Organisers earn the plaudits after massive weekend at Havelock Park

Alex Speers scores for Railway Union
Alex Speers scores for Railway Union

Dispiriting yet uplifting – that was how one journalist aptly described 14-man Ulster’s heroic Heineken Cup defeat by Saracens.

And the same could equally apply to the total experience that was the Irish Hockey League finals weekend at Havelock Park.

It was, of course, a huge 48 hours for local sport with Carl Frampton’s fight as well as the rugby although, predictably, the hockey played third fiddle in terms of the publicity stakes.

It was dispiriting in the sense that none of the Ulster teams managed to lift the top prizes at Havelock Park, but uplifting at the same time on two counts.

One was the Pegasus performance in bowing out to Railway Union in the lottery of a penalty shoot-out, and secondly the magnificent effort that Banbridge Hockey Club put into hosting the showpiece.

Let’s start with the media facilities which are so often overlooked but, in this case, they were second to none and members of the fourth estate were literally treated like VIPs.

Usually the two are mutually exclusive and the territory occupied by the suits and scarves – as they are sometimes known in hockey circles – is geographically removed from that of the media.

But Banbridge did it differently and the area was reserved for VIPs and media altogether under the same roof, which is unique in my experience on the evidence of hockey trips across four of the five continents from Auckland to Zimbabwe with a few stop overs in between.

It worked a treat, despite a few issues with the WIFI, and tea and coffee and snacks were constantly available on the Saturday with wine and beer and a lavish spread of food on finals day itself.

The whole atmosphere about Havelock Park was as good as any I have experienced at hockey tournaments across the globe. The Dutch are generally regarded as the masters in this field but this was as good, if not better.

There were flares in the colours of the host club which added to the sense of occasion when Bann were playing and fireworks before and after both finals.

A temporary stand was put in place on the clubhouse side of the ground where there was also covered accommodation for spectators who wanted to sit in comfort and have a libation while watching the action.

The PA system worked and spectators were treated to musical entertainment between matches and spooky sounds were heard as the tension mounted when teams were awarded penalty corners.

All in all, it was a rip-roaring success all round and even the weather was kind, so a big thank-you and well done to all concerned at Banbridge Hockey Club for a joint effort between the men’s and women’s sections.

Surely now the Irish Hockey Association will know that they have a venue to rival Dublin for hosting major tournaments and international games in the years to come.

As for Pegasus, I think they surprised even themselves at the level of performance they put in over the 80 minutes against Railway Union.

The Dublin side were, of course, going for their third all Ireland title in a row and, by definition, they were the best team in the country going into the tournament.

Pegasus needed to be at the top of their game and they were although Sharon Moffett was in inspired form between the sticks as Railway carved out the majority of the chances.

Ultimately it was a case of so near yet so far as the penalty shoot-out proved to be beyond the Ulster champions, but it was certainly an uplifting performance and one that bodes well for the future.

However, the Banbridge showpiece wasn’t the only hockey venue last weekend as the Joey Dunlop Centre hosted the relegation-promotion play off between Carrick, of Senior Two and Limavady from one league below.

It was Carrick who preserved their status but only after a dramatic penalty shot out win after a 2-2 draw.

Carrick’s goalkeeper, Kerrie Moore, performed superbly throughout the match then went on to break Limavady hearts by saving three of their five strokes.

“We couldn’t possibly have asked for anything more from a single Carrick player out there today,” said a clearly delighted Carrick president, Peter Stevenson, after the match.

“All 16 girls were an absolute credit to Carrick Ladies and to have eventually outscored Limavady after 80 long minutes of high pressure hockey is just fantastic.

“Kerrie was of course absolutely superb for us today but I know she would be the first to emphasise it was an all round squad effort.”

After 20 minutes, Limavady eventually managed to breach an otherwise well organised Carrick defence to take a deserved lead but captain for the day, Chloe Mitchell, set up Lyndsey McClurg to equalise before the break.

After the restart, Carrick’s counter attacking strategy paid off when an up-field ball to Dara Curry was neatly played on to veteran Emma Nichols who gleefully smashed it past the Limavady keeper.

With time running out for Limavady, they continued to push for an equaliser and eventually found one late in the game to take the match into extra time.

Both teams had opportunities to win the game during this period but with the defences staying strong.

The play-off moved into a penalty decider with keeper Moore proving to be the heroine of the hour as Carrick prevailed 3-2 in the shoot out and they got their hands on the trophy.

Carrick squad: Christine Clarke, Amy Cross, Dara Curry, Courtney Gibb, Natalie Hall, Katie Houston, Sophie Mills, Chloe Mitchell (capt), Kerrie Moore, Lyndsey McClurg, Natasha McWilliams, Emma Nichols, Karen Nelson, Julie Oliver, Robyn Poots, Lee-Ann Sharpe.