Queen’s University were presented their Premiership title by Ulster Hockey President George Wilson this evening.
The side were confirmed as Champions on Thursday night as they narrowly edged out South Antrim on goal difference with both teams finishing the season on 42 points.
Meanwhile Bangor came third on 36 points having been in the title race for the majority of the season.
The students also finished the campaign with both the most goals scored and the fewest conceded whilst under the stewardship of Coach Mark Burns.
The 62-year-old has been in charge of the side for three years having initially joined as Assistant Coach six years ago. Now a Premiership Champion, he was quick to highlight the magnitude of his sides achievement.
“I’m really pleased for the squad, I really am” He said.
“I think they are really enjoying what they have achieved and are beginning to appreciate what they have achieved. I think when it sets in it will be really good for them.”
With such a close title race Queen’s only took the upper hand in the penultimate game after title rivals South Antrim and Bangor drew 3-3 in a game which saw the Lisburn side take a 3-0 lead.
That comeback meant the title was in the University’s hands going into the final game of the season, whilst they also had a far superior goal difference. Looking back, Burns admits it was crucial to his side winning the title.
“There is no doubt that Bangor did us a massive favour against South Antrim, but they also beat us and got a draw against us, the difference was when it happened. I think had that game taken place earlier in the season, nobody would have batted an eyelid.
However, whilst they did us a favour, we also did ourselves plenty throughout the season by scoring a lot of goals and keeping our goals against low which was a big aim for us and that is what got us through in the end.”
Over recent years Burns’ side have recorded several top half finishes, however, until now they hadn’t seriously challenged the teams at the top of the table.
A mix of squad turnover and inexperience could be a reason for not making that final push and the Head Coach now believes his side have the perfect blend.
“One of the things I have found with a University side that I haven’t found with others is that you can’t replace experience.
In the past when we have been in really good positions we didn’t manage games well so this season we put a real focus on managing situations where we are in a commanding position and seeing it through.
I also think there is a determination and resilience that has been built into the team and that comes with experience and from the maturity of the team.
The average age of our team is about 22-years-old, so to come through some of the situations in games that we did is a real testament to the character in the squad.”
Now following their success, Burns is hoping his side can benefit from the title of being Champions and entice more people to play for their University side.
Something that he admits he has seen an upturn in over recent years.
“We have had a couple of lean years at Queen’s where we have been drip fed some players, but I think the fact that Scott McCabe particularly decided to come to us was a turning point.
Getting a player of that stature for us was tremendous because at the time he was an Ireland U21, but I think it benefited him also because he got game time which he wasn’t guaranteed at Lisnagarvey. We benefited from having a player of his ability and that helps to attract other players.
For us it is about giving those who are considering playing hockey at Queen’s a carrot so that they think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to join us.”
For Queen’s their season is still not over as they prepare to face either Annadale or Banbridge in the Anderson Cup semi-final. The fixture will take place next Wednesday with the winner set to face one of Lisnagarvey or South Antrim.