Lisnagarvey can look back on a hugely successful season, despite falling short in two major finals over the past week.
On Saturday, the Hillsborough side went down 1-0 to Three Rock Rovers in the Irish Senior Cup final at Grange Road. Six days earlier, Garvey lost 2-0 to the Dublin side in the EY Champions Trophy decider at Havelock Park.
However, James Corry’s side, with a largely new look and youthful side punched above their weight during the rest of the campaign winning the regulation season EY IHL title, their achievement earning them a place in Europe next year.
In Saturday’s game Garvey ran Rovers close early on and Matthew Nelson saw his cross flash across the face of goal with no-one able to get the vital touch. The hosts – playing on their own ground where they are unbeaten in two years – took the lead when Jody Hosking was on hand to flick home Luke Madeley’s penalty corner.
From there, Rovers were solid in defence and kept Garvey blank for the second time in a week, backing up their 2-0 EY Champions Trophy final victory. Therein lay the key to a not overly memorable tie. Garvey had scored 133 goals in all competitions this season but they found real openings of note extremely thin on the ground.
Jamie Carr was only tested once, a solid boot to James Lorimer’s drag-flick, while Matthew Nelson and his younger brother Ben were off course with backhand shots from tough angles.
Rovers, meanwhile, carried slightly more menace and might have gone further ahead but for John Mullins hitting the post a minute before the break. Harry Morris was typically imposing as one of the stars of the Hillsborough team. The second half proved a fiery, if not wholly edifying affair with turnovers abounding and a few fractious exchanges with a number of cards shown.
Garvey found their direct approach stymied as Ravin Nair, Harry MacMahon, David Kane and Madeley again offered no easy options. Nonetheless, they will reflect on a strong campaign, blooding a host of new faces after the departure of a wealth of senior internationals.
Meanwhile, at domestic level, Queen’s and Ballynahinch lifted the Sussex Regiment and Ulster Intermediate Cups respectively after Saturday’s finals at Stormont. Queen’s beat Newry Olympic on penalties after a 1-1 draw, Colin McKnight putting the border team ahead with the students levelling through Ross Kelly on the stroke of half-time.
Ballynahinch completed a clean sweep of trophies when they defeated CI 4-1 in the Intermediate final with goals from Stuart Hunter, Jason Campbell, Matthew Martin and Andrew McIlwaine, with Paddy McKane replying.
Meanwhile, Cork Harlequins lifted the women’s Irish Senior Cup for the first time in 19 years on Saturday when they defeated Loreto 2-1 on penalties following a 2-2 draw in the final at Grange Road. The Dubliners were 2-0 up at half-time but Cork staged a memorable comeback to force the shootout, having missed out in the IHL playoff semi-finals last week when they lost to eventual winners Pegasus.
Elsewhere on the women’s front, Belfast Harlequins are on the look out for a new head coach following the resignation of Davy Frazer after four seasons in charge. Frazer is no longer able to give the commitment the post requires due to a change in work circumstances which means he has to undertake shifts, including nights and weekends.
The south Belfast outfit have been ever-present in the EY Irish Hockey League since beating UCC in a promotion play-off in Frazer’s first term with the club. He can reflect on more highs than lows although Quins were unable to make the play-offs in their three seasons in the national league, despite signing three Irish internationals, including World Cup stars Zoe Wilson and Lizzie Colvin.
Frazer said: “Among the highs was getting promoted to the EYIHL in my first year and subsequently staying in the league ever since.”
“Our initial aim when I took over was to finish mid-table in the Ulster Premier League but as the season progressed our aims changed and we targeted the top three. The team went above and beyond and cancelled holidays to make sure they were available for the play-off against UCC and it proved worthwhile.
“Reaching the semi-final of the Irish Senior Cup last year was also a special memory after we went to Cork in the quarter finals with just 13 players and pulled off a big shock winning on penalty runs. In the semi final we lost 1-0 to Pegasus and played in front of what was probably one of the biggest-ever crowds at Deramore.”
“Then on Boxing Day in the Denman Ulster Shield final against Pegasus, I was very proud of the comeback in the second half. after being 2-0 down at the break only to lose out on penalties.
Frazer says his only regret lies in the fact that Harlequins were unable to take the next step and win a trophy under his supervision with a largely youthful squad.
He added: “The only low is not having won anything. We finished second in the Premier league, before our promotion and while coming close in the Shield and Irish Cup were good achievements, it is still disappointing not to have a trophy in the cabinet.”
“Whilst we have brought in players who can make a big difference, at Harlequins we give our youth a chance. In our squad at the Shield final, for example, there were eight under 18s and huge credit must go to youth coach Roisin Walsh and all the under-age coaches for the work they do.”
“I would like to thank all the players for their dedication throughout my time at the club and I wish them all the best for the future. Harlequins took a chance on me when Jonny Caren left the job and I hope I have repaid their faith in me. I hadn’t planned on stepping down but due to work I cannot give my full commitment that the position requires.”
Irish Senior Cup Final: Cork Harlequins 2 (M Barry, O Roycroft) Loreto 2 (S Evans, A Taffe) Harlequins won shootout 2-1;
Ulster Plate Finals:
Qualifying: Lurgan II 1 Owls 0;
Intermediate: Omagh II 3 PSNI 0;
Junior: Lisnagarvey IV 4 Saintfield II 5;
Minor: Ulster Elks IV 3 Mossley IV 0.
Irish Senior Cup Final: Three Rock Rovers 1 (J Hosking) Lisnagarvey 0.
Intermediate Cup Final: Ballynahinch 4 (S Hunter, Campbell, M Martin A McIlwaine) CI 1 (P McKane)
Sussex Cup Final: Newry 1 (C McKnight) Queen’s 1 (R Kelly) Queen’s won on penalties.
Promotion-relegation Play-off: Raphoe walkover Ballymena.