Rock solid strokes earn fledgling Cork side IHC crown

Women’s Irish Hockey Challenge final
Blackrock 1 (A-M O’Connell) Galway 1 (M Corcoran), Blackrock win 3-2 on penalty strokes

Blackrock claimed the biggest title in their club’s fledgling history as, despite their club’s tender years, they showed greater experience in a penalty shoot-out to beat a youthful Galway in the Irish Hockey Challenge final at Belfield.

Coach Grant Sweetnam said afterwards it is part of an “incredible” story for the start-up club, formed in 2011, which initially had much more modest ambitions, simply to offer another hockey option in Cork city.

“It started as a really small thing and just grew into something huge because of the enormous numbers of women who are coming back into the sport who had drifted away.

Blackrock with the Irish Hockey Challenge title. Picture: Adrian Boehm

Blackrock with the Irish Hockey Challenge title. Picture: Adrian Boehm

“It’s a great thing – a lot of those girls may not have been playing hockey if it wasn’t for Blackrock. There were players there in [Munster] division five last year who have moved all the way up and its great to see.”

Typifying the commitment to the cause were the likes of Claire Bergin who flew in from the US on the morning of the game, getting a taxi direct from Dublin airport. She would go on to score a crucial penalty stroke in the shoot-out.

They were pushed all the way, though, by a Galway second team for whom the vast majority were still teenagers on the way up the ladder. The trio of Hengerers were a handful throughout with Kelsey’s lovely close skills and Lilly buzzing in attack. The third Hengerer Meghen – a youth soccer international – was composed at the back.

Lilly won an early penalty corner when she nicked in ahead of Marie O’Mahony while she also drew a point blank save from Aoife O’Toole. Blackrock took the lead, however, against the run of play when O’Toole managed to scramble one clear off the line, setting in motion a pitch length move.

Ann-Marie O’Connell was the scorer, reacting with a very sharp piece of work at the right baseline to volley past Ailbhe Nally from close quarters. The lead only lasted a few minutes as Kelsey Hengerer ghosted through a couple of tackles before laying on the perfect pass for Meadhbh Corcoran to sweep home first time.

Hengerer’s link-up with Christine Rabbitt almost yielded a second soon after but a superb intervention from captain Laura Hogan kept the score at 1-1 at the break.

In tandem with former Ireland A international Melanie Ryan, Hogan would later make a string of key blocks at the back, especially in the face of a Galway onslaught midway through the second period.

She crucially deflected Emma Glanville’s corner strike over the bar as Galway racked up the set pieces while O’Toole also stood tall.

It led to the shoot-out where O’Toole made two saves in the first three rounds to give Blackrock the impetus as O’Connell, Bergin and Ciara O’Toole – sister of goalkeeper Aoife – built a 3-2 lead. Aoife O’Toole saved once more from Glanville and Blackrock had their first national title.

“We always said at the start we could compete in this competition and to see the girls out there [was amazing]; not many get to play and experience this kind of situation,” Sweetnam said of the success.

** Article originally written for the Evening Echo

Blackrock: A O’Toole, L Hogan, K O’Mara, S O’Flanagan, A-M O’Connell, V Melia, C Synott, M Ryan, S Kiely, M O’Mahony, N Furlong, D Ni Challanain, C O’Toole, M Collins, C Franco, C Bergin, S Falvey, H O’Connor

Galway: A Nally, H McCarthy, K Hengerer, E Glanville, S Johnson, M Hengerer, C Rabbitt, L Hengerer, C Timon, M Corcoran, S Carey, N Prendergast, C Keenan, C Irwin, A Golden, G Dill, C Regan, S Donohoe, B Sheehan, S O’Malley, R Dillon, C Regan

Umpires: G Hohn, K Collins

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