Images: Philippa Grafton
Halifax seconds overcame the odds to defeat Halifax firsts 2-1 to take the Hockey College Cup crown, in a dramatic final weekend in the competition.
James McNeill scored the winning goal for his team in the dying minutes of the second half, but in truth it always looked as if they were most likely to win as they had a man advantage for the entire match.
The action started with the semi-finals on Saturday: Halifax firsts defeating James firsts 6-2 in their match with Kat Robinson scoring four goals.
The sides were evenly matched for large periods of the game, but a strong second half display from Halifax ensured that they ran out winners, having been level at 2-2 at the break.
In the second semi-final Halifax seconds were victorious, after coming back from being 2-0 down at half time to defeat Derwent firsts 4-3 thanks to a Graeme Osborn hat-trick.
That set up an all-Halifax final which was played in the glorious sunshine of Sunday afternoon. However, with only five players turning up for Halifax firsts it meant that they were at a disadvantage from the start.
Throughout the first half this advantage was nonexistent as the firsts perhaps had the better chances, Dong-Oh Shin unable to capitalise on through balls played mainly by Alex Francis. On one occasion Shin threw himself at the ball but was just unable to make a connection at the crucial time.
It was then the seconds who had an excellent chance to take the lead when Osborn found himself through on goal. It looked like he was destined to score, but somehow he was stopped by some outstanding defensive play from Cat Johnson and captain Hannah Boyne.
Halifax firsts then continued to put pressure on their opponents despite being a player light and it took some sturdy defending from Becca Martin to stop Shin and Francis simultaneously.
However, this resistance proved futile as with the very next attack the firsts took the lead thanks to Johnson, who found herself in some space on the right hand side before clinically firing her shot low and hard into the net.
The second half was very different to the first, with the seconds team realising they had to make their player advantage count. They did this by keeping possession and controlling the tempo of the match.
This eventually led to them creating chances with Nick Finill hitting the post twice in quick succession before James McNeill went through on goal but was stopped abruptly by the impressive Joe Lancaster in the firsts defence.
The next chance was to be the turning point in the match as Alex Francis was in on goal. Had he scored the contest would have effectively been over, and it took a quite unbelievable diving stop from Finill to deny him.
Immediately following this stop, Halifax seconds were level in the shape of a penalty goal being awarded by the official. Isaac Barker went on a slalom-like run, leaving defenders in his wake before firing at goal. The ball was destined for the net, only for it to hit the foot of Boyne. The official had no hesitation in awarding the goal and the seconds could now sense victory.
And sure enough with just a minute to go Halifax seconds took victory thanks to McNeill. The ball ended up in the vicinity of the goal thanks to his sheer desire to reach it first, and with a diving hockey stick he pushed the ball over the line to the delight of the Halifax seconds supporters on the sidelines.
The final whistle sounded and Halifax seconds had beaten the firsts to take the Cup.
Captain Helen Marston exclaimed, “It was horrible to have to play our own team in the final but we are delighted to have won. However, it is more important for Halifax as a college to have had both teams in the final, underlining our dominance in college hockey.”
Third place went to Derwent, after they beat James 7-2 in the third place play-off on Sunday.
Having been free scoring throughout the competition, Derwent raced into a 4-0 lead thanks to Greg MacDonald and Jack Bradshaw, both of whom displayed the ability to scythe through the James defence at will.
David Gopinath and Katharine Brownwell pulled two back for a James side that refused to take the defeat lying down, but Derwent ultimately had enough quality to extend their lead and take a deserved win.