Sydney University Hockey Club had an impressive final day of the season at Homebush on Saturday, with good results in the top two grades leaving players, coaches and supporters asking “what if”, particularly in regards to the First Grade team who finished agonisingly close to fourth spot. 

Although the men’s First and Second grade sides will not be involved in the finals this season, the club had another successful year, finishing on more points in First Grade than what has been achieved in the past 15 seasons.

The last round saw the club taking on Briars, who are one of the top sides in the premier league competition and a club the University has a great local rivalry with. The men’s Second Grade side were the first to play, with the side playing for pride after a tough start to the year had them positioned well down the table. The biggest issue has been the number of players used in the top two grades, but since the team was settled in the back half of the season the results have been very good.

Coming off a couple of victories and a narrow loss to one of the top sides in the competition, the University boys started strongly, putting the more fancied Briars side under pressure. The forwards were putting the backs under pressure and when the Briars backs were able to get past the first line of defence, the Uni back five inevitably closed down their attacking raids. Briars had the chance to finish as minor premiers with a win over University, but University were first to strike with a well worked goal. Chances continued for the University side and had luck gone their way the boys could have been two or three up by half-time. 

University knew they only had 35 minutes of hockey left for 2012 and were keen to go out with a prized scalp. However, Briars realised  needed a victory to wrap up the minor premiership and came out full of running early in the second half.

The tempo and intensity of the second half was well up on the first half, but the boys in blue and gold lifted and were able to continue to compete with their opposition across the park. The University forwards had a few more chances but were unable to put them away to give the players a two goal buffer.

With about 20 minutes left in the match, a Briars midfielder jumped on a mistake by the Sydney Uni backs and counter attacked quickly. As the backs scrambled to get into a better position, a poor tackle led to the awarding of a penalty stroke to the opposition. The Briars striker stepped up and calmly converted the stroke to level the scores with plenty of time remaining.

The last 15 minutes was full of attacking hockey, with both sides pressing for the victory. Despite some close chances and some entertaining hockey, the score remained 1-1 and Uni were force to settle with a draw to finish the season. This proved to be another game where the boys competed with one of the top sides for the full 70 minutes, but were unable to get over the line.

The draw meant that the university side finished in eighth place. Not the result the club had wanted, but about the best that could be achieved after the poor start to the season. This was due to the professional level of commitment and dedication shown by everyone involved with the side, even when it was clear that they wouldn’t be involved with the top four.

Once the game was finished, the University and Briars First and Second grade sides lined the side of the field to welcome Sam Lobsey onto the field. Lobsey is the current president of the club and has been an integral member of the First Grade side for the last eight years. Lobsey has decided to return to Tamworth next year to start a new life with his soon to be wife Jemima Bartlett, who is also a member of the club, representing the First Grade women’s side.

First Grade side were primed for a big match, after a team talk from three coaches who had been involved with Lobsey during his time at the club, and a letter from club Stalwart Bruce Prior, who praised Lobsey’s commitment to the club and his ability to always do what was best for the team, the boys were motivated to send him out a winner.

The game started well, with plenty of opportunities for both sides. Ryan Betts had started well in the Sydney University goals, and the defensive group of Brendan Purser, Dougal Alexander, Phil Gray and Lobsey were breaking down a number of Briars attacking raids.

As the first half wore on it was clear that clean cut chances would be few and far between, and it was clear that if a side could create an early lead it would be hard for the opponents to bring it back.

After a number of unsuccessful chances for both sides, University were first to get on the board. After some good play from the back group, University were able to break down their right side. As the players attacked the circle Brendan O’Connor was disposed and the ball bounced to Lobsey at the top of the circle. He made no mistake with the shot to give University a one goal lead.

The work rate of the forwards was phenomenal as all players gave their all in the final match of the year. Briars and Uni traded blows leading into half time, but neither troubled the scorers. The half time score was 1-0 in favour of Sydney University and the boys were keen to finish Briars off early in the second half.

The second half was a carbon copy of Second Grade. Briars came out the hungrier side and continued to press the University defence. Uni held firm for most of the half, but after a number of raids were broken down, Briars levelled up the scores after an unfortunate turnover in the circle.

With the score back to one-all, the briars players and supporters livened up and the tempo of the game again lifted. The next 15 minutes featured some of the best hockey the First Grade side had played all year. The defenders continually broke down the Briars attack and promoted the ball early, the midfielders were able to eliminate their opponents and get the strikers away and the strikers applied a mountain of pressure on the Briars defence.

With just under 10 minutes to go, University again broke down the right. As Briars players threw themselves at the ball carrier, a pass was slipped across the face and it found Pete Kelly. Kelly remained composed and slotted the ball into the net, giving the side a 2-1 lead.

From here on in it was a matter of toughing out the Briars attacking raids and shutting down their dangerous players. As time ticked down the side lifted and the Briars players started to lose focus and question the referee. With two minutes left another good run by a University midfielder found Lobsey free on the edge of the circle. He showed remarkable poise under pressure from three Briars defenders. After eliminating each of the defenders Lobsey drew the keeper and slipped the ball to Brandon Lourens, who slotted the ball into the net to give the side a 3-1 lead and a guaranteed victory.

The side saw out the remaining minute or so, before celebrating a well earned victory. The crowd gave Lobsey a standing ovation as he was chaired from the field by a couple of Sydney University players. There is no doubt that the side will need to step up a notch to fill the gap he will now leave.

The win ended a somewhat up and down season for the First Grade side. The result lifted them to equal seventh on the ladder, but looking at results through the year, a higher finish should have been achieved. The side had managed to take points off a number of the top sides, but the lack of consistency throughout the season left them just out of the finals.