HOCKEY: Lurgan crowned Ulster Premier League champions

Lurgan captain Charlene Hull.
Lurgan captain Charlene Hull.

Lurgan were crowned Ulster Premier League champions for the second year in a row after coming from behind to defeat Queen’s University 3-1 and complete back-to-back titles.

The result means Lurgan have completed a league-Denman Ulster Shield triumph for the first time although they had to work hard for their victory over the students, who needed all three points to keep their own title hopes alive.

Queen’s took the lead in the 11th minute when Tori Hastings scored from the penalty-spot after a foul in the circle.

However, Lurgan drew level seven minutes later when Carly Johnston got on the end of a Charlene Hull cross to score.

Lauren Wright made it 2-1 a minute before the break after combining well with Emily McStea.

Then, with 12 minutes remaining, captain fantastic Hull made sure of the win her team needed when she drove in a penalty-corner for the insurance goal to cap a remarkable season for Lurgan as theu retained their title.

The triumph caps a remarkable season for Lurgan, who lifted the Ulster Premier League title for the first time in the club’s history only a year ago.

The current season began with another first as McMinn’s side defeated Queen’s 3-1 in the final to capture the Denman Ulster Shield on Boxing Day.

Eavesdroppers could clearly hear the Lurgan coach say to his players in the post-match huddle, words to this effect: ‘it doesn’t stop here, we’ve the league, the President’s Cup and the IHL to go for now.’

True to his word, McMinn and his players delivered but it’s a case of two down and two to go as far as the rest of the season goes.

The President’s Cup, a new competition in just its second year, will bring the curtain down on the domestic campaign but qualification for the Irish Hockey League will be the priority.

This league success means that Lurgan will be exempt from the first stage of qualifying for next season’s EYHL and that’s an important factor with a circuitous route to the all-Ireland competition lying ahead for the other teams involved.

With the respective league champions from Munster, Leinster and Connacht also being exempt, the other sides have little margin for error as they enter a five-team round robin event, with only the winner progressing to the final weekend of qualifying next month.

However, Lurgan won’t now have to go through that gruelling series of matches over just two days and, instead, can prepare for the final weekend of qualifying at their relative leisure.

The overall winners on April 23 in Dublin will replace the bottom team in the current season IHL, most likely the Ulster Elks.

The runner up will play the penultimate IHL finisher which should be either Belfast Harlequins of Pembroke with a place in next season’s national league the reward for the winners of that do-or-die encounter.

But for now, Lurgan can sit back and toast last night’s success for a day or two before going back to work as they bid to sweep the boards and dine at Irish hockey’s top table next season.