Lisnagarvey lifted the Senior Cup for the first time with a hard fought 3-2 win over Ballymena in a thrilling final at Mossley on Saturday, writes John Flack.
Garvey were 3-0 up after only 23 minutes and apparently coasting to an easy victory but Ballymena had other ideas. They pulled a goal back before the break and then staged a late rally and went close to sending the game into a penalty shoot out near the end.
They forced four penalty corners in the dying seconds and forced Garvey into some desperate defending but the Hillsborough team held out.
It was an entertaining contest throughout with play swinging from end to end although Garvey deserved their narrow win. They were on top for long periods of the game and, had it not been for the woodwork and some heroics from magnificent Ballymena keeper Joanne Davis, they could have won by a bigger margin.
Davis kept her team in the game to keep the big holiday crowd on tenterhooks until the end of a breathtaking 70 minutes.
“We are delighted to have won the trophy after sticking to the processes we had talked about all season.” said Garvey coach Adam Louden. “However, lifting the cup is a bonus as our main target has to be to get back into the Ulster Premier League for next season.”
Louden’s counterpart Davy Allen was proud of his team’s comeback and battling qualities but is of like mind when it comes to the bigger picture.
“It was a great game of hockey and the girls gave it their all until the very end but we, too, are aiming for promotion,” said the Ballymena coach.
“Garvey have a very young squad in the main with a lot of potential but we could do with a bit more strength in depth although we do have a few younger players coming through.”
Garvey got off to a dream start when Jenna McQueen converted their first penalty corner of the game in the 10th minute after some early saves from Davis.
Four minutes later, the impressive Jenna Flynn made it 2-0 from a penalty stroke after ‘feet’ on the line.
In the 23rd minute, it looked like curtains for the Co Antrim side when Laura Murray set up Rachel Houston, who scored low into the corner of the net.
But Ballymena threw themselves a lifeline seconds before the break when Rebekah Reynolds, who was a veritable action-woman throughout, pulled a goal back from a penalty-corner rebound.
Davis kept Ballymena in the game after the interval with a series of stunning saves as Ballymena had to settle for rare breakaways.
But from one of these, they scored the best goal of the match with six minutes left when team captain Clare Gillespie finished off a fine four-player move involving Emily Morrison, Reynolds and Kirsten Young.
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Then came that frantic finish as Ballymena forced four corners in quick succession, three of them after the final whistle had sounded, as the rules permit.
From the last play of a fabulous encounter, which was a credit to both teams, Garvey keeper Rebecca Hendron saved from Catherine McCracken and it was game-over as the Hillsborough team celebrated what they hope will be the first leg of a cup-league double.
Ballymena: Joanne Davis; Rebekah Reynolds, Grace McBurney, Grace McCready, Aimee Logan, Emily Anderson, Clare Gillespie, Kirsten Young, Beth McFerran, Emily Morrison, Catherine McCracken; subs: Susanne Morrison, Katie Craig, Emma Gillespie, Samara McNicholl.
Lisnagarvey: Rebecca Hendron; Amy Brown, Laura Gamble, Sarah Colgan, Jenna Flynn, Ciatlyn Murphy, Scarlett Holdsworth, Rachel Barnes, Laura Murray, Rachel Houston, Jenna McQueen; subs: Chloe McCluskey, Rachel Geddis, Louise McCracken, Beth Walker, Cara McEwen.