Railway Union 2 (Kate Dillon, Emma Smyth) UCD 1 (Lisa Jacob)
Railway Union claimed their first ever women's Leinster Senior League final in over 100 years of hockey as they got the three points they needed at Park Avenue.
Victory was sealed, perhaps in the most fitting manner, by Emma Smyth's reverse-stick thunderbolt. One of the country's outstanding players this term, her second-half goal with 24 minutes remaining was one of the goals of the season and completed an incredible day on a personal level for the midfielder having received her first full international call* confirmed just a few hours earlier.
It was the decisive goal in a high quality encounter at Park Avenue and was enough to keep out of reach of Loreto. The Beaufort side can still draw level on points but, in tie situations, the amount of games won dictates the champion. Loreto can only achieve 12 league wins while this was Railway's 13th victory of the campaign from 15 games.
UCD had the best of the early chances, with Emer Lucey pulling off a spectacular block off the line to keep the game scoreless. In response, Kate Dillon emphatically roofed a switched penalty corner for a 1-0 half-time lead.
But the students are a lively outfit and leveled early in the second half when Roisin Flinn's sublime inside pass from the left channel, found international colleague Lisa Jacob one-on-one with Helen Stevenson. The Kilkenny woman deftly rounded the keeper to roll in before succumbing to what looked a nasty calf injury which ended her involvement on the night.
And then came Smyth's wonderful effort. Her path to goal initially looked well guarded as she drifted back and forth with her back to goal but she found a chink of light far out on the left edge of the circle and unleashed a rasping, rising shot to bulge the netting and restore the advantage.
A couple of nervy defensive moments ensued, including four UCD corners, but Railway held on to ensure the title.
As the champagne bottles popped in the Railway bar, coach Mick McKinnon explained that a major factor in his side's progression was a new found self-confidence to go with a talent he always believed the players had.
"When I came here, I said I had a three-year plan and year two was to win Leinster and we’re on track to hopefully win something at All-Ireland level, although we haven’t ruled out this year’s IHL.
“I just think there’s a belief now. We beat Hermes in the first league game of the season and a lot of these girls had never beaten them before. That gave them the belief to go on a roll.
"I do get a bit angry when people talk about these players not being very good, I mean there’s been some comments going round; but you can’t coach a bad team to win a title – there’s very good players in this team."
McKinnon has managed to marry a strong professional ethic in his team - aided by his impressive support team - with a certain light-hearted demeanour, creating one a unique atmosphere within his squad which, he feels, has gone a long way to scoring this maiden success.
"I said to them before tonight’s game 'I’d rather lose it our way than to win it someone else's way' but we won it our way. You see the amount of fun we have in this place?
“I wouldn’t coach if it wasn’t fun. After all, this is our chosen leisure time. If it’s not fun, why do it? Every training session we try and have a bit of craic. There’s been a couple of times this year when I’ve tried to reel them in a bit from partying a bit too hard but its part of what they are and what makes them a team."
They wrap up the title with three league games left to play while Loreto have a chance for near instant revenge on Saturday in a vital IHL group decider.
* More on this on Tuesday morning. For a couple more pics from tonight, click here
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