Shane O’Donoghue signed off his two-year stint with KHC Dragons in style with a second successive Belgian league victory, seeing off Racing Club de Bruxelles 7-6 on aggregate over their two legged final.
It was a far cry from the previous season when Dragons swept to a 10-0 win over Royal Leopold in the final. For O’Donoghue, it made it all the more special to win an epic contest against a formidable opponent – who featured Irish team mates Conor Harte and Chris Cargo.
“Obviously, it was very nice to win back to back titles and it was one of our goals again this season,” he told The Hook. “Both games in this years final were far more competitive in comparison to the two against Leopold.
“Both were end to end action, high tempo and chances coming for both teams so I can only imagine it was entertaining for everyone watching.”
Each clash was played in front of a raucous home crowd, the infamous d-Side who support Dragons who were awarding hosting rights much earlier in the season. O’Donoghue described their support as “a massive boost” with Racing’s Rats also bringing a large and loud contingent.
The nature of their success was in stark contrast to 2014/15, not just in the final. This season, Dragons led the league from start to finish whereas the previous year they only scraped into the playoffs before unleashing their best form.
“We definitely started this season far stronger than last season and we played some really nice hockey in our first couple of games. I think we were the most consistent side in the league from start to finish losing only two games all season.”
The addition of Thomas Briels from Oranje Zwart was significant while his combination with the likes Florent van Aubel and Jeffrey Thys was immense. O’Donoghue added plenty of goals from corners while bossing the midfield beside Felix Denayer amid a panel that had eight senior internationals and five Under-21s.
“We expected a lot from each other and certain standards and levels of performance both in training and in games. We finished the regular season having scored 95 goals and having conceded around 34.
“The deciding game was against Racing a few weeks back to see who would finish the regular season on top and that was a close 2-1 win for us which gave us the first ticket to next season’s EHL which was one less thing to be concerned about going into the finals.”
The volume of internationals in their panel, however, meant that there were logistical issues. O’Donoghue, himself, flew back to Dublin most weeks to join up with the Irish side.
The Belgian internationals, meanwhile, were full-time with their programme from Monday to Friday.
“It has been a little tricky flying back most Sunday’s immediately after my game. With a clear schedule, it allowed me to plan weeks ahead and enabled me to inform coaches, teammates and club when I was in Belgium for the entire week and when I wasn’t.
“Dragons were extremely supportive of my international commitments and this made life a lot easier when managing my time, the training load etc.
“Having so many internationals in our team meant that our numbers were quite low for trainings early in the week and, with the Belgium international guys only training with the club on Fridays, meant we had very little contact time as a full squad on the pitch before games on a Sunday but again we managed this well.”
In the wake of the season, he confirmed he will be returning to Ireland for next season, saying he knows he “need to progress my career and this means I will be returning to Ireland to study.
“I have had two incredible years playing professional hockey with Dragons and I have come away from the experience with so many close friends and great memories on and off the pitch.”
The next focus now is the build-up to Rio.
“Now most of us our finished our club seasons both in Ireland and abroad it allows to focus only on our Rio prep.
“It’s something that we as a group have not been exposed to before but we are most definitely loving every moment of it. We have a lot of games lined up with test series in Ireland against Korea, Canada and Holland.
“We are all relishing the opportunity of course and, over the next few weeks, we will be looking to make as much improvements as possible so that when these games come about we are in a good place and are 100% ready to go.”