Dublin University’s Stephen Ludgate says the club he played with last season is “almost unrecognisable” from the one he originally joined following a season of high achievement.
The former Clontarf man was reflecting on a season that saw Trinity bounce back from relegation down to Division 3 – for the first time since the early 1990s – to a treble success, winning their division as well as the Railway Cup and Irish Hockey Challenge.
With the league restructure due to the Irish Hockey League, the students will jump up to Leinster Division 1 next term and the ambition is there to push for a place in the national league in the coming years under the coaching of Simon Filgas.
Ludgate, who is set to graduate from medicine this summer, says that the upturn in fortunes is down to an increased commitment from the university’s Department of Sport and DUCAC to hockey, pushing for a return to the elite ranks.
“The college and the department of sport are far more involved in long term development and have invested highly in the club with an increased number of scholarships and the new water-based pitch in Santry.
“Scholarships comprise monetary reward as well as strength and conditioning and injury prevention and care. These students are given unlimited access to trainers in the gym and are also given monthly workshops on different topics.”
To this end, the college has recently appointed Prof Cathal Moran as it’s first professor of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. He is currently implementing a scheme for the treatment of injured players.
Dr Nick Mahony, meanwhile, also helps with the sports science end of things, and can design ideal personalised programs for players. The past season saw five scholarships awarded to the men’s club and Ludgate says that it can be a hugely beneficial for players looking to combine hockey and studies.
“Along with all the other benefits, they can also assist with rearranging exams or other academic commitments if they clash with sporting commitments. The hockey club are also looking at giving internal scholarships which will hopefully take shape over the next year or two.”
Success has coincided with a return to playing at the north Dublin, ending their nomadic existence that saw the club rent Grange Road among other venues for the past five seasons as their grounds ran into disrepair.
“I think the biggest difference obviously was the new players that came in which really made our squad stronger. Another huge difference was the redevelopment of Santry.“The whole club is incredibly grateful to TRR for the support they gave us over the last number of years but having our own pitch allowed us to arrange our training and match times which suited us which was great.”
Speaking about the season gone by, Ludgate told The Hook, it was “pretty incredible” to match what were initially hugely ambitious plans.
“I remember we sat down at the start of the year and set out winning the three competitions as our goals for the year. I don’t know if any of us could have envisaged it going as well as it did.
“One of the keys was getting off to a quick start. Last year, we struggled badly in the first few weeks but getting a few wins under our belts was really important for building confidence and the season just seemed to take off.”
Key to their success was the return or arrival of four Leinster Under-21 players. Stephen Nolan came back from Erasmus while Corinthian pair Robbie Clarke and Jonathan Lewis and Phil Byrne moved across from UCD.
The addition of a strong goalkeeper was also paramount with Niall Twaddell joining while the Erasmus cycle brought Martin de Neuville and Valentin de Jongh.
And Ludgate says that despite the relegation a year earlier, the set-up was in place to welcome new players to the fold.
“It was surprisingly easy to get guys in I must say. I think they all knew the positives of playing college hockey. Obviously, the hockey is taken just as seriously as anywhere else but there’s a great social aspect.
“Everyone on the team is the same age and there’s a lot of great trips like intervarsities, tour and then there’s the annual colours match too. I think all of the guys wanted to represent their university and they knew what they’d be missing out on if they didn’t give it a go.”
Having completed his course, Ludgate is now weighing up his options but says that playing with the club was a unique experience he will not forget.
“I’ve absolutely loved it. I’d made a lot of great friends, gone on some brilliant trips ans I’ve really enjoyed my hockey. Playing in a college team just brought an element of fun to every match and training session and felt playing for the club helped me get more involved in college life.
“There have been a lot of highs this year and the atmosphere in the team has been brilliant. Obviously there have been lows too and it’s clear that last year didn’t go too well.
“There were some tough weeks and I don’t think the lads will ever let me forget about my record as captain but throughout the year there was still a great team spirit and everyone stayed positive.”