Rovers bound for Europe

by Stephen Findlater

RATHFARNHAM club Three Rock Rovers are looking forward to three trips to Europe in the next year as Ireland’s hockey representative following an incredible season.
They won the EY Champions Trophy last Sunday with a 2-1 final win over south Dublin rivals Monkstown to land the national crown, earning a place in the Euro Hockey League where they will be among the top 16 clubs on the continent next Easter in the Netherlands.
Three Rock got through their semi-final by beating reigning champions Lisnagarvey in a shoot-out after a 3-3 tie.
In the final, Rovers went in front courtesy of a shot from captain Jody Hosking that was turned in by Kevin Mullins. Former KHC Leuven and Rotterdam striker Mitch Darling then made it 2-0 from a solo goal, picking up the ball in his own half before shooting home past David Fitzgerald.
Davy Carson, Monkstown’s top scorer, got one back with seven minutes to go but Rovers held on for the win, continuing a remarkable run of form that saw them go unbeaten in national competitions since December.
It makes for a busy year for the Dublin club who have three European trips on the horizon as their Parahockey team prepare for the EuroHockey Championships in August while they are also national indoor champions.
Speaking about the Euro Hockey League ahead, captain Jody Hosking said: “I can’t wait and am delighted for that. We’ve got the European indoors, too, so it’s a big year but this group is really young but we’re only getting started.
“It’s been a long journey; we’ve had many ups and downs. For Mitch’s goal, I was dead on my feet, somewhere around my own 25! He just ran the field and gave it a fabulous finish. It’s so good to have him back after the Olympics. He’s added so much value.”
The squad of 19 for the weekend featured 14 players who came up through the youth system at Grange Road while only four of the panel are currently aged over 23.
For head coach Niall Denham, it was a particularly special victory. A club member for 30 years, he coached many of the players as a youth coach before moving on to the top job last season.
Rovers earned just one point from their first two games in the EY Hockey League campaign before embarking on a 13-game winning streak. They missed out on the league title on goal difference to Banbridge but the run culminated in this playoffs success.
“It’s been a long season, a difficult season but it’s a lovely way to finish it,” Denham said. “The first weekend of the season actually proved our downfall in the league and we’ve only drawn once in 15 games since then.
“You have no idea how proud I am of everyone involved. About 14 of the side I have coached since they were 12 years old. It’s a dream come true; one, just to get this job and then obviously to win this. Fingers crossed, there’s even more to come!”

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