Armagh battle back in Linden Cup thriller

Armagh's Matty Russell
celebrates after scoring against Ballymena.

Armagh's Matty Russell celebrates after scoring against Ballymena.

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Armagh stormed back from 2-0 down at half-time to defeat Ballymena 3-2 in an exciting Linden Cup final in front of a big holiday crowd at Deramore yesterday.

In the proverbial game of two halves, the Co Antrim side looked to be in the driving-seat at the break but Armagh had different ideas as they scored three times in the last 19 minutes to lift the trophy.

Ballymena play their hockey in Junior League Four of the Ulster League while Armagh are in Senior One but the supposed gulf in class was not evident.

Indeed, the Braidsiders had beaten Armagh’s second-tier rivals, Portrush, at the semi-final stage so they certainly didn’t go into the game with an inferiority complex.

That was underlined when they established a 2-0 interval lead before the Orchard County team staged that late revival to take the trophy and give themselves a shot in the arm after an indifferent pre-Christmas league campaign.

Ballymena took the lead in the 23rd minute when Ethan Archer scored the opening goal to send the crowd who had travelled from Co Antrim into raptures.

The noise level intensified just two minutes later when Andrew Lorimer fired home a penalty-corner to make it 2-0 at the break.

As the minutes ticked away, Armagh recovered from that poor start and began to look threatening but Ballymena defended bravely in the face of increased pressure.

However in the 51st minute, they were thrown a lifeline when Steven Pillow scored from the penalty-spot to reduce Ballymena’s cushion to the minimum.

Six minutes later, it was all-square when Philip Hutton scrambled in a penalty-corner to make it 2-2 and, all of a sudden, it was game-on.

Ballymena held out until four minutes from the end but the tide turned in an instant when Richard McNabb was shown a red card after picking up a second yellow.

From the penalty-corner that followed Matthew Russell sent the ball high into the net with a drag-flick for the Armagh winner and Ballymena were unable to find the equaliser that would have led to extra-time.