Defying the odds

Above: Pre-match training.

Above: Pre-match training.

With hockey pre-season underway, thoughts turn to the new season, but also to the highs and lows from the season past. Now and again a sporting achievement stands out because of its uniqueness.

A special occasion where winning against the odds, underdogs beating overwhelming favourites and sheer guts and determination show that it is possible to do the impossible.

And so it was last April, the scene was set for a showdown between two clubs, one new, one old. Two clubs – at best, rivals; at worst, fierce opponents. Two clubs who had fought it out for first and second spots in the Leinster Hockey league for the past three years.

Above: The lineup. Photos courtesy of Ali Robinson.

Above: The lineup. Photos courtesy of Ali Robinson.

Muckross vs Wicklow league games were always tense, high tempo. Wicklow coming out on top in the league and remaining unbeaten by any league team in the past three years. So when both clubs were drawn on the opposite sides of the Leinster Cup draw, the scene was set for a perfect storm.

Muckross watched as Wicklow relentlessly made their way through the cup rounds, quarters and semis winning by an average score of 5-nil. Muckross navigated their way through the rounds to the quarters and then won a tough semi-final against Monkstown to ultimately meet Wicklow in the Cup final which was generally considered to be a fait accompli for Wicklow. The Muckross coach and squad, however, had other ideas!

Nerves were raw: fear, dread, trepidation; but in the face of the unsurmountable comes clarity. So what if they had an ex-international, so what if they had beaten us for the past three years, so what if no one gave us a chance. If we believed as a unit and agreed as a unit that we could beat them, then we would beat them. As a coach you instil belief. You have to believe, otherwise there’s no point turning up.

So, after two weeks of pre-match intensive physical and mental preparation, Muckross were ready to do battle.Their strategy agreed, every player knew exactly their role. More importantly, every player believed that if they carried out their role they would win.

For Muckross there was a beautiful symmetry to this cup final. Muckross had last won the cup back in 1994 when two of the current senior squad were 13 year old Muckross schoolgirls and two players who now play on the Muckross vets squad were on the cup-winning side all of those 22 years ago. The pressure was on. It’s one thing to lose a league match but to lose a Leinster Cup final with the weight of history bearing down was simply not an option.

And so it was, David met Goliath. The scene was set in Three Rock Rovers at Leinster Cup finals day. A soft breeze, the sun shining, Muckross stepped out into history. Kit gleaming, minds focused, muscles taut.

When the whistle blew, they unleashed fury, yet it was no score at half-time. Wicklow were frustrated, with cracks showing. Muckross’s strategy to keep possession away from Wicklow was working. With individual battles all across the pitch, this was the first game in three years where they were not having it their own way. Muckross, with a sea of green supporters fought hard for each other, for the club and for every player who had gone before them in club history.

Full time came and still no score. Wicklow had everything to lose, Muckross had everything to win.

Incredible tension, an incredible match, now to be decided by a penalty shoot-out. There was an eerie silence as players stepped up to take the penalties under the watchful eye of the Leinster umpires. 1 nil to Wicklow, 2 nil to Wicklow, terror on the Muckross faces, 2-1, 3-all, 4-all 5-all. Incredible scenes, it was now a golden goal scenario.

A Wicklow striker stepped up, confident, outwardly calm. We waited, silence, she stepped in and incredibly, pushed the ball an inch left of the post and wide, inwardly crushed. This was it surely.

Muckross stepped up, one goal separated the impossible from the possible. Could this group of players finally bring the cup home after 22 years and secure their place in history?

Calm, self-assured, the Muckross centre-back stepped up and eyed the goalkeeper. She looked right, but went left, the ball slammed into the back of the net. Muckross won and with that a tsunami of emotion, ecstasy, tears, relief and justification of all of the effort, pain, losses and commitment. A singular unity within the squad. A unique feeling that is experienced so rarely in life. The pure joy of victory.

It may not be the Olympics, the premiership or even the IHL but sport is sport no matter what level. To the victor go the spoils. Muckross had done it, defying all the odds, against the run of form and against all the punters who had expected Wicklow to romp home.

That victory can never be taken away from the 16 players on the pitch that day. What Muckross showed to all present and to themselves is belief in oneself. In sport and in life, believe that you can achieve it, work hard to achieve it and you will achieve it, despite the odds.

Muckross Hockey club are based at Muckross Park College, Marlborough Road, D4. If you would like to be part of the Muckross magic, would like to get fit or would just like to try hockey, call Jeannane on 087 1958993.

By Ali Robinson