A lot can happen in 748 days. You could travel to Mars and back again. You could learn to play the guitar at an above average level. You could take and get the results of a PCR test 374 times. For the Clontarf Men’s 2nd team, one thing they could not do in 748 days, was win a game of hockey.
Saturday’s home match against a UCD team presented the latest chance to stop the count. But it would not be as simple as that. Having won the reverse fixture in September by a 2-1 score line, UCD arrived at the New Bull-Ring full of expectation. Clontarf’s task would be made all the more difficult with a spate of pre-match injuries. Having lost both Mark Gorman and Darragh O’Brien for varying covid-ish reasons, the team then literally lost Jack Clarke… somewhere. Elliott Hughes, a veteran of Clontarf’s last recorded victory, was raised from his bed while Cain Cooney was spotted in the carpark and handed a jersey. Both would start at full back alongside the Great Wall of John (Devine and Lennon) and ahead of the evergreen Stephen Cairns.
The match started with Clontarf’s experienced midfield trio of captain Sean Cassidy, Robert Forrest and Calum Mitchell controlling the tempo. Mitchell had recently joined the club from outside the European Union. Work permit complications meant a delayed start to his Clontarf career, but the Ulsterman is now a key part of the engine room and it was his incisive pass that set Matthew Owen up for the first chance of the game which he blazed wide. More openings would follow with Jack Sheehan missing a guilt edged opportunity while Alan O’Malley failed to connect with Forrest at the back post when a shot was the simpler option.
Clontarf’s pressure was relentless and they were rewarded with the first short corner on 15 minutes after College failed to retreat 5 yards. A devastating switch between Cassidy and Forrest saw the latter drive the ball into the bottom corner of the goal and give Clontarf the lead their dominance deserved. College started the 2nd quarter the better side with a rare mistake from Lennon gifting them a chance on Cairns’ goal. A swift reaction save and a clearance from Luke Abbott was needed to maintain the clean sheet. With doubts over Cooney’s fitness, Abbott was at times filling in at full back. A lifelong attacking player, he greeted the opportunity with the enthusiasm of a turkey heading to a Christmas party but gave the team an excellent performance in an unfamiliar role. The College effort on goal awoke Clontarf. Chances to double their lead came and went with Owen missing the best of the openings, his reverse stick shot fired straight at the College GK with no fewer than 3 teammates in better goalscoring positions. Forrest later passed up a simple opportunity, choosing to pirouette a pass to no one as the half time whistle was blown.
The second half began as the first had ended with Clontarf in the ascendency. The pressure would finally tell when O’Malley expertly controlled Darragh O’Flaherty’s cross-D smash for Forrest to tap home, doubling his and his team’s tally. Minutes later, a flowing move which started with a neat interchange between Cooney, Devine and Cassidy saw the ball transitioned from back to front before O’Flaherty released Mitchell to arrow a strike into the bottom corner of the college goal and further extend the Clontarf lead. By now a capacity crowd has gathered, anxious to see could Clontarf hang onto their three goal lead as the game entered the final quarter.
With little to lose, College began to throw attackers forward. Despite the best efforts of the raucous side-lines, the Clontarf defensive line fell deeper and deeper. Cairns repelled chance after chance but with 11 minutes to play College finally broke though and reduced the deficit to two. The goal rattled a nervous ‘Tarf. With legs tiring, palms sweaty, knees weak and arm heavy, College had the chance to cut the lead further when a pull-back found an unmarked attacker at the back post, but the finish was mishit and the ball looped harmlessly over Cairns’ crossbar.
With the full-time whistle in sight and confidence rising, ‘Tarf went in search of their 4th goal to kill off the game. Sheehan turned down a golden opportunity when clean through on goal he shot straight at the College GK. Moments later, a stumbling Forrest took the ball off his teammates stick as O’Malley lined up a rocket to the top corner. With only minutes left on the clock, Abbott released Mitchell down the right touchline and his cross found an unmarked Owen who smashed the ball into the roof of the net, restoring the three-goal cushion and guaranteeing the win. The full time whistle blew with Clontarf comprehensive and deserving victors, 4-1.
The ‘Tarf coach punched the sky; part in joy, part in relief. Fans stood to applaud as teammates embraced. A lot can happen in 749 days. For the Clontarf Men’s 2nd team, one thing they definitely could do, was win a game of hockey!
Final Score: 4-1
Goal scorers: Robert Forrest x2, Callum Mitchell, Matthew Owen
Match Report: Men’s 2s vs UCD, Saturday 26th February 11.30AM
Written by: Ian Maxwell