** Words by John Flack
It was a case of mission accomplished with interest for Ards in Lithuania on Sunday as they retained their second-tier status at the EuroHockey Indoor Club Trophy tournament in superb fashion.
Not only did they stay up against the odds but the six-times Ulster and Irish champions finished in fifth place – one position higher than their initial objective – after rounding off their campaign with an undefeated final day.
— Ards Ladies Hockey (@ards_lhc) February 19, 2017
They began with a 2-2 draw against French champions, Lille, and that left them needing the same outcome against Swedish side Partille to keep themselves in the second division next year.
Ards went into the break 1-0 down but second-half goals from Lucy McKee, Chloe Brown and two from Amy Benson late on secured them a 4-1 victory and a best-ever finish in Europe.
Setting it in context, Ards’ achievement was truly remarkable for several reasons not least because they travelled with only 10 players instead of the regulation 12 due to player availability issues.
In addition, three of their players, Ellen Robinson and teenagers Jane Kilpatrick and Alana Doyle have had very little experience of indoor hockey and the trio were making their European debuts.
And, in perhaps the biggest pre-tournament factor stacking the odds against them, Ards went to Lithuania without the preparation of a proper indoor league over the winter months, an advantage all their opponents enjoyed.
“We are absolutely delighted at our achievement although the girls were absolutely exhausted in the last match after playing five games in three days.” said Ards captain Caroline Adams.
“While we won the Partille game 4-1, it was far from easy and, after we scored our second goal with 10 minutes left, they went hell for leather as they needed to win.
“They took their goalkeeper off in order to have an extra outfield player and it was only then that we made the game safe when Amy scored twice in the last couple of minutes.
“The girls showed magnificent character throughout the tournament and put their heart and soul into it and now they’ve got their reward.”
On Saturday, Ards ran the eventual silver and bronze medalists close, losing 2-1 and 1-0 to Dundee Wanderers and East Grinstead respectively.
Benson scored the go-ahead goal against the English side, who hit back with two in the second-half while Dundee scored with the last action of the game.
“We were gutted after those defeats, especially the manner of the Dundee loss but, with hindsight, the closeness of those games gave us immense self-belief.” Caroline added.
On Friday had lost 8-2 and 7-2 against Lithuanian and Ukrainian opposition but those results were quickly forgotten amidst the euphoria on Sunday night as the Ards players and coaching staff celebrated their magnificent achievement.
EuroHockey Indoor Club Trophy: Saturday: Ards 1 (A Benson) East Grinstead 2; Ards 0 Dundee 1; Sunday: Ards 2 (A Benson, C Brown) Lille 2; Ards 4 (C Brown, L McKee, A Benson 2) Partille 1