after Egner had hit the bar. Although Peter English nailed a penalty stroke with three minutes to go for a grandstand finish, Quins showed their experience to wind the clock down for a famous victory.
Having seen brother Jason life the trophy in 2006, it was Mark Black’s turn this time. The former Irish international duo are among a phalanx of Quins players rumoured to be retiring, but with a first appearance in the EuroHockey League on the horizon in the autumn, Mark admitted he may need to reconsider.
“I was planning on retiring, but we’ll have to revisit that one. Another year in us? The EHL should be interesting!” he said.
“I can’t believe it. It’s amazing for the club, for lads like David Eakins who has been playing 14 years, in his fourth Irish Senior Cup final and had never won one. It’s been a long journey for some of us, but this is the prize.
“I never expected us to be back in this arena. If you said at the start of the year we’d be winning the Irish Senior Cup, I wouldn’t have put money on it.”
It was also a day to remember for UCD, who beat Loreto 3-2 in the women’s final.
Just one player — captain Laura Wilson — remains from their breakthrough success in 2009, but Johnny Harte has some serious young Irish international talent at his disposal, including Anna O’Flanagan, who hit the winner five minutes from time.
For Loreto, it was yet more heartbreak just eight days after they lost the IHL final to Railway Union, where they saw a last-minute equaliser contentiously chalked off.
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