McConnell ends Rovers’ 40-year wait for Senior Cup glory

Men’s Irish Senior Cup final
Three Rock Rovers 2 (Mitch Darling, Peter Blakeney) Pembroke 2 (Conor Harte, Tim Hill), Three Rock win 5-4 on penalties

Three Rock Rovers ended a 40-year wait for the men’s Irish Senior Cup final in nerve-shredding fashion at Belfield as Peter McConnell kept his cool to fire home the crucial penalty stroke.

It was redemption of sorts for the left back who was sin-binned for the closing ten minutes of normal time for a foul on Ronan Flannery and while his side initially dealt with the corner that ensued, Tim Hill grabbed an equaliser during his absence that ultimately sent the tie to extra time.

Three Rock mob Peter McConnell, hidden, and Stephen West following their shoot-out win Pic: Adrian Boehm

Three Rock mob Peter McConnell, hidden, and Stephen West following their shoot-out win Pic: Adrian Boehm

But he was calmest man in the National Hockey Stadium when it came down to the final penalty, picking his spot low past Mark Ingram to complete a perfect set of five strokes allied to one diving Stephen West to see Three Rock end their long wait for this title.

Indeed, McConnell – as a fifth year student in Wesley College – was one of three survivors in the Three Rock side from their last appearance in the final 15 years ago of world hockey’s oldest club competition along with Alan Bothwell and Garry Ringwood, the latter also netting in the stroke competition.

It sparked wild celebrations, not least from the large number of members of the 1974 team, after a cagey, engaging encounter after normal time had finished 2-2.

The game did not have as much swagger as Saturday’s semi-finals. Pembroke adopted a compact press that negated Three Rock’s speed through midfield and attack, limiting Huub de With and Johnny Bruton’s avenues of attack though there was space down the channels for Peter Blakeney, Jody Hosking and Ali Haughton to open up their legs.

Pembroke started the brighter in a lively opening stanza with Flannery and Mick O’Connor’s interchanged drawing the first corner. West stood tall to palm away Alan Sothern’s flick while he also denied the same man’s stinging reverse.

The momentum was slowed as the half wore on, not lease by a trio of Pembroke green cards for Mark Loughrey, Patrick Shanahan and Mick O’Connor. Rovers could not avail of a brief two-man advantage and half-time came with no goals.

That stat changed seven minutes into the second period when Karl Lynch won his side’s second corner and while the move did not go to plan, Harte latched on to a half-cleared ball and clipped home a crisp backhand shot.

It drew more urgency from Rovers and they played their best hockey in the minutes after the goal. Mitch Darling – an effervescent force up front – almost wormed one shot through Ingram’s pads from close range while the Pembroke net-minder pulled off a brilliant double save from Hosking and Darling soon after.

Huub de With gets by Simon McKeever and Craig Wilson en route to creating TRR's first goal Pic: Adrian Boehm

Huub de With gets by Simon McKeever and Craig Wilson en route to creating TRR’s first goal Pic: Adrian Boehm

The equaliser took five minutes to arrive as de With barged his way through two light tackles and pumped the ball from right to left on an inviting 45 degree angle where Darling nipped in to deflect home. That pair combined to win Rovers’ only corner and while it was also fluffed, Peter Blakeney had the presence of mind to lift the ball past the number one runner and drag the ball into net in the 52nd minute.

Once ahead, Rovers attempted to go back into a keep-ball phase but they were caught out when a ball into midfield and Flannery burst forward, drawing that foul from McConnell. Once again, Sothern was denied by West, this time in incredible fashion from a follow-up shot, deflecting the ball onto the bar, tweaking his hamstring in the process.

Respite was short, however, as the ball was worked back around to Conor Harte who won a free just outside the 22. His long passes had been one of the features of the game and he used a disguised sweep to perfect effect to pick out the dive of Hill, a former Rover, to guide home for 2-2 on the hour.

Pembroke, though, may not regret pushing on during their man-advantage and no further chances accrued in the closing stages. Likewise, extra time was shy on drama at the end of a long weekend bar Harry Spain’s yellow card.

It meant strokes with six successfully converted before West denied Karl Lynch in round four and McConnell made amends in the most pressurised of situations.

Three Rock Rovers: S West, A Haughton, J Brennan, G Ringwood, P McConnell, J Hosking, H De With, M McGuire, M Darling, J Bruton, P Blakeney.
Subs: H Morris, F Morris, A White, D Walsh, A Bothwell

Pembroke: M Ingram, M Loughrey, C Harte, D Kane, H Spain, C Lynch, P Shanaghan, R Flannery, A Sothern, M O’Connor, C Hynes
Subs: D Harvey, S McKeever, C Wilson, T Hill, K Crawford

Umpires: R Johnston, G Caulwell

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