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League leaders Ards focus on Pegasus rematch

Ards win the Ulster Shield

Ards win the Ulster Shield

Although the weather did its best to intervene the staging of the Boxing Day Denman Ulster Shield final as a double header alongside the men’s Kirk Cup final will go down as a resounding success.

And the chances are that the same scenario will be repeated in future years due to the fact the day proved to meet or even exceed expectations.

Any fears that the infrastructure at Lisnagarvey wouldn’t be able to cope with two big games on the one day were unfounded.

The car park and overspill area was packed to capacity but there was enough room for every vehicle and the club house, while full, had enough room in it to make spectators feel comfortable.

The catering department was busy to say the least but queues moved swiftly and the food and hot drinks on offer were reasonably priced and of the usual high standard.

As far as the women’s game is concerned more on that later but, in case you hadn’t heard, Ards defeated Pegasus 3-1 to lift the famous trophy for the first time in half a century.

Mind you it didn’t look good when I arrived at Comber Road to see a third of the number one pitch under a blanket of frost.

Meanwhile a bevy of ‘Garvey volunteers were frantically trying to clear a small section of the second pitch which was shaded by part of the club house.

For a time it looked like the game would bite the dust as Ulster Hockey officials and match delegates bounced balls on the affected area in a bid to see if it were playable.

Water was sprayed on to the surface and at one point a group of people tried to soften the pitch by jumping up and down on it - the appliance of science, not !

The Ards and Pegasus players, meanwhile, were in and out of the changing rooms, unsure as to whether the game would go ahead.

The Ards squad and back room team looked resplendent in a set of specially commissioned woollen hats in their club colours.

It was the brain child of super sub Sara Alexander who was to play a star role later in the day - mind you, I am not so sure that orange and pale blue really suited manager Phil Mills.

Meanwhile Pegasus acting coach Ali McNeill was bouncing hockey balls a short distance away from the worst of the frost bound section of the pitch and at that stage she was in little doubt that the game should be postponed.

Ulster Hockey Public Relations Officer Andrew Johnston was determined to keep the travelling hockey public up to date in the modern way - Twitter - but he was in two minds as to what information to impart.

“I don’t know what to tweet” he was heard to say but eventually word came through that the game was to go ahead after a delay of around 45 minutes.

It proved to be the right decision to proceed with the game and, with the players’ safety the prime concern, fortunately there were only one or two more slippages than you’d see on any game on a water based surface.

The crowd for the Shield final was around 600, more than double the numbers that have attended rescheduled deciders in the past and the attendance increased as more fans arrived for the men’s game that followed.

The game itself was a superb advertisement for women’s hockey here and, in theory, there should have been very little to choose between the sides.

Ards are, of course, the Premier League leaders while Pegasus are hot on their heels just four points behind with a game in hand.

But it was Ards, who seemed the more ‘fired up’ for the game as they dominated proceedings for the majority of the first half with former international Tamara McLeod and Chloe Brown, in particular, in imperious form.

However it was 1-1 at the break and it could have been 2-1 in Pegasus’ favour had they not missed a penalty stroke just before the half time whistle.

But McLeod got the goal she deserved and then set up Sara Alexander who made it 3-1 with the pick of the bunch so it was Ards who were celebrating at the end.

Forty five minutes wasn’t long to wait for the delayed start when you’ve waited 50 years to win the trophy after all !

Ards manager Phil Mills who had delivered an emotional pre-match motivational address thought his duties for the day were over as he sipped a glass of water and munched on a plate of chips in the club house afterwards.

But he was wrong as he had more task to undertake - organising a fleet of taxis to transport the triumphant players and coaching staff on a victory tour of east Belfast.

‘No tour talk’ as they say but I can only assume that a good time was had by all as they celebrated long into the night.

Pegasus admitted that the better team had won on the day as they failed in their bid to lift the Shield for a staggering 29th time in 34 attempts.

For Ards it was the ‘perfect 10’ and the first outright success in the competition since they beat Stranmillis 7-0 in the 1963 decider when hockey was played on real grass.

But they won’t be resting on their laurels as they play Pegasus in a Premier League rematch on Saturday week at Ards Leisure Centre.

If last Thursday’s clash is anything to go by then it should be a classic.

 

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