Surreal 2018 for Bandon ends with fourth trophy

Peard Cup final
Bandon 2 (C Sweetnam, E Nyhan) Cork Harlequins 2 (J Dale 2), Bandon win shoot-out 3-2

After 43 years without a senior title, 2018 saw Bandon’s duck broken in the most spectacular fashion with a clean sweep of the three Munster titles in the calendar year.

Throw in a maiden Irish Hockey Trophy – following final losses in 2014, 15 and 16 – and it is all “a bit surreal” for player-coach Ali Smith.

Clinton Sweetnam presented the trophy by Sandra Peard. Pic: Denis Minihane/Irish Examiner

Their Peard Cup final win in St Stephen’s Day final against Cork Harlequins added to the spring’s Munster Senior League and Cup double.

It marks “the most successful year ever” for a club formed in the 70s as an extension of the Bandon Grammar schools team with plenty of surnames from that era like Pritchard, Sweetnam, Coombes and Buttimer still echoing around the club and Munster hockey.

That the latest title came against Quins – one of the province’s big dogs alongside Cork C of I – shows the transformation with the newer faces like the Jennings twins, Rob Sweetnam and Eoin Nyhan paying no heed to history.

“The young lads don’t have that history like us older lads do of going out against Harlequins and losing by five or six goals for years,” Smith said.

“That really helps; the young guys are used to it, used to winning things and it has become a habit.”

Proof positive of the switch in mentality came on Wednesday when they trailed 2-0 with 10 minutes to go only to snatch a draw and subsequently prevail in the shoot-out.

“I gave them a quote from one of Alex Ferguson’s autobiographies: ‘how do I keep my team number one? You train and play like you are number two’.

“We have taken that into most games and it with it comes that belief and sheer effort. We were very much driven by [captain] Clinton Sweetnam; he has that never give up attitude and drove us on.

“The only game in the last two years we haven’t had that attitude was the first game against Harlequins this season when we lost 2-1 in the league.

“Coming off the back of the best season we ever had, we thought we were the best and got shown up.”

Bandon celebrate their Peard Cup success. Pic: Denis Minihane/Irish Examiner

In the December 26 final, they completed their incredible year in suitably dramatic fashion, salvaging a shoot-out when all looked lost at 2-0 down to Cork Harlequins with 10 minutes to go in a fast-paced, end-to-end tussle.

Late strikes from Clinton Sweetnam and Nyhan, though, earned them a shoot-out chance and they eventually prevailed 3-2 to add the festive crown to the list.

They had trailed from the fifth minute as a Julian Dale rocket from the first penalty corner of the match gave Quins a dream start.

The Irish international has been a massive addition to the Farmers’ Cross side in recent times and this was his 12th goal since returning from Belgian pro club Royal Daring.

He almost created a second for Nathan Gokul but Conor Robinson – who had a very smart game between the posts – got out well to save.

His counterpart at the far end did likewise to keep out solid efforts from Rob and Clinton Sweetnam. For the most part, Bandon were getting little change from a hugely experienced Quins’ backline featuring Jason Black, John Hobbs and Brian Hayes-Curtin despite a glut of possession.

Palmer also kept out Fionn O’Leary’s reverse at the near post while Quins could have moved further clear but for a couple of Robinson corner saves and a block from Richie Gash.

The second came with 12 minutes to go when Dale – whose link-up play with Ross Bailey was a feature throughout – turned over possession on halfway and while Robinson cleared the first up chance, Dale won on hand to sweep home for 2-0.

Robinson brilliantly palmed away a potential third from the Quins’ frontman in the next play for what surely would have been a clinching third goal.

Instead, Bandon broke out and won a corner through Ali Smith – so often the club’s driving force – and Clinton Sweetnem rattled the backboard with a low push down the glove side.

Bandon rode out a spell of Dave Jennings in the sin-bin, keeping up the pressure with Smith’s mazy runs almost unlocking the door in a rousing finale.

The equaliser came almost at the death when confusion reigned; Quins stalled, expecting a free, but Nyhan kept his cool to push goalwards and it made its way in for 2-2.

In the shoot-out, Bandon showed their greater experience in the format with Quins’ John Hobbs admitting afterwards it was his first time taking one.

The black-shirts, meanwhile, won the Irish Hockey Trophy via this method in April and held their nerve accordingly. Robinson kept out two in the first three rounds to give Bandon the impetus with O’Leary edging them in front 3-2 going into the final round.

Smith missed out but Colin Ross could not find a way around Robinson, crowning the perfect end to the perfect year for Bandon.

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