Following the club’s opening day victory over YMCA and a loss at the hands of Three Rock Rovers, Jack McCann previews the prospects for UCD Men’s hockey for the rest of the season

UCD men’s hockey started their league campaign with a well-earned 4-2 away victory against YMCA in Claremont Road, followed by a tightly contested away game against Three Rock Rovers, which saw them succumb to a 2-1 defeat.

The summer additions of Kirk Shimmins and Peter Brown from Pembroke and Banbridge respectively, has added to an already strong squad, and shows the desire of the team to push on from their top four finish last season.

Last season UCD men’s first team bucked the trend of the previous half dozen seasons by transforming themselves from being perennial relegation contenders to potential league winners.

With more scholarships being offered to hockey players, the club was able to attract players who were part of the Irish and provincial hockey set-ups. Players like Shane O’Donoghue came to UCD and were able to form a strong core to a team coached last season by Rory O’Donoghue and Paul Fitzpatrick.

The addition of Fitzpatrick brought an added edge and competiveness that the squad had previously been lacking. The results were visible almost instantly, as they became harder to beat and the defence was stronger than ever.

UCD were finally able to compete with, and even beat, some of the more established men’s teams like Pembroke and Monkstown, who both had settled squads compared to the merry-go-round of college teams. Beating Monkstown 2-1 in the last game of the season to confirm a top four finish meant the team were able to look forward to a place in the Irish Hockey League for the first time in the history of the club.

This season, because of the temporary nature of college sports clubs, UCD have lost a couple of key players; with Keith Kenning and Patrick Shanahan moving on. The additions to the midfield added significant quality to the pool of players at the disposal of the coach Rory O’Donoghue. Shimmins and Brown are expected to bring an added quality to a team that was considered to be fairly settled last season, with many players entering their third or fourth year in the squad.

This new blood will also create fierce competition for places, which should only benefit the team in the long run, as everyone pushes for a place in the 16-strong squad for each game. Being able to call upon experienced players like Shane O’Donoghue, Nick Burns and Luke Chadwick will be vital in the team’s attempt to keep the momentum of last season.

As well as the highly impressive top four finish last season, UCD won the Under-21 Cup and reached the semi-final of the Neville Cup. Their pre-season ended with a string of good performances in a tournament hosted at the National Hockey Stadium in Belfield.

At the tournament, UCD beat Glenanne, Cork Church of Ireland, and UCC, only faltering when they came up against the formidable Instonians side. Considering many of the players had only returned from working or holidays abroad the week before the tournament, the performances produced in this preseason event were an impressive sign of things to come this season from UCD.

The first game of the league season against Monkstown was postponed to allow the club an extra week to get the team organized. They ultimately won their first game against YMCA, which is the first time the team have won their opening league game.

Last weekend was meant to be the first double game weekend of the season for the team, but, due to a lack of umpires, their postponed game against Monkstown from round one of the campaign had to be pushed back again.

A double game weekend would be a significant test of UCD’s abilites at this early stage of the season and would have showcased the squad’s strength in depth. It certainly would have tested their big-game pedigree, as both Monkstown and Glenanne harbour aspirations of major honours this season.

If UCD are to fulfil their potential and push on from the success they enjoyed in the previous season, they are going to need to shore up their defence, which has conceded eight goals in the first three games. They’ll be hoping that players like O’Donoghue, Shimmins and Brown can stay fit throughout the whole season, as these are the type of players who can change a game in an instant.

Although the results of the opening fixtures of this season have been relatively disappointing, the performances are certainly encouraging. A top four finish for UCD this season would still represent progress for a team that has been very inconsistent over the past several seasons. With the additions to the squad boosting the quality of the team, maybe even loftier heights are within reach.