ARDS owed a debt of gratitude to ‘keeper Naomi McKnight for the fact they were able to overcome the odds and a one goal defecit to defeat Ballymoney 3-1 in Saturday’s Ulster Shield opener.
There seemed to be no danger that the County Antrim side would fail to win the game as they threatened to add to their tally after Angela Huey had put them in front in the first half.
‘Money forced a series of penalty corners early in the second half and the turning point came in the 40th minute when they had two in quick succession.
Lynn Mills made a brilliant goal line clearance from Lauren Steen’s effort at the expense of another set piece.
On this occasion the Ards ‘keeper made three stupendous reaction saves as Ballymoney shots rained in on her goal.
‘Money went on to earn two more corners and once again McKnight came to the rescue denying Susie Sneddon, formerly Martin, from the second of these.
Ballymoney had edged the first half but had only Huey’s 26th minute goal to show for their efforts as she joined the attack to force the ball home from her team’s second penalty corner of the game.
But having survived that early second half storm Ards settled down to play some superb hockey with teenage star Chloe Brown, in particular, catching ther eye.
In the 49th minute after Brown had helped manufacture a penalty corner – Ards’ first of the game – Elliott slammed the ball home from a well-rehearsed move to make it 1-1.
From that point onwards Ards grew in confidence and two minutes later, from another well worked move from play, they added a second goal, Hannah Coey supplying debut girl Claire Caruth with the ball and she swept it home.
In the 59th minute Ards made the game safe when Elliott was instrumental in setting up Caroline Adams from another set piece.
In the other game in Ards’s group Randalstown were surprise 1-0 winners over the Ulster Elks, who will be playing in the irish Hockey League this season for the first time.
Rhianna Campbell got the only goal of the game from a first half penalty corner in the 15th minute and the Jordanstown students were unable to snatch an equaliser despite having the bulk of the play.
The result will come as a great confidence boost for ‘Town, who, for most of last season battled to avoid relegation.
So too did Armagh but they came away from the late slot at Queen’s with a narrow 2-1 win over newly-promoted Victorians.
The game was as close as the scoreline suggests with very little between the sides but the Orchard County girls held on to take maximum points.
Becky Anderson gave them a dream start when she scored the opening goal after only three minutes.
But six minutes after the restart Victorians levelled matters when Rachael McMillan drove in the equaliser.
However within four minutes Armagh regained the lead when Sarah McMahon fired home what turned out to be the winner.
Portadown, who are also back in the top flight, didn’t make the best of starts as they fell to a 7-0 defeat against their neighbours Lurgan.
Results: Ulster Shield: Group 1: Victorians 1 Armagh 2, Portadown 0 Lurgan 7; Group 2: Ards 3 Ballymoney 1, Randalstown 1 Ulster Elks 0.