Eugene Magee scored a dramatic last-gasp penalty corner as Banbridge got their EYHL campaign off to a flying start with a 4-3 win over Three Rock Rovers under the Havelock Park floodlights on Saturday night.
It was an exciting contest with Bann building a 3-0 lead only to be pegged back by a rousing Rovers comeback to level it at 3-3 with eight minutes to go.
Both sides had chances to win it in the dying stages but it was Bann who snatched the crucial goal.
However, it was too close for comfort for Bann coach Mark Tumilty. “I’m very happy with result but very disappointed with the performance especially in the second half,” he said.
“We started the game well and established a good lead but then we switched off with a lacklustre display in the second half. “I was impressed by Rovers, and as many have said they probably were favourites, so it is good to have a three-point advantage on them early in the season.”
Johnny McKee got the home side’s first following sublime skill from Peter Brown in the 14th minute and they doubled the lead 10 minutes later when Magee played in Fraser Mills to fire past Shane O’Brien for 2-0. Three Rock had their chances but could not get their corner routine going with Luke Roleston making a number of super stops between the posts. Half-time saw a charity presentation for Air Ambulance and the home mood raised even further when Josh Moffett scored a superb individual goal. But any thoughts of an easy ride were quickly put to bed as Mark English scored twice in a minute and it was 3-2 with half an hour still to be played. A couple more corners were repelled by Roleston, preserving the narrow lead until six minutes from the end when John Mullins tied things up at 3-3. Ross Beattie was shown yellow for the hosts soon after but there was one last twist as Bann won a corner and Magee kept his nerve to score it for a fine win.
A few miles down the road, Lisnagarvey weren’t so fortunate as Pembroke Wanderers staged a smash and grab act to emerge 2-1 winners at Comber Road. Both teams were without internationals who have since moved to play their hockey on the continent, with Garvey having to do without the likes Neil Glassey, Michael Robson, Sean Murray and Paul Gleghorne. Pembroke were missing ace marksman Alan Sothern and last season’s goalie Mark Ingram – both now abroad – while Garvey welcomed back Timmy Cockram, who had taken a year out after being a travelling reserve for Ireland at the Rio Olympics. Andy Williamson put Garvey in front just before the end of the first quarter when he pounced on a penalty corner rebound at the far post after the initial shot had been blocked. The hosts had further chances to extend their lead in the first half as Matthew and Daniel Nelson went close and Williamson was denied in a one-on-one with the keeper. Those misses were made to look costly when, in the 27th minute, Jack Ryan grabbed the equaliser when he converted a right wing delivery. Patrick Shanahan plundered the winner five minutes into the second half when he scored with a first-time shot after finding himself unmarked at the far post. Garvey had one last opportunity to draw level in the last minute but Pembroke keeper Simon Thornton made a crucial save as he tipped Cockram’s effort around the post. “We dominated most of the game, winning five corners to their none and created a lot of chances so it was a disappointing result,” said Garvey and Ireland defender Jonny Bell. “All we can hope is that we get better week by week and move on an upward trajectory as the season progresses.”
Cookstown, who only avoided relegation by winning a play-off last season, started the new season in fine style, defeated newly-promoted Dublin YMCA 7-1 at Steelweld Park. Michael Kerr’s low corner drag got the Co Tyrone side rolling before Matthew Rollins pumped into the circle for Timmy Sloan to get the key touch, to leave it 2-0 at the end of the first quarter. Stuart Smyth’s drag-flick made it 3-0 at half-time and Mark Crooks’ sharp stick work on the right baseline saw him weave the chance for Sloan to sweep in the fourth goal and another Smyth drag further piled on the pain. Ben Campbell got one back from a penalty stroke but final quarter efforts from Jack Haycock and Smyth’s hat-trick goal made for a torrid first game at the top level for the Dublin side.
