Green Zone: It was constant pressure from the university girls, but the 'Cats put up a hell of a fight!
Western Wildcats got themselves off to a brilliant start, in this second cup semi-final of the day, with an Alex Stuart goal, 4 minutes in. It was inspirational stuff for the 'Cats. But, it was possibly the death knell on any hopes and ambitions they had of actually winning this tough tie, as Edinburgh University immediately pushed back from the centre spot appearing to be hell bent on punishing them for daring to take the lead at all, let alone such an early one.
From that goal onwards whilst it wasn't all one way traffic from the university girls, they really pushed hard for an equaliser, with many attacks down left, right and centre.
It must have been mesmerising for Western Wildcats player/coach Kaz Marshall and her fellow defenders, as they encountered different university players bearing down on them every few minutes, depending on who was rolling on and off the subs bench at any given time. Sam Judge, Louise Campbell, Amy Brodie, Maisie Morris, and Mhairi Drummond, amongst others, took turns to harass the hell out of the 'Cats back line. Mhairi Drummond is back now after a long term injury that had her out last season - she's looking sharp and strong, and was a constant threat winding in and forward from a left midfield position.
16 minutes in and Edinburgh's pressure paid off with the equaliser coming from a Maisie Morris deflection off a penalty corner. And that pressure continued and preyed on a hardworking Wildcats team who had been defending, and continued to defend, brilliantly.
Kaz Marshall, just back from injury, was outstanding. Rolling two jobs into one she played and guided others at the same time. Not an easy task when you've got the newly crowned Scottish champions coming at ya' every few seconds.
There's no question about it, Western Wildcats, certainly at the moment, are a better side when Kaz Marshall is playing. Her teammates - particularly the younger girls - look up to her; and some of them definitely play better when they are secure in the thought that she's literally right there playing beside them. Hey, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that - and this crucial semi-final match was a classic example of Marshall leading from the back.
And as the second half got going and kicked in at 1-1, and despite being under pretty intense pressure to say the least, Wildcats mounted the odd attack themselves looking for that breakaway goal.
But, the possible dream of cup final day, crashed at the expense of capital conviction, as Edinburgh's Becky Dru smashed a penalty corner hard on to the 'Cats backboard. That dull thud of ball on wood on the 53 minutes mark was to be the beginning of the end for a feisty-under-pressure Wildcats performance. And then on 65 minutes came a superb open play strike from Amy Brodie from just inside the Cats' circle.
Game over? Well, not quite. All credit to Wildcats as they kept fighting right up to the final whistle.
The university girls kept coming at them and this, like the whole 70 minutes, produced some really good performances from the girls from Auchenhowie.
No surprise that keeper Jayne McLaughlin was recently capped for the first time for the Scotland Senior Ladies. The tall, rangy built lady has been great in the past and brilliant in recent months. She had loads to do in this game and pulled off some fantastic saves, particularly at close quarters.
However, Man of the Match on the losing side in this game was defender Catriona Booth. It just seems like the other day that the teenager was a "wee girl" starting out in the game. Not now. The youngster has matured quickly, in mind and body. She's physically getting a lot bigger and stronger, and under her mentor, coach Marshall, she's becoming a really precise tackler with great distribution skills. Booth had a lot of hard work on her hands on Sunday, but she more than coped and put in a five star performance.
Edinburgh University player/coach, Sam Judge, has got her squad so well drilled now, she doesn't need to bellow out many on field instructions any more, beyond slight guidance and correction : her students know their roles within, what appears to be, a mighty disciplined squad.
Let's be honest here, many university sides - male and female - in the history of hockey in Scotland (and probably world-wide!) down the decades, have never "travelled" well on a Sunday, amongst other days. Who knows who's "turning out" after a hard Saturday night up the Union. And if they do turn up, it's a lottery to what time they'll be there and what state they'll be in!
Here at AD-HOCKSPORTS we have visions of the current Edinburgh Uni ladies squad lined up early on a Sunday morning and standing to attention like a squad of hardened marines ready for battle and awaiting recon commander Judge. Okay, it's only a vision!
However, on a serious note, this is a great university squad that "travels" well no matter what day of the week it is - a squad that's just lifted the National 1 title for the second year in a row. There's no messing about with Sam Judge. Her great hockey career (including a vast amount of international appearances), wide experience, steely determination and confidence, reflects brightly on her players - and it shows in abundance, on and off the pitch, through respect. They are such an exciting team to watch right now, while at the same time their coach, through necessity, must be keeping an eye on new players coming through, as the cycle of personnel comes and goes.
This current squad has to be the best Scottish university ladies team in decades, surely? It will be fascinating to see what more coach Judge can do with them. She's done a tremendous job so far, in a short space of time.
Indeed, it will be fascinating to see where this coaching journey ultimately takes the lady herself...
Now there's a thought.
FINAL SCORE: Edinburgh University 3 Western Wildcats 1.
Team performances rated:
Edinburgh University ★★★★☆
Western Wildcats ★★★★☆
MOM Edinburgh University: It was ridiculously close, with a number of excellent performances, but Amy Brodie edges it with ★★★★☆