Banbridge and Instonians lead Ulster charge in NHL

Fraser Mills was on target for Banbridge at the weekend
Fraser Mills was on target for Banbridge at the weekend

Banbridge and Instonians will lead the Ulster charge going into next month’s final round of the Irish Hockey League, as Lisnagarvey, Cookstown and Annadale all fell out of contention.

But Bann came ever so close to throwing away their chances of reaching the finals weekend, as they trailed Railway Union 1-0 with 10 minutes remaining.

However, in a devastating final blast they turned the game on its head, romping home three goals to take all the points and virtually secure a place in the April semis.

Railway took a surprise lead in the second quarter and just after the interval they were unlucky not to double their lead, only to be denied, when Gareth Lennox produced a brilliant save from a Mark English penalty stroke.

Bann had to up their game and going into the final quarter, Railway were still holding onto their slender lead. With less than ten remaining, Fraser Mills levelled it for Bann, much to the relief of the travelling fans.

And soon after normality was restored, this time Matthew bell tucking home a penalty stroke to give Bann the lead. And just before the final hooter Bann secured all the points thanks to Eugene Magee to make it 3-1.

Lisnagarvey’s chances of reaching the semis crashed and burned on their home turf at Hillsborough, as they threw away a two goal lead to lose 4-2 to Three Rock Rovers.

The result now means they are four points adrift of second placed Bann and it would take Bann to lose heavily to leaders Three Rock Rovers and Lisnagarvey would need to go on a goal-scoring rampage against Cork Church of Ireland in their final game.

Andy Williamson gave Garvey a dream start, scoring with less than 30 seconds on the clock and five minutes later he doubled their lead.

But from then on, Garvey struggled to contain a more physical and determined Rovers side and in the 22nd minute, Johnny Bruton reduced the deficit. With nine minutes remaining, Bruton was on hand to drill a Mitch Darling pass into the back of the net to level it.

Rovers were in the driving seat and in the 46th minute, Peter Blakeney scored a wonder goal, smashing home a reverse stick shot from the edge of the circle that flew into the roof of the net.

Garvey were being pushed off the ball too easily, as Rovers went for the killer goal. And it came in the 55th minute, when Bruton wrapped up his hat-trick to give the visitors all four points and deny Garvey a vital bonus point.

Instonians are still in with a chance of reaching the IHL semis, after they defeated Cookstown 2-1.

But they will have their work cut out, as they take on Pembroke Wanderers in Dublin and with both teams tied on 12 points, both sides must win to secure a semi-final slot.

Inst raced into an early lead when Johnny Madill scored in the first quarter and they doubled their lead in the second quarter, after William Robinson scored to give them a comfortable two goal lead going into the turn.

Cookstown were getting little change out of an Inst defence who were determined to hold on to their lead. But in the final quarter, Mitchell Greer reduced the deficit but it was all too late and the Reds go out.

Annadale also went out of this season’s competition losing 4-0 to Pembroke. They were still in with a chance as they trailed 1-0 at half time but three second half goals gave the visitors all four points.