Ballymena Hockey Club round-up: Men go through in Irish Cup

BALLYMENA Men’s First XI battled to a scrappy 3-2 victory over a gutsy Omagh side on Saturday, in the first round of the Irish Challenge trophy. Ballymena were first to find their rhythm and as a result forced the Omagh defence into total disarray.

Despite this pressure the home side failed to capitalise on their early advantage in terms of their inability to convert their efforts into goals.

A chaotic first quarter ensued until Tim Lowrey found space in the ‘D’ and unleashed a fizzing drive beyond the reach of the Omagh keeper to open the scoring for the hosts 1-0.

The lead did not survive long in an open, error-strewn game and Ballymena had only themselves to blame for letting Omagh come back at them. A defensive error at the back allowed the visitors to equalise much to the dismay of a Ballymena side who believed they had the upper hand.

In a game that lacked any real vitality both sides traded half-hearted attempts at goal, for a time, until Tory Alexander carved out some space in the ‘D’ with a mazy individual run and snatched the lead for the hosts 2-1 going into the break.

Following the restart it was the visitors who seized the initiative and Ballymena found themselves on the wrong side on an intense period of pressure culminating in an Omagh equaliser, following a series of short corners.

Ballymena must have sensed that this cup tie was slipping away and responded with the kind of spirit and energy that they had been lacking thus far.

The Ballymena forwards now had the bit between their teeth and probed the Omagh defence time after time and eventually their persistence paid off courtesy of Victor Orr.

Orr managed to outwit three unsuspecting Omagh defenders and finding himself with space in the ‘D’ unleashed a speculative shot which, following several deflections, somehow found the momentum to reach the backboard 3-2 thus securing Ballymena’s place in the next round of the cup.

It has to be said that, if Ballymena are to return to the form they enjoyed last season they will have to up their game particularly if they wish to progress through the field in this cup competition.

Ballymena: Eddie Hampton, Chris Hogg (capt), Andrew Bell, Andrew Crooks, Patrick McKeown, Matt O’ Neill, Aaron Murphy, Tory Alexander, Victor Orr, Alex McKeown, Tim Lowry, Matt Corbett.

LADIES

Ballymena 3, Cookstown 2: With home advantage Ballymena got off to the better start and within the first ten minutes Cookstown found themselves a goal down.

Play maker Becky Reynolds found Lauren Kennedy with a slide rule pass which Kennedy controlled admirably and slotted home from short range to open the scoring for the hosts.

This clearly rattled the visitors and they hit Ballymena hard for the next 20 minutes or so with everything they had in their arsenal. Sure enough the equaliser followed a short time later despite the best efforts of the Ballymena defence.

In a frantic counter, Natalie McMullan made it two for the hosts with a delicate flick just beyond the reach of the Cookstown keeper 2-1.

Cookstown then had three penalty corners in quick succession and would have equalised but for the heroics of Susanne Morrison, who cleared off the line, and by the acrobatics of their battle hardened keeper Emma Leslie who was on blistering form and denied the visitors at least twice during this frenzied passage of play.

As the second half opened it wasn’t long before Cookstown found their feet and were attacking the Ballymena goal and this time it was Catherine McCracken who denied the visitors when she stopped the ball on the line and cleared.

A series of penalty corners followed in the next ten minutes and but for the efforts of Becky Reynolds and Emma Leslie, Cookstown would surely have scored at least twice.

The back four for the hosts returned solid performances but, in a game where a lot of the action was centred on tough tackling, Cookstown were handed the advantage when Kirsten Young was sent off.

The visitors cruised for a while worked the numbers and soon picked up the equaliser. To their credit Ballymena dug in and were awarded their first penalty corner of the half. Clare Gillespie fired one in and while her shot was saved Sara Allen was on hand to ensure the rebound found the net.

From then on it was a game of ‘shooting in’ for the Cookstown XI but a resolute Ballymena just kept them out time after time after time. Keeper, Emma Leslie, stole the show with an impressive array of saves off the line, kicks past the post and sheer grit and determination!

In what was an ill-tempered contest Ballymena deserve all the credit, as does coach, Mary Glass, who inspired her team from the sidelines and willed them to a win despite their number being reduced to ten players for much of the second half.

Ballymena: Emma Leslie, Sara Allen, Grace McBurney, Susanne Morrison ( captain) Catherine McCracken, Clare Gillespie, Becky Reynolds, Jessica Duncan, Aimee Logan, Natalie McMullan, Lauren Kennedy, Kirsten Young, Zoe Dickson.

Pegasus III 2, Ballymena II 2: Ballymena were forced to defend in the early stages and defend they did despite Pegasus pressing them hard in the second quarter.

A resolute Ballymena side countered hard and in the minutes leading up to half time they found a second wind. Their final assault of the half was led by Leah Paul and Aimee Logan ably assisted by Sharon Reid who executed a well-rehearsed set piece to find captain, Stephanie Storey, who gratefully received an inch perfect pass into the ‘D’ to slot the ball home for the visitors.

As the second half opened, despite a number of penalty corners for the hosts the Ballymena defence held firm and denied the hosts the goal they so desperately sought.

Ballymena were playing with more composure now and countered hard while gaining the bulk of the possession. In a period of sustained fluency Ballymena won a penalty corner and it was Lorna Murphy who chose accuracy over power to slot the ball home for the visitors’ second goal.

From then on Ballymena seemed content to play a game of containment and their strategy seemed to work for a time.

The score remained the same until Pegasus finally exposed a leak in the hitherto impenetrable Ballymena defence. A failure to mark a Pegasus forward caught the visitors off guard and they scored their first goal much to the alarm of the Ballymena back line.

To add insult to injury Pegasus scored a second a few minutes later, a messy affair from a goalmouth scramble 2-2.

Seconds: Laura Logan, Ashleigh Harbison, Nicola Greer, Kirsty McMaster, Sarah Cundell, Aimee Logan, Leah Paul, Lynsey McClintock, Lorna Murphy, Sharon Reid, Stephanie Storey, Rachel Galbraith.