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Hectic hockey life just fine for UCD captain Deirdre Duke

Club remain on course for a treble while she faces a busy summer schedule with Ireland

Deirdre Duke in action for Ireland against Italy. Photograph: Rowland White/Presseye/Inpho

When she tweeted a photo of herself back in October recovering in hospital after surgery on her injured shoulder, Deirdre Duke might have had trouble imagining what lay ahead.

Within a few months she would be back captaining UCD to success in the Hockey League, scoring the winner in the Irish Senior Cup final and, now, preparing for next weekend’s Champions Trophy when the club could complete a remarkable treble.

Mind you, the 24-year-old is not unaccustomed in the past to misfortune that has relegated her to the sidelines for a spell.

A week before she was to play for Ireland in the under-16 European Championships she broke her toe. “And that was that,” she recalls.

And a week before she was due to play in the under-21 European Championships she broke her nose. That, too, was that.

“I’ve had a bit of bad luck alright,” she says, “but nothing ever too serious – so I’d actually been fortunate enough that way. I’d never had a long-term injury like this one before.

“The shoulder came out and went back in after a fitness test in the morning and later in the day, in a five v five game at Irish training, I just slipped with no one around me. I fell down on my elbow and out it came.”

The period of rest and, then, rehabilitation that followed surgery put Duke in to previously uncharted territory – she had time on her hands.

“And nothing to do with it,” she laughs.

“You’re so used to organising everything around your hockey, but suddenly I had all this time and it felt a bit weird. I went away to Paris for the weekend the girls were playing Harlequins down in Cork and even though it was a holiday I felt so sad, the only place I wanted to be was in Cork.”

I think we’ve just created this belief among the team that we’re never beaten, if we keep on playing our game then we’ll come through

“It was bizarre. My whole life has been centred around hockey, so it was a little bit isolating, suddenly you’re out on your own. I realised how much I missed it and how important it is to me. And you also realise how short your career is. You only get so many seasons when you’re feeling good and in great shape, so you just appreciate it a bit more.”

Busy summer

While she would struggle to view the experience as a blessing in disguise, Duke is at least facing in to an intensely busy summer with Ireland that bit fresher than her team-mates after her enforced break, missing January’s trip to Malaysia for the World League 2 along with 10 or so games with UCD.

“As well as that I’m stronger upper body wise from all the rehab, so I definitely feel in better shape now than I did before it happened. And I kind of timed it well coming back for the business end of the season.”

Deirdre Duke: scored the winner for UCD in the Irish Women’s Senior Cup final win over Cork Harlequins. Photograph: Paul Walsh/Inpho

Any frustration she might have felt during her lay-off was washed away when she won the Irish Senior Cup for her team in the dying moments of the final when she scored against Cork Harlequins.

“We were on cloud nine, but we only celebrated on the Sunday night and that was it, we had Hermes-Monkstown to play the following Saturday, so it was all eyes on the next one.”

Needing to beat Hermes to win the Hockey League, UCD went a goal down in the third quarter. But in what has become something of a habit this season, they dug deep and fought back, two goals from Lena Tice, the winner coming two minutes from time, clinching them the title after an 18-match unbeaten run.  

“I think we’ve just created this belief among the team that we’re never beaten, if we keep on playing our game then we’ll come through. It was the same against Harlequins in the League, we were two goals down but kept our heads, winning 4-3 in the end. We just believe in ourselves.”  

And now for the treble?

“It hasn’t even been mentioned! Loreto are all we’re thinking about,” she says of Saturday’s semi-final opponents, the winners of that game going through to Sunday’s Champions Trophy decider at Grange Road against the victors from the Hermes-Monkstown v Cork Harlequins semi-final.

Manic summer

“We drew with Loreto earlier in the season and were then lucky to beat them in February with a late goal, so there really was nothing between us. And that’s how I expect the semi-final will be too.”

Sunday will mark the end of the club season, making way for that busy international summer. Between May and August Ireland travel to the United States and Germany as part of their build-up to July’s World League semi-finals in South Africa, and then after a short break they’re off to Amsterdam for the European Championships.

Before then, Duke has the small matter of her final exams in Law to attend to. “And I can’t wait to get them out of the way so I can focus in on the hockey,” she laughs.

“It’s a manic summer, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sure, what else would you want to be doing?”