Loreto produced another superb tactical performance to earn the EY Champions Trophy for the first time, coming back from a goal down to defeat Cork Harlequins at Grange Road, Rathfarnham in the searing heat.
They had trailed in the 14th minute to a Michelle Barry strike but corner goals from Nicci Daly and Mia Jennings turned things around. Like the UCD win in Saturday’s semi-final, they did not concede a single penalty corner and gave up precious few chances.
The win came something out of the blue for coach Paul Fitzpatrick who had originally scheduled a holiday for this weekend when it looked like Loreto were out of the running for the top four.
But a late season run of form saw them sneak into the playoffs on the final day of the campaign and they duly produced the goods on the biggest stage.
Michelle Barry, Quins’ outstanding player over the weekend, broke the deadlock 14 minutes in. It wasn’t cleanest of strikes but her propensity to shoot early caught out Pegasus on Saturday and it did for Alannah Carragher in the final, going in off the goalkeeper’s instep before she had time to set herself.
Loreto, though, kept their cool and cranked up the gears. At the heart of things, Hannah Matthews – in an advanced sweeper role – and Hannah McLoughlin dictated their tempo while Ali Meeke’s skills and determination always threatened. Meeke was crowned Player of the Tournament later in the day, lifting the Jimmy O'Connor Cup.
They got back on terms from the first penalty corner of the game, won by Jesscia McGIrr following a long overhead out of defence. Sarah Clarke disguised her shot beautifully to Nicci Daly waiting at the injector spot and she flicked home.
For much of the third quarter, Loreto continued to hold most of the ball, circulating possession more effectively in a scrappy midfield tussle.
Mia Jennings almost produced a wonder goal soon after the break, stealing on halfway and escaping the final defender. Emma Buckley slid out well to limit the damage but it was the diminutive forward who scored the crucial second goal in the 41st minute.
Meeke won the set piece from whence it came and Clarke’s shot was again the creator, giving the pace for Jennings to ramp up and over Buckley for 2-1.
There was still a good half hour for Quins to work with but they could not get the likes of Rebecca Barry and Naomi Carroll going in dangerous areas as their runs were cut off at source.
Michelle Barry forced a double save from Carragher 12 minutes from time but, in truth, their final volley was too direct and was picked off by a Loreto defence who had closed out a similar vanguard a day earlier from UCD.
Mike McKerr, Country Managing Partner, EY Ireland commented “Huge Congratulations to Loreto Hockey Club for winning the EY Champions Trophy. The club continues to make huge strides and is a real example of a highest performing team in action. As a firm, EY is extremely proud of our continued sponsorship of Irish hockey. When it comes to leadership, teaming and developing winning strategies, there is a great deal to learn from professional sports people.”
For Loreto coach Paul Fitzpatrick, he likened the performance to something from early 90s football: “Someone said to me it was like the Denmark team in 1992 coming back from their holidays to win the Euros,” he said.
“We always felt we could win every game but it became more and more important as Railway dropped points fairly quickly. It suddenly became evident we could do it!”
“Today, Cork Harlequins are a strong side and they got a lot of ball in the early quarters with Naomi Carroll getting on the ball a lot but we readjusted to that. We actually worked hard on those corners this morning before the game and it went well for us.
His side benefitted hugely from the return of Sarah Clarke from the second team as well as Nicci Daly following a spell in the US.
“Two of our defenders went on Erasmus at Christmas so were struggling a little so Sarah came in. She’s an experienced player and is really enjoying it which is the most important thing.
“Nicci is another who has enjoyed her time this season and its improved her game. We just agreed on a new rotation system for her in midfield. Our change six weeks ago to put Hannah Matthews into more of a midfield role has really worked really well. Defensively, we kept the ball in the ‘dead zones’ in the corners for a lot of the game.”
His Quins counter-part Stephen Dale reflected on his side’s performance, saying: “You could ask for no more today. It’s really fine lines that win tight games; they got two penalty corners, scored both. We didn’t get any and sometimes that’s the difference.
“Maybe you have to lose a few to win one and maybe that’s the difference. I hate saying it but we are probably a little bit green on that side of things.”
Loreto will contest European competition in 2019 as a result as Ireland’s top seed with UCD – as regular season champions – taking the second slot.
Congratulations to Emma Buckley who won female GK of the tournament and Ali Meeke who was named Player of the Tournament.
Loreto: A Carragher, A Meeke, S O’Brien, H McLoughlin, C Sherin, N Small, S Torrans, C Hamill, H Matthews, S Clarke, N Daly
Subs: S Evans, H Mulcahy, M Jennings, H McDermott, J McGirr, A Taaffe, L Fitzgerald
Cork Harlequins: E Buckley, C Sargent, Y O’Byrne, R Upton, N Carroll, C Perdue, R Barry, M Barry, I Burns, E O’Leary, E Barber
Subs: S Murphy, J O’Halloran, O Roycroft, A O’Grady, R Hobbs, S Griffin, E O’Meara