Men’s Irish Senior Cup final
Monkstown 3 (Andy Ewington 2, Andy Ward) Cookstown 4 (Ian Sloan 2, Gareth Cuddy, Gareth Allen)
Many in the know already knew of the prodigious talents of Ian Sloan but the 17 year-old announced himself on the national stage this afternoon at Belfield with a precocious performance which belied his tender years.
Two corner drag-flicks – surprising given his sleight build, a technique to die for – marked the card but his all-round performance was sensational, leading the Cookstown attack from midfield with blistering pace to go with a string of tricks.
For Monkstown, it was a third final defeat in four seasons and – like those other appearances – they got off to an awful start, falling two goals behind inside six minutes.
Sloan’s was the impetus which created it took the men’s Irish Senior Cup for the first time since 1987 and extends Monkstown’s wait for the title for at least another year, bringing it to a 98 years since they last won it.
But Cookstown were good value for the win, using a smart but risky strategy similar to the methods employed by Pembroke in the final series of IHL group games to nullify the sky-blue threat. It was additionally impressive given the absence of key left-back Keith Black who was left on crutches after a nasty injury was sustained in Saturday’s semi-final win.
The Co Tyrone side sat deep for long periods, welcoming on the Dubliners but neutralising the pace of Kyle Good and Gareth Watkins. Indeed, the latter was swallowed up a man-marking job from Ewan Butler which saw him very much in contention for the man-of-the-match nomination.
His discipline was immaculate after a green card midway through the first half could have spelled trouble, particularly as the main marker of Monkstown’s talisman.
Counter-attack hockey is always aided by early goals and Cookstown got two of them, first off when a right-wing cross was miscontrolled by Gavin Groves and, like a light, Gareth Cuddy pounced to whip the ball in at the near post. Sloan created the second down the left, finding Gareth Allen to score from close range, too, for 2-0 inside six minutes.
Space was at a premium for Monkstown as they sought a route back into the tie and they reverted to a crash-ball game which, at the third time of asking, worked out in their favour.
Andy Ward – back from his studies in Germany on Friday to play in this finals weekend – got on the end of a third inviting bash, Stephen Cole whipping the ball diagonally from 35-metres out on the right.
The creator had gone close just before with a similar effort while the next crash ball from Sykes into the circle bounced onto a foot.
New Zealander Andy Ewington – in his last game before returning home – levelled on the half hour from his side’s second penalty corner.
Stephen Cole was producing a master-class in the centre during this period in the ascendancy, balance and poise to beat the band and inspire the comeback.
Their momentum looked set to carry through to half-time but the reds counter-attack game was strong with Sloan combining with Mark Crooks down both flanks.
One thrust down the right saw Sykes pinged for the Ulster side’s first short corner which Sloan duly busted through Fitzgerald’s defences for 3-2 at half-time.
And it initially looked to get even better on the resumption when Crooks swivelled on a loose ball but Warren McCully, on consultation with Kieran Bolger ruled it out correctly for a foot in the build-up.
Cookstown sat very deep to choke up the space which Monkstown love so much, giving Brian Groves, Good and Watkins very little room to run into.
When they did concede a corner, Ian Hughes gloved away comfortably a high effort from Ewington while skipper Godfrey Irwin got a stick on his counterpart Watkins to shepherd the strike wide when it almost opened up for him.
Watkins’ reverse-stick cross did cause bedlam briefly but Hughes and Irwin eventually combined to clear before Sloan killed the game off.
He bounded down the right past two defenders before flipping the ball onto the top Fitzgerald’s pads who could do little to keep the ball down in making the save.
Nonetheless, it was deemed dangerous and Cookstown had their second short which Sloan again drove home and wheeled away in jubilant celebration, 4-2 with 61 minutes gone.
The sky-blues relish a comeback and they had their lifeline 174 seconds from the end, albeit fortuitously, as Ewington duffed his drag but Hughes was committed to a dive which left the centre of the goal unprotected for 4-3.
Watkins’ reverse-cross was just touched away from two sliders by a defensive stick in the aftermath but Cookstown defended their circle well to claim a thrilling Senior Cup crown.
It added a second title to the Cookstown annals, the last of which was won when Marty Sloan – Ian’s father – was in full flow and Stephen, his other son, was among today’s medalist; a current Irish panelist, he was named in the Cookstown 18 despite injury and he picked up his reward along with the crutch-bound Black.
Monkstown: Dave Fitzgerald, Nick Dee, Gavin Groves, Gareth Watkins, Fran Lee, David Cole, Frank Ryan, Stephen Cole, Billy McEnery, Kyle Good, Richard Sykes
Subs: Andy Ewington, Eoin O’Connor, Andy Ward, Runar O’Moore, Brian Groves
Cookstown: Ian Hughes, Matthew Rollins, Godfrey Irwin, Gareth Cuddy, Thomas Hutchinson, Ewan Butler, Ian Sloan, Andy Barbour, David Best, Gareth Allen, Timmy Smyth
Subs: Mark Crooks, Richard Nelson, Stu Smyth, Paul Thompson, Stephen Stewart
** See below the minute-by-minute match-tracker from today’s final