The 2023 Interpros have officially started with the Ulster U16 and U18 Boys travelling to Abbotstown on Sunday for their opening fixtures against Munster.
Despite a strong performance, the U16s were held to a 0-0 draw before eventually winning on penalty run-ins, whilst the U18 ran out 3-1 victors before also winning their shootout.
The action began at 12:30 for the U16s and it took just four minutes for the side to get their first short corner of the fixture, however, they were unable to test the opposition goalkeeper.
As the first quarter progressed it was the young Ulster side who continued to look the more threatening side as they saw most of the ball in the opposing half but with few shots on goal for their efforts.
With 24 minutes on the clock, they had their best chance of the game so far. Having caught Munster on the break the travelling side had created an overload in the penalty area only for a squared ball across the face of the goal to be dealt with by the goalkeeper.
Then three minutes before the half-time break midfielder Seb Holley saw his drag flick comfortably saved by the Munster shot-stopper as the sides went into the midway stage goalless.
Moments after the restart Holley was once again in the thick of the action as he had the ball in the back of the net, however, the umpire deemed his strike from the top of the circle to be on the wrong side of the line as it remained 0-0.
From then on Ulster continued to have plenty of the ball in the Munster half, but despite their best efforts they were struggling to create a clear-cut chance for their forwards.
With 61 minutes on the clock Ulster were almost made to pay for not finding the opening goal. An aerial from a Munster centre-back beat the entire team to play his teammate behind the travelling defence but luckily goalkeeper Sam Holmes was quick off his line to deal with the danger.
With just minutes left on the clock Cookstown’s Ed Irwin nearly snatched an Ulster win as his straight strike from a short corner was cleared off the line by a defender, meaning the game finished 0-0 before we eventually ran out 3-1 winner after penalty run-ins.
The U18s game immediately followed the U16s and it took just seven minutes for the opening goal of the game.
Banbridge forward Adam McKee found himself unmarked in the circle before his reverse strike beat the goalkeeper at the near post despite the Munster shot-stopper getting a hand on the effort.
Just before the end of the first quarter Ulster nearly doubled their lead when George Palmer’s effort from a short corner went just wide of the near post.
After the restart, it was Munster who began to look more likely to score the next goal of the game and they nearly got it with 25 minutes played, however goalkeeper Matthew McLearnon made a brilliant double save to maintain the Ulster lead.
Four minutes later they were still piling the pressure on the travelling defence as they won three successive corners but McLearnon and the rest of the Ulster corner team remained strong as it stayed 1-0.
The Lisnagarvey goalkeeper was once again called into action moments before the half-time whistle but remained unbeaten as he made an instinctive save with his stick to tip a Munster strike around the post.
Having handled the first-half pressure Ulster doubled their lead four minutes into the second half through Lukas Moles. The midfielder was the quickest to react when Munster’s goalkeeper saved an initial strike from a short corner as the Ulsterman found the net from a close-range rebound.
At the break, Ulster had changed goalkeeper to Banbridge’s Denver Golbey and he picked up where his predecessor left off as he was forced into a spectacular double save of his own with 44 minutes on the clock as it remained 2-0.
Three minutes later Ulster should have had the game wrapped up when John Cunningham broke through the Munster defence before picking out a teammate in the circle, but nothing came of the chance. Then moments later, forward JJ Holley went close as his effort from 10 yards out went just wide of the post.
Instead, it was Munster who got the next goal as they grabbed one back from a brilliantly executed drag flick with 52 minutes played.
The game seemed to be fading out in a quiet final quarter, however, there was still time for one more goal as McKee got his second and our third of the afternoon.
Brilliant work from Cunningham on the byline led to the goal as the Lisnagarvey forward saw his initial strike saved before McKee was able to score at the back post to round off a 3-1 victory for Ulster.
Following the game the sides also contested penalty run-ins which also saw an Ulster victory as they won 3-0 after just four penalties a piece. Goalkeeper Matthew McLearnon saved three out of the four he faced before another went wide of the post.
Written by Andrew Morrison, Ulster Hockey Communications Officer.