Waterford coach Stuart Greene is thrilled his side will get the chance to defend their Irish Hockey Trophy title after Hockey Ireland finally formally confirmed dates for the latter stages of last season’s national cups.
They will host Belfast Harlequins at Newtown on Sunday, September 6, in the semi-final, as they bid to be the first ever club to retain the crown.
Win and they will play either Portrane or South Antrim a fortnight later amid a helter-skelter schedule of matches when pre-season would normally be in full-flight.
The men’s Irish Senior Cup semi-finals will follow the same schedule while the women’s Irish Senior Cup final between UCD and Pegasus has been set for September 20.
Greene has been instrumental in Waterford’s renaissance, working with David Quinn for several years to oversee their rise from Munster’s Division Three, but he missed out on perhaps their biggest moment in 2019 when they landed the Trophy.
He had coached the side for the first half of that season before embarking on a year travelling with his girlfriend, Elaine, finding himself in a sleepy Sunday night bar in Wellington, New Zealand, for the day of the final.
A clubmate had arranged a Facebook Live feed via a drone and Greene says it was hard for the couple to contain themselves in a surreal setting as Waterford nicked a 4-3 rollercoaster.
“It was half one or two in the morning and I did get a bit emotional!” he told the Examiner. “There were plenty looking around at us tucked away in the corner and wondering what was going on!
“From where we started in Division 3 to winning this title... it was so tough not being there but incredibly delighted for the lads and their hard work.”
During his time away, Greene took on two coaching jobs in Australia, continuing in winning fashion as he led both the Sydney Girls High School and the University of New South Wales Met Three teams to league titles, picking up a local coach of the year award into the bargain.
Eighteen months on, Greene has retaken the reins in his hometown but knows the challenges the club face remain the same with many moving on after their school days.
In the wake of that final win, youth internationals Ben Johnson, Harry McCarthy, and Ethan McInerney were all snapped up by EY Hockey League clubs in Dublin.
Isaac Johnson will follow them to Pembroke but is eligible to play in this semi-final before completing his transfer with 2019/20’s registration rules remaining in effect. Liam Sorensen, however, returned to South Africa just before lockdown and will not make it back for this tie.
Belfast Harlequins represent a tough opponent based on what happened before the break, scoring 99 goals in 11 games in the Ulster intermediate league.
But Greene feels the real challenge is much closer to home.
“The main challenges coming are, first, the mental challenge of playing an IHT semi-final when it should be pre-season. It’s just three and a half weeks to get them mentally ready. The second one is the physical and tactical side of things.
“We really want to retain it! Winning it last year was unbelievable but to get an opportunity to reach that final again having lost the players we have, it would be incredible for that next generation of young players coming up!”