“We seemed a bit nervous for the first quarter but once we got into our stride and settled into the game we controlled the play,” Cookstown captain Greg Allen said. “We got a lot of joy down the right and continued to win a few corners that we executed. Stu Wylie caused a lot of problems up top and time after time put their defenders under a lot of pressure. “We have worked very hard on our corners over pre-season and it paid off as we slotted in five. “Saturday’s game against Lisnagarvey will be another tough test but every week in the EY is tough. We’ll get back to the drawing board at training and see if we can improve it again for them.”
Annadale began their campaign with a 6-2 loss to Monkstown in Dublin where the hosts produced a blistering fourth quarter, transforming a 1-1 half-time scoreline into a big 6-2 victory.
Dale started the stronger, drawing a couple of big blocks from David Fitzgerald from corners while captain David Cole charged down another shot. Town’s returning Irish international Kyle Good almost finished off from Guy Sarratt’s long ball before his team went in front in the 12th minute when Sam Byrne played in Jason Lynch who managed to wriggle between three tackles and finish into the top corner. The equaliser came within a minute when a long ball found former Monkstown man Peter Caruth and the Annadale player-coach lashed the ball home to level.
The hosts, though, regained the lead five minutes after the break when Davy Carson turned over the ball and passed to Gareth Watkins who carried through the middle before slipping to Geoff Cole and then on to Andrew Ward for a back post finish. The tie remained in the balance at this stage but Monkstown soon pulled away in the final quarter. Again it was a counter that saw them score, player-coach Watkins tackling before setting up Carson to reverse home. Carson then exchanged passes with Ross Quirke to score his second for 4-1 with 10 minutes to go.
Ward controlled an aerial and then found Byrne to finish off for the fifth. Cameron Ruttle got one back for Dale on his debut with four minutes to go but Watkins got a great goal to close things out in the final minute, hitting the top corner with Carson again involved.
Meanwhile Kilkeel, Instonians and Portadown all hit their opponents for six in a goal-laden Ulster Premier League programme. David Finlay and Gareth Russell both scored hat-tricks in Kilkeel’s 6-1 win at Newry while Ryan Bennett also hit a treble in Portadown’s 6-2 win at Antrim and Stephen Kelso got two as Instonians were 6-0 away winners over Civil Service. Bangor defeated local rivals North Down in Comber by 3-2 with Matthew Willis, David McClune and Harry Dow on target for Scott Parker’s team.
South Antrim beat Raphoe 3-1 in Lisburn, with first half goals from Jamie Brown, Mark Gray and Johnny Patterson while Queen’s continued their impressive start with a win by the same scoreline over Belfast Harlequins at Deramore. Matthew Warnock put the students ahead before Davy Frazer’s equaliser and Ross Kelly made it 2-1 to the visitors with Warnock grabbing the insurance goal near the end.
EYHL: Banbridge 4 (J McKee, F Mills, J Moffatt, E Magee) Three Rock 3 (M English 2, J Mullins); Lisnagarvey 1 (A Williamson) Pembroke 2 (R Flannery, P Shanahan); Cookstown 7 (T Sloan 2, S Smyth 3, M Kerr, J Haycock) YMCA 1 (B Campbell); Cork C of I 1 (P Brownlow) Glenanne 1 (S Boucher); Monkstown 6 (D Carson 2, J Lynch, A Ward, S Byrne, G Watkins) Annadale 2 (P Caruth, C Ruttle)
Ulster Premier: Civil Service 0 Instonians 6 (S Kelso 2, D Ward, W Carey, M Keane, W Robinson); Newry 1 (K McWilliams) Kilkeel 6 (D Finlay 3, G Russell 3); North Down 2 (J Gilmore, S Dalzell) Bangor 3 (M Willis, D McClune, H Dow); Antrim 2 (A Linford, D Wilson) Portadown 6 (R Bennett 3, L Bell, M Winter, S Johnston); Harlequins 1 (D Frazer) Queen’s 3 (M Warnock 2, R Kelly); South Antrim 3 (J Brown, M Gray, J Patterson) Raphoe 1 (J Long)