Lurgan crowned Ulster Premier League champions

Lurgan staged a late, late show to be crowned Ulster Premier League champions for the fourth year in a row after a hard fought 1-0 home win over Banbridge.
Lurgan staged a late, late show to be crowned Ulster Premier League champions for the fourth year in a row after a hard fought 1-0 home win over Banbridge.

Lurgan staged a late, late show to be crowned Ulster Premier League champions for the fourth year in a row after a hard fought 1-0 home win over Banbridge on Wednesday night.

eam captain Sarah McClure was the heroine as her dramatic last gasp strike clinched the trophy after Banbridge had produced a battling performance throughout the 70 minutes.

But Lurgan have made a habit of grinding out wins this season in the face of adversity and it was the same on Wednesday night.

There were just seven minutes remaining when McClure hit the winning goal after her team had been on the back foot for much of the game.

Now, the Co Armagh side have set their sights on returning to the Irish Hockey League next season after failing to get out of the second-tier in the current campaign.

Lurgan took part in the old style IHL on two occasions in years gone by and now their objective is to get back to the top table.

“It was always our ambition to retain the Ulster title this season, and now we’ve done that, we are delighted for everyone at the club,” said McClure.

“The EYIHL is also important to us and getting back into it will be one of our aims going forward.”

After just 11 seasons in local hockey’s top-flight, Lurgan can look back with immense satisfaction at their latest triumph.

They have now won the title every year since 2015 when Ards, Belfast Harlequins and Pegasus left the local set-up to join the EY Irish Hockey League.

Coach Robbie McMinn has supervised all four Premier titles and a first ever Ulster Shield triumph, achieved in 2016.

Based almost exclusively on locally-produced talent, Lurgan’s latest title success has come without their former captain Charlene Stewart, who played just a handful of games before stepping down due to maternity leave.

“We have introduced four or five players, who have come through our junior ranks this season, and the future looks bright,” said team manager Darwin Murray.

In Wednesday night’s game, it was Banbridge, who made the better start as their hosts found difficulty finding their rhythm and Olivia Berry went close early on.

On the stroke of half time, McClure had a penalty corner effort saved by the Bann keeper as it was scoreless at the break.

The visitors started on the front foot after the interval but Lurgan gradually seized the initiative and McClure grabbed the all-important goal when her set-piece flew low into the net to spark the celebrations.

At the other end of the table, Randalstown defeated Ballymena 4-0 to guarantee a relegation play-off and send their opponents back into Senior One.

CJ McDonald was captain fantastic as her hat-trick sealed the deal, with Grace-Louise Palmer also on target.

Town led 2-0 at the break and McDonald completed her treble after the restart to complete a comfortable win.

Town will meet Club KV in the play-off after Omagh failed in their bid to finish runners up in Senior One following a 1-1 draw at Portadown.

In the EY IHL, Ards are now in danger of automatic relegation after Muckross defeated UCD 2-1 midweek to move two points clear of the Ulster side at the bottom.

On the men’s scene tomorrow, Banbridge are at home to Pembroke in the EYHL as they bid to hold down a place in the play offs they are hosting while struggling Cookstown have a tough one away to in-form Three Rock Rovers.

Clean sweep chasing Ballynahinch face Limerick in the Irish Hockey Trophy final tomorrow while Instonians II take on Three Rock II in the Irish Junior Cup final in Dublin on Sunday.