O’Brien stars to end Three Rock’s decade wait for Neville Cup
Three Rock Rovers 2 (J Mullins, R Canning) Pembroke 2 (C Murphy, K O’Hare), TRR win 3-1 on shoot-out
Shane O’Brien emerged as the star performer as Three Rock Rovers snatched the Neville Cup title from under Pembroke’s noses at Serpentine Avenue.
He probably did enough in normal time to warrant a mention in the player of the match realm but a trio of shoot-out saves from Irish internationals Kirk Shimmins, Harry Spain and Keith O’Hare secured it.
It helped Rovers win out 3-1 having grabbed an out-of-the-blue equaliser with just 90 seconds of normal time remaining.
For O’Brien, it was a special moment. The 28-year-old goalkeeper has only recently risen through the ranks at Three Rock, moving up from regular outings in the fourth and fifth teams up until a couple of years ago before making a push for the second team.
He was entrusted with the pads for this competition with Jamie Carr and Conor Quinn and has enjoyed a competition to remember, also prevailing via a shoot-out in the quarter-final win over Glenanne.
As such, calm finishes from Conor Empey, John Mullins and Harry Morris saw Rovers edge the shoot-out 3-1 and land the title for the first time since 2007.
Both sides were much changed with Rovers resting a large number of first team players while Gareth Borland taking over coaching duties from Niall Denham who was in Wales.
Pembroke, meanwhile, could not draw upon a half dozen of their Munster players along with Belgian Cedric Mushiete.
As such, the first half took a while to find a shape and ended scoreless, both sides spurning penalty corner openings with O’Brien and his counterpart Mark Ingram making strong stops.
John Mullins and Conor Empey prompted most of Rovers’ big attacks while David Kane played a key role in trying to subdue Alan Sothern from wriggling free.
Pembroke, meanwhile, held most of the ball with most of their main chances falling to the influential Jack Ryan. The irrepressible Shimmins, meanwhile, provided the dynamism and drive
The first period ended scoreless, paving the way for a livelier second half. Alex O’Regan’s slipped reverse was the closest chance in the 40th minute before Rovers almost gifted Sothern an opener.
A miscommunication from a free out saw Ben McCrea play the ball directly to the striker 14 yards out from goal in the circle. Kane rallied quickly to get enough on the shot to concede just a corner.
O’Brien got a left hand to Sothern’s drag-flick from a fifth Pembroke corner to keep the scoreboard blank. Against the run of things, Empey found some space and laid on for John Mullins who got to the right baseline and his intended cross seemingly going in off Ingram’s outstretched arm via a defender in the 48th minute.
Pembroke quickly turned things around. Sothern produced an excellent darting run and while it came to a halt with both O’Brien and Kane sliding in to shut him out, Cian Murphy was on hand to slice a classy backhand shot into the roof of the goal.
Ryan looked to have set up Sothern for another moments later with a drifting run and while his cross was sharply up at chest-height, it was nonetheless a surprise to see the prolific striker clip his volley over.
O’Hare put Pembroke in front with 11 minutes to go from a corner when his initial shot was only cleared back to him eight yards out and he pushed powerfully into the net.
That seemed to be the key moment with the final hosts looking in control. But 90 seconds from time, they were caught playing the ball around the back with Empey blocking a pass on the right sideline. He ran forward and was caught from behind by Alan Giles, leading to a stroke which Ross Canning slotted home.
The shoot-out beckoned and Rovers took the laurels to close out a productive 2017 for Three Rock.
Words by Stephen Findlater, Hook Hockey