Rock roll back the years

by Stephen Findlater

THREE Rock Rovers Hockey Club ended a 40-year wait for the men’s Irish Senior Cup final in nerve-shredding fashion last Sunday at Belfield as Peter McConnell kept his cool to fire home the crucial penalty stroke.

It sparked wild celebrations, not least from the large number of members of the 1974 team, after an epic encounter with Pembroke Wanderers after normal time had finished 2-2.

In a cagey tie, Pembroke led early in the second half when Conor Harte scored a penalty corner rebound but Three Rock were quickly level. Huub de With supplied a pin-point cross that Mitch Darling turned home and it was 2-1 to the Grange Road club soon after when Peter Blakeney fired home.

McConnell, though, was sin-binned for 10 minutes toward the end of normal time and Pembroke duly grabbed an equaliser when former Three Rock man Tim Hill dived onto a Harte pass.

It led to extra-time and subsequently penalties all of which were successful bar Karl Lynch’s fourth round effort as he saw Stephen West dive to his right and pluck the ball out of the air with a strong glove.

That left McConnell with a chance for redemption after his earlier indiscretion, one which he duly took with an assured push to the bottom right corner.

He was one of three survivors in the Three Rock side from their last appearance in the final of world hockey’s oldest club competition along with Alan Bothwell and Garry Ringwood.

That was all the way back in 1999 when Rovers fell 4-3 to Cork C of I with McConnell only in fifth year in Wesley College at the time.

Since then, the side has endured some major swings in fortune, winning the Irish club championships in 2007 and competed in the EuroHockey League but fell back to the worst ever finish in the Leinster men’s Division 1 in over 120 years two seasons ago when they finished eighth.

The current revival, however, has been built on the emergence of young players through the ranks with seven teenagers in their weekend squad of 20. Sixteen of that panel have come through the youth system but they have benefit in recent times from some high profile arrivals.

Player coach Joe Brennan – a former international – has been working with the side for the past two seasons and was joined in the coaching sphere by Paul Fitzpatrick, a highly decorated player with Glenanne.

Irish international Jonny Bruton is another key addition while de With, a Dutch student in Ireland studying English, proved one of the finds of the season.

He put in a man of the match performance in the incredible 4-0 semi-final win over Monkstown on Saturday – the reigning champions who had pipped Rovers to the Leinster title just two weeks earlier.

Rovers are straight back into action next weekend with the first team meeting Cork Harlequins in the first round of the Irish Hockey League while the second team is in the Irish Junior Cup quarter-finals.

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