Cookstown are back into the EY Hockey League after they bravely came back from two goals down to beat UCD at Grange Road on Sunday.
This was the second year in a row that the Reds have met the Dublin side in the promotion-relegation playoff with the students winning last season's encounter.With a victory for UCD over the Tyrone men in the Irish Senior Cup early this season, Cookstown were perhaps the underdogs and they got off to a dreadful start.
A sweeping move down the left-hand side saw UCD striker Andrew Fogarty turn sharply and smash the ball into the bottom corner early on.
They were caught again soon afterward when a clearance down the middle was intercepted, causing consternation, and leading to UCD captain, Jeremy Duncan, glancing the ball past Tobi Deppermann.
Now fighting for their lives, Cookstown kicked it up a gear, moving the ball quicker with Greg Allen having a few chances but each went without conversion.
It was Paul Thompson who put the Reds back in the game early in the second half Mark Crooks made the hard yards down the base line, squaring for Stuart Smyth, whose deflection drew a save out of the UCD 'keeper. He could only parry to Thompson who finished at the second attempt.
The momentum was now definitively with Cookstown and this resulted in the award of a short corner. Allen's flick was stopped from crossing the line by a foot and Keith Black stepped up to make it 2-2 from the penalty spot.
Two minutes later Cookstown counter-attacked with Black finding himself at the top of the circle. He smashed a reverse goalwards with Ryan Millar getting the all-important if slight touch to take it through the goalkeeper's legs.
UCD had a good spell in the middle of the second half, winning a penalty corner. From a well-disguised variation, Duncan grabbed his second of the game with a deflection and made it 3-3.
With only four minutes to go – and the game very much in the balance – Cookstown struck the decisive blow. Millar received a pass from Crooks in space in the middle of the pitch and played a lovely pass to Allen out wide in the circle. The striker swiveled into space and flicked it inside the near post for 4-3.
UCD subbed on an eleventh outfield player for their goalkeeper Conor Quinn for the remainder of the game, leading to a mad scramble in the closing stages, one which saw Ziggy de Boe Agnew shown a yellow card.
Cookstown were able to hold out and win their way back into the EY Hockey League for next season.
"It was a slow, nervy start by us," said a jubilant captain, Greg Allen, after the win. "I think we let the last two games – two defeats – against UCD get to us a bit, but Thomo's goal really settled us down and gave us the belief to go on and win.
"We played some superb hockey and it is just wonderful for the players, coaches, sponsors Solo Fuels and Steelweld, and our supporters to be back in the EY Hockey League for next season.
"We'll take a bit of time to enjoy this and then start thinking about next season and what will undoubtedly be an almighty challenge for us. We want that challenge though and are delighted to be able to take it on."
UCD coach Elun Hack, meanwhile, said: “It’s not an easy pill to swallow. It was always going to be a difficult season. That’s the nature of sport and we will have to reconvene over the summer and see where we are at.
“Going 2-0 up so early on might have been the worst thing that could have happened to us. We have struggled to control games and control the tempo when we have been in decent positions. We needed to step up and stamp our authority on the game.
“The bottom line is they wanted it more than us in the second half and, fair play to them, they got the result that they deserved.”
Men's EY Hockey League promotion-relegation playoff: Cookstown 4 (P Thompson, K Black, R Millar, G Allen) UCD 3 (J Duncan 2, A Fogarty)