After six months twiddling thumbs, competitive hockey made a welcome return with UCD and Lisnagarvey setting up a novel Irish Senior Cup match-up – the 23-time champs against a first-time finalist.
Resplendent in sunshine, replete with volunteers, Garvey’s Comber Road put a strong first foot forward into the new normal. Sign-in for the 100 or so supporters allowed in was efficient, a product of Mark Murray’s coding skills and his son Sean’s marketing – it has since been exported to numerous other clubs and businesses.
The summer hiatus gave time for the club to deep clean the clubhouse and surrounds with over 60 souls pitching in and it showed, the place looking as fresh-faced as their young team.
Jonny Bell summed up the mood, saying: “Everyone is just delighted to get back to playing competitive hockey, see a bit of a crowd. The sun shone – it’s just good to see everyone back at the club and a buzz which is what we all wanted.”
His side duly ran out comfortable 4-0 winners over Glenanne, moving a step closer to ending their relative drought which now sits at 15 years.
Ben Nelson set the tone with a pin-point shot from right to left into the backboard after Jonny Bell’s steal preceded a perfectly weighted pass which the striker could not help but chase onto.
Accurate long-range passes were a feature with James Lorimer’s ball instigating the second with Nelson becoming creator when he found himself around the back in space. His delivery meant Cole Chambers needed just one touch to chip over Leo Micklem – who made several outstanding stops – in the 33rd minute.
Glenanne were sluggish in the first half but coach Shane O’Donoghue’s half-time chat looked to have the geed up as Jason Rogan drew the best of James Milliken. Nelson, though, really should have got the third goal but could only bump the post with all the goal to aim for.
It meant Garvey had to wait a bit longer to make the game safe when the elder Nelson, Daniel, latched onto breaking ball from James Corry’s crash into the circle, rising a shot into the top corner – 3-0 with 12 minutes to go.
He added another for good measure when Johnny Lynch – a recent addition to the Irish training panel – made a 50-metre thrust down the right sideline in the dying moments.
“I am certainly feeling old watching them!” Bell said of the youthful influence. “A lot of those guys came into the team two years ago and looked really raw but the development and where they have got to is absolutely fantastic. They are young, they will make mistakes and sometimes we are a bit over-eager to win the ball and aggressive but it does bode well for the future.”
In addition to Lynch, Mark McNellis and Troy Chambers have also been put through their paces by national coach Mark Tumilty, a positive from club and country.
“It’s really important and something we probably didn’t do for the past number of years. You always have a big tournament around the corner and so having this lull is a great opportunity to get these guys in. They will thrive and learn and they have shown they were fast learners.”
And Bell is hopeful of finally winning the Senior Cup for the first time. In 2005, he would have been a reserve on the 18-player squad list; rules at the time meant he would have had to sit in the stands and so he opted instead to play Irish underage cricket that weekend.
Since then, Garvey have endured final defeats to Cork Harlequins, Monkstown and Three Rock Rovers and so he is especially keen to land the famous trophy on the weekend of September 19. It was originally scheduled to be his wedding weekend but that has been pushed back to April 2021.
“It would be lovely to salvage something from the season. We will prepare well in the next couple of weeks and hopefully things go well for us on the day. In cup finals, you sometimes need a bit of luck and things to drop for you!”
UCD will be the opponent after Guy Sarratt’s buzzer beater, the sharp-shooter scoring twice in the final quarter to give them a 3-2 success over arch nemesis Cookstown at Steelweld Park.
The Ulster Premier champions looked in good shape for a cup shock when Michael Kerr and Mark Crooks put them 2-1 up deep into the second half, the latter a glorious backhand off the back of some trickery in the 23-metre zone.
But Sarratt is one of the most lethal weapons in Irish hockey in front of goal and he turned things around. Earlier, Sam Byrne got UCD’s first of the day from a corner before Kerr levelled with a direct drag-flick.
In the men’s Trophy, Waterford’s reign came to an abrupt end as Robin Quigley’s last-minute strike sent Belfast Harlequins through to the final.
Isaac Johnson’s blistering second goal had given the Newtown hosts the momentum in the third quarter but they succumbed to a sucker-punch with the last touch of the game.
Waterford were making most of the moves but a couple of Ian Balding and Rory Isaacs’ corner moves went awry.
Quins were hanging on with star man Michael Patterson serving out a yellow card sin-binning only for Stephen McGrath to embark on a mazy run and win a final second penalty corner.
Quigley stepped forward and while his shot looked more destined for a team mate’s deflection, it managed to find its way into the bottom right corner.
Earlier, Patterson had given Quins the lead before Ben McInerney levelled with a smart penalty corner rebound for 1-1. The Belfast side returned to the lead before the break via McGrath whose shot home on his backhand at the second attempt.
Johnson – in his last game before moving to Dublin for college – produced a wonder goal for 2-2, rampaging down the right from 50 metres out, going alone to flick in the equaliser.
But it proved in vain with the visitors grabbing the final berth and a date with Portrane – 3-0 winners over South Antrim – in a few weeks time.
Dylan Eustace scored twice for the Fingal side with Chris Neville getting the other goal.
Lisnagarvey became the first side to reach the women’s Trophy decider with a comfortable 5-0 win at Armagh; they will meet the winner of North Kildare against Portadown.
Irish Senior Cup, semi-finals: Lisnagarvey 4 (D Nelson 2, B Nelson, C Chambers) Glenanne 0; Cookstown 2 (M Kerr, M Crooks) UCD 3 (G Sarratt 2, S Byrne)
Irish Hockey Trophy, semi-final: Waterford 2 (B McInerney, I Johnson) Belfast Harlequins 3 (M Patterson, S McGrath, R Quigley); South Antrim 0 Portrane 3 (D Eustace 2, C Neville)
Irish Hockey Trophy, semi-final: Armagh 0 Lisnagarvey 5 (A Christie 2, E Brown, K Morris, L Hughes)